There is a wide range of impact areas that I have worked on or dug into over the years, learning the impact of one policy on another, then on the day-to-day school experience. If I were to summarize on a more macro level today the top three things that will be top of mind when serving on the school board, they are these:
The impact of education on a child’s life is indisputable. What do we want that impact to be? Educated, thoughtful, cared for students are the parents, neighbors and coworkers of tomorrow. What kind of community and society do you envision for tomorrow? What do you hope for your own children? I am committed to asking the questions and helping do the work that impacts the tomorrow of our students and our communities.
People are the most vital element of success across life. If we want students to shine, our teachers must shine. What does that take? I believe that people want to be seen, heard, respected, inspired, supported, trusted and given both guidance and freedom. Many sum this up as teacher pay, and I am for appropriate professional remuneration, and it is much more than that. It is a level of trust and autonomy that allows for inspiration and innovation in learning. Provide standards, yes, provide some boundaries, yes, have a form of accountability, yes. Then allow freedom and trust our teachers and education leaders to know their students, their schools, and support them with the professional development and resources they need to make education great.
An annual budget of $1.5 billion is a significant budget comprised of public resources. We must evaluate the use of resources at hand both on a strategic basis and on a contract-by-contract basis. All uses of resources should align with the mission, and should be optimized for both effective and efficient use. I think there are several important thoughts and questions when evaluating resources: Are we doing the best we can with what we have? Know and review what is. Do we have ideas that are either additive or transformative for significant gains? What would those cost and would they share, supplant or be new? Know the responsibility and possibility of various funding sources. Both revenue and expenses must not be taken for granted.
On a more tactical level, I have thoroughly researched and/or actively participated in a broad spectrum of educational areas over the years, including:
School Safety, School grading system, Racial Disparities, Equity & the School-to-Prison Pipeline, Testing, Funding, Teacher Pay, Teacher Support & Autonomy, School Autonomy, Healthy School Start Times, Social Emotional Wellness, Education enrichments, Sustainability, Food & Nutrition.
Here, I take the opportunity to share with you my beliefs in these areas, and when possible, actions I have taken in support of them. I will continue adding to this section, and I welcome your questions about specific areas not touched on here.
School Safety & Weapons in Schools
Brief: While “school safety” applies to a variety of meaningful areas, often it conjures thoughts of school shootings and weapons in schools – topics we all wish were unnecessary. I believe in reasonable hardening/building improvement; age-appropriate discussion and training that does not potentially exacerbate the problem (We went way too far in 2018); and, if there is going to be an authorized weapon in the school, that it be carried by a licensed and trained professional for whom crisis response is her/his primary responsibility. I do not support arming teachers. To learn more about my involvement and thoughts on this area, click here.
School Grading System
Brief: Our school grading system established in 1999 is flawed, and the high-stakes links have been detrimental. The grades are more a direct reflection of the percentage of minority and economically disadvantaged students than of curriculum and teaching, and using this kind of language – labeling a school a “D/F school” or “low-performing school” – is demoralizing to the educators, families and students of those schools. The teachers are performing their pants off. And students are, too, given all factors. The words we use matter. Let’s remake the grading system. To learn more click here.
Racial Disparities, Equity and the School to Prison Pipeline
Brief: The next 100 years in America will be what we make it. What we must do for a proud, just and thriving tomorrow is cultivate and unleash the innate capabilities of our Black and brown children the way we have our white children, and education is the cornerstone of this possibility. There is a direct-line correlation between race and school grade; and, as mentioned in the section above, we will move the needle by identifying and ameliorating the impacts of socioeconomic issues as well as systemic inequities in our society. Please read my thoughts around Racial Disparities, Equity and the School-to-Prison Pipeline click here.
While meant for improvement in outcomes, the focus on restrictions and data-driven measurements over the recent 20 years have come at a cost, and that cost is love of teaching, love of learning and the localized agility required to meet and raise all students. We must:
Remove the high-stakes elements of state testing and grading. Teacher performance, financial incentives, threat of closing schools. When we develop a holistic measure, perhaps links can be made, but not on a single test.
Shift from a data-based mindset to a strengths-based whole child mindset.
Wholly reduce the number of tests outside of the teacher’s choice. Give our teacher’s age-appropriate learning standards and allow them to determine how to teach, inspire and measure each student along the way.
Rationalize the single state test within a holistic grading system.
Bottom line. We must shift from purely data-based mindset to strengths-based whole child mindset.
Brief: Pinellas County Schools has a $1.5B budget of tax-payer resources. These resources come both from the state and from the county, though the “local effort” (county piece) is determined by the state. The revenue for 2019 when adjusted for inflation, was $1100/student lower than it was 12 years ago. If you want to learn more about the budget process and this decrease in funding, click here.
Brief: Teacher pay is a significant issue for good reason. Yes, we raised the starting salary again this year which is excellent for recruitment, but does not address retention and the stagnant pay of our veteran teachers. The real issue is the annual increases for teacher pay do not keep up with inflation and/or cost of living. A teacher should be incentivized to choose a long-term career during which they receive the professional development resources needed as well as responsible salary and benefits. To read more, click here.
Teacher Support & Autonomy
Brief: Guided by a love of learning and the magic of childhood, most teachers choose the profession with great hope and joy, believing they will have the ability to positively influence, guide and impact children’s lives, while also sharing and more deeply learning about subject matter that they enjoy. The children arrive in all different ways as children will. Sometimes students arrive eager, curious and open to what is being offered. Sometimes they arrive tired, sad, hungry and really not wanting to be told what to do. Every single day our teachers have to assess their students and their classroom and determine how to best move them forward with their academic learning as well as with their social emotional learning. This takes agility. We must give them the freedom of the classroom day, the classroom year, to guide their students. And further, we must give schools the freedom of the same. Allow our teachers, staff and communities to be creative, to say what their priorities in learning are, and obtain student success. Yes, common standards, and a common annual test. Allow schools and teachers to determine how to best get their students there. To read more, click here.
Brief: As the largest land-holder in Pinellas County, and having at least 150,000 people making use of their properties an average of 10 months out of the year, Pinellas County Schools has a significant impact on the environment and on health. Energy usage, water use and quality, air quality, choice of single-use materials, waste stream (minimizing/recycling), impact of sunlight and access to the outdoors for students and teachers, food gardens, composting from the cafeterias, and the list goes on. I have done work in these areas personally, professionally and in education. As a school board member, we have the opportunity to influence priorities, and ask about work being done across areas. I would work to ensure a Sustainability Task Force – made of public and private individuals – is formally established, active, has clear goals, and I would want to be an active member of that task force. We can look at the Green Schools program as well as the Sierra Club’s 100% Clean Energy School Districts program. I am grateful to have earned the endorsement of the Sierra Club. To read more, click here.