Gilzean on Educate Today, vouchers and Pinellas challenges
Glen Gilzean, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to fill the late Lew Williams' seat on Pinellas County school board, comes to his new position from Educate Today, a nonprofit organization he founded while he was in graduate school at University of South Florida.
A day after Scott named Gilzean, 29, to the post, the Gradebook asked him more about the organization and its role in 2010-11 as one of four in the state permitted to award vouchers to poor students to attend private schools. A state Department of Education spokeswoman said Educate Today never ended up awarding any vouchers. Still, Gilzean said he's clear in his belief that vouchers provide a needed option to some families.
When we tried asking him more about that, he requested we send him our questions by email. Here are the answers he sent back:
Q: How many students has Educate Today reached through 1) its after school programs; 2) its family resources services.
A: Our parent resource center tracks efforts by family, not unique student. In 2010 we provided 30 workshops for 430 families, acted as educational advocates for 133 parents, participated in 43 community events targeting at risk and underprivileged children, and assisted 97 families in finding resources to help their children achieve at higher levels in school. In 2011 we provided 42 workshops for 498 families, acted as educational advocates for 152 parents, participated in 47 community events targeting at risk and underprivileged children, and assisted 127 families in finding resources to help their children achieve higher levels in school. In addition to providing assistance in the area of education, we also help parents find resources in other areas that contribute to the health and welfare of children but do not track those efforts as they are generally folded into the process of helping them in the area of education.
Q: I asked you if you are a voucher advocate. Can you succinctly tell me why you believe the state should offer vouchers to families.
A: I believe that parents have the right to decide the school environment that best meets their unique child’s needs. The choices available to them should include the school assigned by the district based on where the family can afford to live, or the school that has the magnet program of choice without a waiting list, or the virtual program offered by the district without seat requirements, or the career academy so far away from their residence that access is restricted by resources, or the private school that uses a teaching methodology not found in public school but meets their child’s learning needs or provides a different environment where that unique child thrives. Succinctly, I believe that having a variety of school choices contributes to fulfilling the possibility of equal opportunity for Florida’s children to access a quality education specific to each of their needs.
Q: Some would argue the system of granting vouchers to public school students to attend private schools is based on the premise that failing public schools can't/won't improve. Do you agree with that premise? Why/why not?
A: I would argue it is not based on that premise at all. Many initially low-performing schools in Florida have improved in varying measure over the past decade, and I believe alternative school choice options have contributed to that trend by freeing up resources in the traditional public schools, providing competition for the parent-customer to consider, and spurring out-of-the-box thinking in a public school system that had seen little change for over fifty years.
Q: What, specifically, do you propose must be done to fix Pinellas' most failing schools? And what schools will be your priority?
A: You give me too much credit, the challenges facing our lowest performing schools require the collaboration of many different education stake holders including but not limited to; the school board, district and school staff, parents, students, community members, business owners and the state. What I really hope to do is facilitate the engagement of all stake holders and be a part of that collaborative effort that increases student achievement at every school, but especially those currently with lower student achievement levels.
Q: Some people might hear you're a strong supporter of school vouchers and wonder how that will play out in your role as a school board member, someone who is charged with finding ways to improve even the most failing public schools. Can you please address how that marriage will work?
A: I’m a strong supporter of student achievement. For me, that means working to make our public schools high performing so that parents want to choose them but also recognizing no matter how high performing any school is, it won’t necessarily meet the needs of every child assigned there by the district.