Pinellas School Board candidate Lew Williams draws on 34 years experience
Williams, 67, built a career working in K-12 schools, beginning as a teacher in Pinellas County in 1970 and rising through the district's ranks to become a principal at every level, then an area superintendent, before retiring in 2005.
The veteran educator announced his candidacy for Pinellas County's District 7 school board seat May 26, two days after two-term board member Mary Brown announced her plans to retire from the post.
After running unsuccessfully for a county-wide seat in 2006, Williams said he was already entertaining the idea of taking another stab at the job. Apparently, he wasn't the only one with that idea. Even before Brown declared her intent, Williams' phone rang with inquires from people asking him to run.
"I thought about it," he said.
Williams believes the chief concerns facing the district today are: surviving in a budget crisis; closing the achievement gap between races and poverty lines; implementing disciplinary rules that deal firmly with chronically disruptive students without going overboard; and finding ways to give parents the tools they need to help their children succeed academically.
"It's not going to hurt to go back and draw off of some old-school things," he said, recalling night training classes for parents on topics that concern them like standardized testing.
"In too many instances, we have babies raising babies," Williams said, "and many times these young parents are not the role models they want to be because they lacked role models themselves."
Also at the forefront of his concerns: that the move back to neighborhood schools has led to increasingly racially identifiable schools, especially in south Pinellas, a significant part of School Board District 7.
"If we're going to do this, placing a lot of disadvantages learners in a setting," Williams said, we are going to have to put the resources in there."
And by "resources," he said, he means people and money.
Williams said his proudest moments as an educator came when he was able to use innovative solutions to address glaring problems. When he was principal at Seminal Middle, he instituted Saturday school as a substitute for out-of-school suspension. While presiding over Pinellas Park High School, he was shocked by the fact that no African-American students were enrolled in advanced classes. So, Williams started a program that encouraged high-achieving minorities to take advanced classes.
His thoughts on other topics:
Expansion of fundamental schools: As a father of two former fundamental students, he said he supports the model. But he is concerned about their potential to siphon off strong students from existing magnet schools.
Ending the AP teacher supplement: "I have this basic notion that if it's not broke, don't fix it." The supplements, together, won't add up to enough of a savings, he said, to "warrant the frustration, the let-down in morale and anger displayed by some teachers."
Superintendent Julie Janssen's performance: He describes Janssen as "a very caring person and I would give her high marks in that area. Pinellas is a challenging district and there are times you make good calls and there are times when you make calls that are well thought out. That being said, I think she's a person who will listen." Williams said he isn't sure how he would have voted on extending Janssen's contract earlier this year, but he doesn't believe rolling contracts are a good idea.
Williams faces attorney Keisha Bell, 34, and retired psychology professor Jim Jackson, 65. The primary is Aug. 24.
Rebecca Catalanello, Times staff writer