A weekend interview with ...
... Kim Black, newly elected president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. Black, 44, was born and raised in St. Petersburg. She earned a bachelor's degree in deaf education and elementary education from Flagler College and a master's in counseling from the University of South Florida. She worked for 22 years at Pinellas Park High School, most recently as a guidance counselor. Black spoke with reporter Donna Winchester.
Q: Why did you want to take on the presidency of PCTA?
For the past four years, I was chairwoman of the legislative committee for PCTA. Being on that committee and serving in the position of chair allowed me to move the public education agenda forward. I felt my qualifications would lead me to be the best candidate for president.
Q: What is your role as PCTA president?
My main role is to be a teacher advocate; to protect the rights of union members in the work place, to negotiate their contracts, and to aid in the retention of high quality teachers. I also want the public to know the role of educators.
Q: Isn't this a difficult time to be head of the PCTA?
I think it is, but I don't think it's any more difficult than in previous times. Over the last eight years under the leadership of Jeb Bush, it's been difficult with all the pressure put on us by the FCAT and No Child Left Behind. I'm actually very optimistic about the time we're in right now because of our community partnerships, the business buy-in we have, and the visibility of teachers unions throughout the state. We've always had difficult times. It's how we work through them that's important.
Q: Pinellas County climate surveys indicate that teacher morale already is low. Last week, the district declared a freeze on hiring, travel, training and overtime. What effect will that have on morale?
I think it will hurt morale. That's why I want to continue our collective efforts with the district so we can move forward in a positive way. I think teachers just really want to be heard. They want to know they're a part of the discussion.
Q: So what would you say to a teacher who's feeling discouraged at this point?
I know some groups don't feel they're being listened to or valued. I know we have teachers who have to stop at Staples or another office supply store on their way to school to buy supplies. You don't often hear about doctors having to stop on their way to work to buy alcohol wipes. But I'd ask the teachers to be optimistic. My relationship with the Pinellas County legislative delegation is very positive. I've spoken with every legislator, and I know they are interested in the day-to-day classroom living stories. In thinking about the potential cuts in the district and the hiring freeze, I don't know how you determine which person is more important, the bus driver, the school janitor or the school guidance counselor. But I think everyone in that group is important.
Q: What will your priorities be for the next two years?
I think the first priority will be to be the spokeswoman for the teachers, to get their stories out. I want to work to continue creating great public schools for all of our students. That said, we need to look at the funding sources, the working conditions, how we?re going to deal with choice and the class size amendment. I also want to gain membership for the PCTA. I think teachers are empowered when they join their professional organization. That's where they get their strength, in the numbers.