Hunsinger: More vocational classes will help high schools
Pinellas can help turn around its four most struggling high schools (Gibbs, Lakewood, Boca Ciega and Dixie Hollins) by offering classes that its students find more relevant, said school board candidate Greg Hunsinger.
"By this I mean to offer more vocational and career oriented classes for non-college bound students," Hunsinger wrote in a questionairre for the St. Petersburg Times editorial board. "Another possibility would be increased partnership with the business community by offering assistance in the form of a collaborative approach to vocational and career training for our students."
Hunsinger also wrote that Superintendent Julie Janssen would benefit from a "stronger, more assertive school board." He said he does not favor changing high school start times.
Hunsinger faces incumbent Peggy O'Shea in the at-large District 3 race.
Here's the full questionairre with his responses:
1) The school district faces a $26 million budget gap for 2010-11, and a potential shortfall of $53 million the following year. Gaps that wide call for major cost cutting. What should be cut? What should be spared?
All efforts should be made to preserve the integrity of the classroom learning environment. Some savings can be derived through attrition in non-classroom related positions. A thorough review needs to be conducted to determine non-essential expenditures at all levels of the educational process.
Some of my ideas for savings include carefully evaluating the costs of non-essential teacher trainings, costs of administrative meetings, and costs of non-essential administrative travel expenses. I would also consider an independent outside audit of our system. I believe there are companies that conduct outside audits in private industry, deriving the cost of the audit from savings achieved.
2) Four Pinellas high schools are expected to be under state oversight this fall because of inadequate performance. Who is to blame and how can the problems in those schools be fixed?
The community as a whole shares this burden. The home , the school, and the administration are essential elements to the educational process. All parts contributing equally and thus sharing equal responsibility.
I believe one way to address the issue of low student performance is to offer more relevant classes to students. By this I mean to offer more vocational and career oriented classes for non-college bound students.
Another possibility would be increased partnership with the business community by offering assistance in the form of a collaborative approach to vocational and career training for our students.
3) Julie Janssen has been superintendent for just under two years, and while she still enjoys the support of the School Board, she has been criticized this year for being tone deaf in some public comments and unaware of developing problems in some schools. Does Janssen have the skills to lead the district through this difficult time?
Her performance may be enhanced by a stronger, more assertive school board. As I have stated, I am a hands on person. This approach would improve awareness of developing crisis both in the schools and the community. With increased transparency in the problem solving process many issues may be averted. This transparency would also facilitate a better working relationship with the community.
I believe Superintendent Janssen's performance also may be enhanced by clear and definitive policy making at the school board level. It is difficult for anyone to perform at one's best without clear direction.
4) What changes would you like to see at the district administration level?
According top the St.Petersburg Times, we have an over sized district administration in comparison to other school districts within the state . A redefining of current positions does not reduce the bottom line or the number of people involved. Through attrition and the combining of some areas into one, a true cost reduction could occur. Some administrative
assets would be better utilized at the school or classroom level.
5) What steps should the superintendent and School Board take to improve student behavior? What should be done with chronically disruptive students?
I believe that a district-wide discipline plan enforced uniformly throughout the county would do wonders to improve behavior throughout the district. Acceptable behavior should not vary from school to school, or worse, within a school. This discipline plan should be established with input from parents, teachers, and administrators equally. This is consistent with my philosophy on transparency in the decision making process. It is only through shared input and transparency that acceptance by all parties involved can be achieved. Buy-in is important when convincing students that requirements placed on them for behavior are fair.
Chronically disruptive students should be held accountable for their disruptive behavior. This accountability should be shared by the parents and schools alike. Disruptive students must be removed from the classroom environment for the sake of the student as well as the remaining students in the class. Suspension, vocational, and adult programs are possibilities.
6) Parents are clamoring for more fundamental schools in Pinellas, and at least three high schools have asked to be next in line to go fundamental. Do you support the expansion of fundamental schools? Under what conditions?
My belief in transparency in decision making, shared responsibility with parents and school, and a consistent and uniform discipline code would make most schools within our district meet the definition of what is known as fundamental schools. Fundamental schools are characterized by increased parental involvement, stricter discipline codes and higher student expectations. Isn't that what all parents want and should expect in all of our public schools? Students perform to expectations. By raising student expectations, strengthening discipline and increasing parental involvement all our schools essentially become fundamental schools. As a classroom teacher, this has been my belief and position all along.
7) Schools that have a high level of parental involvement generally have fewer problems. What ideas do you have for increasing parental involvement in schools, especially schools in low socioeconomic areas?
Communication between school and community can be achieved by a higher level of transparency and involvement by all parties involved in the policy making process. Community groups and organizations, as well as independent parties,should be invited on a regular basis to meet with school officials and local school personnel to establish educational needs within their respective communities. This information should be compiled and uniform policies should be established. We must let the public know that input from all areas of the community will be considered equally valued. Transparency assures accountability to all involved parties that information gathered will be equally considered.
8) What is your opinion of the current school district's proposal to change how teachers are evaluated? Does it go far enough in encouraging good teachers and providing a way for the district to remove ineffective teachers?
The current evaluation system is subjectively based. Effective teachers are often driven out of the classroom by personality conflicts, financial constraints or a general lack of knowledge of current teaching conditions. Some evaluators have not been in, or have had contact with, the teaching environment for which they are evaluating for many years. In most professions, evaluations are conducted by peers currently performing the work they are evaluating, i.e.; doctors evaluate doctors, lawyers evaluate lawyers, etc. Why shouldn't experienced teachers play a larger role in evaluating teachers?
The current evaluation system is in flux. This is both unfair and unprofessional to teaching professionals. Just as students cannot be expected to follow a discipline plan that is poorly defined and randomly enforced so what are teachers to do with an evaluation system that has the same vague constructs?
The current three year period for new teachers should allow for the removal of ineffective teachers providing the evaluations are truly reflective of the teacher's real potential. If this was the current standard ineffective teachers would be removed . Teachers having proven themselves should be protected by due process procedures already in place.
9) Grade the school district on its management of the transition to neighborhood schools. What has it done well? What has it done poorly? What would you have done differently?
The transition to neighborhood schools has made it convenient for parents to become more involved and participate in school activities and functions. This also assists with problems of transportation for kids to and from school. However, we may lose gains made through integration so we must continually monitor the effects of this on our students to see if a continuation of this process is wise.
10) Across the bay in Hillsborough County, the school district is awash in innovations and creative thinking resulting from the award of a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In comparison, Pinellas looks tentative, conservative and mired in problems. Is that comparison accurate? What can be done to inspire more creativity, innovation and public involvement in Pinellas?
Do we look tentative, conservative and mired in problems? I would say "no". Pinellas County has spent millions piloting many programs only later to be abandoned. One example is the Kaplan Test that we piloted only to become the only district using it, largely because of the money we invested in the pilot program, that was later renamed "The Pinellas Assessment Test". At a time of financial crisis we should not be experimenting with our educational funds. We have no clear idea how this program might fare in the future. We have been a leader in innovative trials only to find millions of taxpayer dollars lost in failed educational programs.
11) Should the School Board change the start time for high schools? Why or why not?
I feel that the present start times allow for time for after school activities such as sports, academic programs and after school employment. Financial constraints limit flexibility for starting times due to transportation costs.
12) Last year the school district signed a memo of understanding to address the achievement gap between white and black students. What is your opinion of that agreement? Does it go far enough?
My understanding is that the court's found that Pinellas County Schools have met the required educational needs of all of our students on an equal basis. However, I believe that many of our minority students feel a disconnect with the existing educational environment. My program emphasizing transparency and community involvement would help to reduce this feeling of disconnect. Many of the ideas represented in the memo of understanding are solid and positive in nature. I believe these efforts can be enhanced by a feeling of involvement, openness and commonness of purpose through "valued "community input. I believe one of the biggest deterrents to improved student performance is a feeling of lack of empowerment.
13) In November Florida voters will reconsider the 2002 class size amendment. What is your position on that issue?
The people of Florida were convinced by government officials and educational leaders that a reduction in class size would improve student achievement. Now, many of those same leaders would have us abandon this philosophy. We must remember that the people have decided this issue. My philosophy is in what benefits our students. We need to make cuts wherever possible to allow the will of the people to be carried out. One might say that a re-vote would reflect a change in the will of the people. I suggest this would more reflect an unwillingness of our leaders to meet the mandate already in place.
14) Describe why voters should consider you for this office and what you hope to accomplish:
35 years of having been entrusted with meeting the educational needs of thousands of students.
Strong believer in hands on approach to acquire first hand knowledge of what is actually taking place in our schools then using that knowledge for problem solving and decision making.
Standardization and strengthening of our county-wide discipline.
Increased transparency through open communication in the decision making process at all levels of school operations.
Refocusing of our energies and resources towards the needs of the classroom, where the actual learning takes place.