What did Hillsborough school board candidates say at Tiger Bay?
Between now and Aug. 14, a dozen Hillsborough County School Board candidates have to get their message out to voters. Ten were at the Tiger Bay Club meeting on Friday. By now their positions are clear and their talking points polished.
Here is some of what they said:
Susan Valdes, incumbent, District 1: For the last eight years I’ve said I would ask the tough questions and be that budget hawk, and I have.
Eddy Calcines, challenger: I think the children have to be the center and it is indeed the center of what I do. It is a pleasure to be in the position where I can represent all of the 193,000-plus children in our school district.
Jack Lamb, incumbent, District 3: I believe FCAT is a four-letter word and if you paid attention to our last school board meeting, we tried doing something about it.
Cindy Stuart, challenger: I am the parent perspective that’s under-represented on the board and I will bring great passion to this task.
Doretha Edgecomb, incumbent, District 5: It is that one single teacher that’s in that classroom that makes all the difference in the life of our children, but they need support of public officials, of policy makers, and of servants like myself.
Henry Ballard, challenger: When 50 percent of students are not graduating with the type of money that you, the taxpayers give us to operate .... when they put $157,000 in a kid from first through eighth grade and by the time they get to graduation they are given a certificate of attendance, that just doesn’t add up as a businessman.
Carol Kurdell, District 7: Thirty years of being involved in the complicated issues of education have prepared me to further refine the educational processes of the 21st century classroom, which is where we are now.
Robert McElheny, challenger: I taught school when I first got out of college. I felt like it was time that I got back to what I really loved. But my daughters told me that I shouldn’t go to the classroom, that it’s changed.
Joseph Jordan-Robinson, challenger: I’m not the status quo, but a fresh perspective. I promise to make an impact in 21 months, not 21 years. As an engineer, I know how to solve problems.
Michael Weston, challenger: I want to be the first practicing teacher on the Hillsborough County School Board... To be effective in the classroom, I was going to have to do something outside the classroom and here I am.
When asked about the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers:
Valdes: I was excited about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant at first until I saw the morale of teachers and where it is going.
Stuart: Where is the empowering in what we are doing to our teachers?
Kurdell: Let me give you some facts. The new evaluation system was crafted by teachers, for teachers. Education is about student achievement and finding the fairest way to evaluate the people, teachers, the principals, and the schools. The fairest way to evaluate them on the job that they get done every day. The transition on Empowering Effective Teachers is difficult. Everybody knows that and everybody recognizes that.
Weston: I can tell you that the current implementation of the Gates grant EET is tearing our schools apart. It’s pitted teacher against teacher, morale is absolutely at the bottom...We have to remove the teacher-evaluates-teacher component from it. If my principal doesn’t know what kind of a job I’m doing, then, then he’s not doing his job.
Cacines: I am the husband of an educator who puts in 12-14 hours a day. I understand the essence of what teachers do. Absolutely we want accountability and we want to make sure that the best teachers are in front of our kids. It is easy to become a part of the bashing bunch who are aggressive to all approaches to try to improve conditions in our school district. It is a work in progress and we need to continue to work to improve conditions.
Lamb: Remember, we are entering our third year of seven years. We’ve not finalized anything. And so working together, I think that we can accomplish much. This county has always been a leader. We need to be a leader, supporting our teachers.
Ballard: We’ve heard it all. We’ve seen it all. Why are the grades going down, not going up? This thing has come through political cycles as opposed to an educational cycle. We have teachers who are bullied, threatened, and as people said, good teachers are running out that door when we used to run in that door.
McElheny: I don’t think good teachers have a problem being evaluated. But I do think they have a problem with a system when they’re told one thing this week, one thing next week. The real emphasis should be on the principal. We need the best principals to hire the best teachers.
What I’m worried about with the Gates Foundation, we were given that money. We’ve spent three years on it. In the next seven years, when we run out of that money, where is the money going to come from to continue the system of peers and evaluators that we will have to pay for out of our own pockets down the road?
When asked how educators can get more parents involved:
Weston: I am shocked at the number of schools in this county that do not have functioning PTAs. We need to fix that.
Valdes: What we need to make sure is that our school are parent-friendly.
Calcines: Our oldest son went to Plant High School, where they had 300 PTA members on board. Our youngest son went to Leto High School, where I became parent and community liaison. We had four people on the PTA. The reality is that all of us need to be accountable. Parents need to be held accountable. We’re making a connection between third grade and criminal activity, prison population already.
Stuart: I can tell you as a past PTA president, treasurer, VP, every other position you can name in the past 10 years, parents are accountable for the children they are raising. But the community is accountable as well. Until the community wraps their arms around some of these failing schools in the urban areas, we’ve got failing schools in Temple Terrace, we have got to reach out to the community and ask them for their help.
Lamb: My daughter volunteered me when she was the principal of Sulphur Springs Elementary. One of my granddaughters was going to a school in South Tampa. They'd talk about raising $36,000 in their carnival. I'd go back to Sulphur Springs and there would be four people at a PTA meeting.
Kurdell: It takes every one of us whether you are a parent, a businessman or the schools. Parents send their very best to our schools. They want the best for their children, no matter what their circumstances.
Robinson: Having been in an urban environment all of my life, it's not parents. A lot of it is guardians and grandmothers, the boyfirends and girlfriends are raising children now. So what do you do? You put requirements in. A certain GPA, it is mandatory that you have to come in and go to the PTA. The biggest pipeline to prison is people who do not read.