PCULYP hold Politics and Pork Chops, School Board edition

Held at the Enoch Davis Center Tuesday night, Pork Chops and Politics aimed to help constituents make informed decisions.

By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – This Tuesday, Aug. 21, the Urban League Young Professionals hosted school board candidates at their “Politics and Porkchops” presentation, an event created to help constituents make informed votes and hold elected officials accountable.

The attending candidates and some of their positions are summarized below.

District 2 – School Board Member, countywide

Current board member Terry Krassner said “not to make excuses, but it has been tough” to deal with the new mandates coming down from Tallahassee. She said the new rules dealing with safety are the greatest challenge in the district.

As a member of the district’s safety team, she shared that trying to get a school safety officer in each school as mandated in the time given has been hard. She also said that more mental health counselors and school counselors had also been added to the district.

Jeff Larsen, a reading teacher in Tarpon Springs, is running for school board because he feels “we can do better.” He stated the district needed to shift its focus from testing.

“Our students have become numbers, they’ve become statistics.”

Larsen felt that communication, transparency and accessibility to information should be improved for parents, including changing meeting times so that more parents could attend. He said that morale is low among staff in the district and recommended offering a more comprehensive annual climate survey for employees.

District 3 – School Board Member, countywide

Former high school and middle school English teacher Nicole Carr met children who had experienced so much trauma she decided to become a school counselor. Upon experiencing the role of school counselor becoming more of a “test administrator,” she got her doctorate to look at program administration, intent to share that “school counselors matter.”

With experience as a program evaluator for Title 1 and as an assistant principal at Lakewood Elementary, she stated that numbers show achievement for students in the district has not improved much in the last decade.

“We need to do less testing of our students, so there’s more time for [them] to do the learning.”

She also said our schools are going backward, becoming more segregated and not offering equitable access to education.

Current board vice-chair Peggy O’Shea said school safety is the most significant challenge in the district due to the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Act. While teachers had training, she admitted videos that were developed for children were too scary, so they’re developing other ways to prepare elementary students that will ensure their safety.

“We still have an achievement gap–especially for our African-American young men…they’re the group that struggles the most.”

She acknowledged that change was slow, and vigilance and relevant answers were needed.

After 33 years of teaching, Carl “Z” Zimmerman believes that students “learn by doing,” and said that when kids are engaged, they’re not a problem.  “I believe every single child should have skills… if they drop out of school at 16, they should have skills to get a job.”

He said we need to “re-steer the entire education ship, and we need to praise vocational instead of talking about it like it’s a curse.”

He wants to encourage a program like New York’s BOCES at Pinellas Technical College (PTC).

District 6 – School Board Member

Lorena Grizzle is a schoolteacher who said school safety is what’s most important to her, referring to unmonitored students in hallways as an ongoing issue. She also wants more support for teachers, including how teachers are being hired and treated by principals, “because it rolls right down to the kids…whatever happens to the teacher is going to happen to the kids.”

She added wanting more trade programs, including increased relationships with unions in Tampa for student internships from the vocational programs.

Matt StewartDr. Matt Stewart doesn’t come from the classroom on the primary or secondary school level and shared he felt that would bring important diversity to a board that currently has five out of seven members who’ve come from the classroom.

He shared that he believed his work in human administration for county government will enable him to deal with some of the staff’s morale issues. Because he has taught at St. Petersburg College, he agrees that trades and technical opportunities are important because not every child belongs in college.

He believed strong mental health services, behavioral support, and addressing the underlying causes of violence in the school is a community conversation that needs to be addressed.

District 7 – School Board Member

Current school board member Rene Flowers shared that Pinellas vocational programs are booming at PTC, and mentioned current programs including the culinary arts program, the on-going affiliation with the AFL-CIO, and insisted there are many programs that don’t get the attention they deserve.

She shared PCSB has a robust recruitment team to address better student representation on staff, and also said that this fall the board is planning meetings out in the community to encourage more parental engagement.

Dr. Bilan Joseph, a native of St. Pete, shared that it has been her time teaching at Azalea Middle school that spurred her to enter the race. After a decade of living and teaching in Gainesville, she read the Tampa Bay Times’ article “Failure Factories” and returned home to “create change.”

“Everything that they talked about in those articles three years ago, I’m still seeing today as a teacher on the ground.”

She shared that she believed with the new technologies and today’s student being so different than students of decades ago, that an educator with today’s perspective was necessary.

Stating his 13 years in Pinellas County schools have convinced him that the district moves much too slowly, Nicholas Wright brought a technological platform to the county that is now used in all PCSB middle and high schools. But he believes there are more academic technical programs that the county should be using, stating they’re dragging their feet on moving forward.

He also wants to change the disciplinary system, stating that the county has been moving too slowly in bringing restorative practice into schools.

The Primary Election is next Tuesday, Aug. 28.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com.

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