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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Quality of Pinellas schools is falling, school board candidate says

Harold_jackson The quality of Pinellas schools has fallen enough that it will impact the recruitment of businesses, and the district has itself to blame, said school board candidate James “Jim” Jackson.

“A vibrant community needs a world-class school system. I don’t think we have that right now,” Jackson told The Gradebook. “What company is going to look at Pinellas County … when we have so many D- and F-rated schools that their employees have to send their children to? I certainly wouldn’t do it. If we don’t improve the schools and the track record of achievement, we’re not going to attract new businesses here.”

“I think people really took their eye off the ball here,” he continued.

Jackson, 65, is running for the District 7 seat now held by two-term incumbent Mary Brown. He’s a former psychology professor at Miami-Dade College. He has lived in St. Petersburg for three years. He is divorced with two grown sons. He is also a member of the NAACP and the Sierra Club and was a “super volunteer” for the Obama campaign in Tampa Bay.

Jackson said he’s running for the District 7 seat rather than an at-large seat because he lives in the district. He said he is not going to criticize Brown but added, “I do feel I can do the better job.”

“There are some good people on the school board. But some people have been on perhaps too long,” he also said. “Even giving Superintendent Janssen an extension of contract with multiple years … I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do right now.”

Jackson said his top issue is finding more resources to help the district in a time of chronic budget problems. “You look for help,” he said. “You look for volunteers. You look for mentors. You look for businesses that are doing well … You enlist the help in community partnerships. You go for grants.” Asked if the district isn’t already looking under every rock, Jackson said, “If they are, we’re not seeing the fruits of their labor.”

Jackson said school safety and student discipline is another top issue, pointing to the problems at John Hopkins Middle as but one example. He said the district needs to better communicate with parents about its expectations for their children’s behavior, and help them overcome their hurdles. “There have been changes on campus, but I don’t think there have been changes at home,” he said. “I don’t think we’re listening to the needs of parents.”

Jackson also said he wants to see more fundamental schools, and more attempts by Pinellas to emulate successful programs elsewhere. He pointed in particular to the Harlem Children’s Zone and to the Urban Prep charter school in Chicago, which St. Petersburg Times columnist Bill Maxwell recently wrote about. “I’m not sure if you can have those in every single neighborhood (but) we need to take a look,” he said.

Asked why Pinellas hasn’t done so already, he said, “They may be overwhelmed right now. How can you (search for models) when you’re talking about furloughs and layoffs … and closing schools? It’s a tough time for the whole district. But let’s get some fresh blood in there and look at the programs that are working.”

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 11:02am]


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