Williams: Reduce administrative layers in Pinellas
Pinellas needs to take a hard look at its organizational chart for and reduce the administrative layers, said school board candidate Lew Williams.
"For example, there is a Deputy Superintendent of C&I, Asst. Superintendent of C&I, Director of Elementary Education, Director of Middle School Education, and Director of High School Education," Williams wrote in a questionairre for the St. Petersburg Times editorial board. "The Superintendent is proposing eight (8) Area Superintendent Positions. I feel that this could be reduced down to three. There should be diversity in the makeup of the curriculum and instructional leadership."
Like one of his opponents, Jim Jackson, Williams also gave the district a C grade for its transition to neighborhood schools.
Williams is running against Jackson and Keisha Bell for the District 7 seat.
Here is the full questionairre:
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?
Budget cuts over the past several years have left quite an impact on the district. Further cuts are difficult because now you are looking at cutting professional staff (the teachers) in the classroom. However, we may have to look at that as a “necessary but unwelcome evil”.
We should take a look at the administrations organizational chart. I believe some layers of superintendents could be replaced with directors. However, ALL programs should be assessed for their added value at this point. Any program that has not achieved the measurable goals laid out initially (without a thorough explanation) should be marked for possible discontinuation.
I believe we can take a look at percentage cuts when it comes to discretionary spending. We can look at arterial busing as well as use of PSTA as a form of transportation for our older students. For any new initiatives, we must be discrete and scrutinize them for their effectiveness and evaluate a budget plan for at least ten years.
I also think we should take a look at extending the DROP contracts for employees as well.
With all diligence, the cutting of any teacher should be spared. We will certainly loose if we do not hire the best and brightest, retain the best and brightest teachers, and provide our students with what they need to be successful and graduate on time.
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?
There is enough blame to be shared and go around I am sure! What is important now is to look at the strategies we can enlist to aide in fixing the problem.
First, we must look at the leadership. Do the skills and past performances of the principal and assistant principal match the needs of the school? Do we have the right teachers to meet the needs of the students?
For the challenging schools, we should strive to match passionate, yet experienced teachers. There must be a high expectation of success and not failure. Teachers have to be motivated to see beyond what is in front of them and build upon the success of the student. Frequent assessments must be made (not the FCAT), and individual education plans must be developed for every student that is followed not just placed in a folder to collect dust.
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?
The Pinellas County School Board district is a large, complex urban district. Ms. Janssen is a very caring person with a strong sense of teaching and learning. In this area, I give her high marks. Sometimes this can be a shortcoming.
For example, we just recently had a discussion regarding the change in start times for certain schools. We cannot mandate certain things without hearing from the public. All of us who have children know how difficult it is to get three children to three different schools in the morning because of start times. We also know that children are not very attentive when they have their first class neither at 7:00 a.m. nor at 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon.
Parental involvement was left out of the equation and it should not have been. Linda Lerner admitted “that the board made a mistake by not hearing from the parents”, while Nina Hayden shared that “she did not know it was an issue”.
4) What changes would you like to see at the district administration level?
I would like to see a reduction in the layers of administrators. For example, there is a Deputy Superintendent of C&I, Asst. Superintendent of C&I, Director of Elementary Education, Director of Middle School Education, and Director of High School Education. The Superintendent is proposing eight (8) Area Superintendent Positions. I feel that this could be reduced down to three. There should be diversity in the makeup of the curriculum and instructional leadership. There is a need for a K-12 program rather than teachers being utilized in isolation. There needs to be more collaboration between all levels of teaching.
5) What steps should the superintendent and School Board take to improve student behavior? What should be done with chronically disruptive students?
First you must have and adhere to a school wide disciplinary plan that falls under the district umbrella. The plan must be consistently enforced by ALL staff members. Administrators must be directed to be out of their offices and help to supervise the “Hot Spots” during the beginning and ending of school, change of class periods and lunch time.
Administrators should meet with the student body and parents at the beginning of each school year to lay out the expectations as well as the consequences.
Administrators should meet with known adversarial students and their parents or a representative in order to establish an open dialogue and provide assistance in areas that may be lacking and provide some explanation for the outstanding behavior. Please note that this may not work in all cases. Some students and parents just will not participate in a constructive manner. For those students, the option of an alternative school can be made available, Mirror Lake Tomlinson, evening/night classes, as well as private school if the family is willing to pay for it. However, in no uncertain terms will the child’s behavior be acceptable and punitive action such as expulsion will occur if all avenues have been followed under the disciplinary guidelines.
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 children attended fundamental schools and yes they work! I support the expansion of fundamental schools. The location of such schools is very important.
Since al of the schools will not be fundamental in nature, we should look at ways of implementing some of the practices of our fundamental schools in ALL schools. I am always concerned about the possibility of depleting some schools of the role models they currently have. I believe all children have the capability to learn, we just have to find (help them to find) that trigger.
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?
Not all low socio-economic families are lacking in supporting their children and their education as well as not all children from a low-socioeconomic family creates problems in the public school system. I am an example of such.
We can develop a “Family Friendly Program” in every school. Parents should be greeted warmly and immediately when they enter the office. The Front Office Receptionist can set the tone for the parents visit.
When a parent comes in for a conference, they are seated around the table with five to seven staff members speaking to the parent in school vernacular. We must make the parent feel that we are on the same team; working for the betterment of the student.
We can also suggest that when possible, have the staff member meet with the parent in the community. This shows care and concern for the environment that the student goes back to daily.
Lastly, call a parent who you may not see or hear from often and share your needs, Recruit them for a special project. Start with something small. They may feel as though they are not wanted or needed. This shows them that they are valued.
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?
I have reviewed the evaluation tool and feel that it is a document headed in the right direction. The document is geared towards teaching and learning than other instruments that I have seen.
I agree with tying performance to pay, we just have to be careful to make sure that it is not the only tool we use. Just like children and the FCAT, we cannot allow one document to serve as an evaluator for all areas. Differentiality is a step in the right direction.
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?
I would currently grade the school with a “C”. The decision was made abruptly without systems in place which is why there were so many kinks to be worked out. The plan did not transition well for the massive overflow numbers to neighborhood schools.
We were closing schools while others had to have portables placed in order to accommodate the student body enrollment.
Those children who were not grandfathered, in a magnet program, nor accepted into a fundamental school or parents simply did not submit their CHOICE, those students ended up at certain schools which caused overcrowding and the tension rose to lend itself to a number of disciplinary issues.
I would have worked diligently to attract students to voluntarily desegregate schools. I would advocate for increasing services in schools where a large number of challenged students were assigned.
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?
I can understand the desire to compare, but I do not feel that the comparison is accurate. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Award can have a significant impact on Hillsborough County Schools. It would have been just what Pinellas needed. However, there are some innovative things happening in Pinellas. The district is working with the University of Florida and the Helios Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation. The program assists and develops learning systems for teachers and principles that raise achievement in the highest need schools. Meaningful, engaged learning is its vision.
11) Should the School Board change the start time for high schools? Why or why not?
As shared earlier, the school board should look at changing the start time for high school students based on comments from the public. The current time of 7:05 is too early. Many of the children are half asleep. Those who catch a bus must be up by 5:00-5:30 a.m. to catch the bus in the dark by 6:00-6:15 depending on the distance.
You cannot just make a change here though. You would have to look at elementary and middle because one change impacts all of the apples in the bunch.
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?
Yes. An agreement was signed between the school board and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. I think this is a step in the right direction. Both groups have the children and their preparation for the future in mind.
Every school must write an achievement goal for Black Students. I do not believe that just writing the goal goes far enough. The goal must be measurable and someone must track the data. Successful strategies from one success student should be shared with other schools for emulation.
I thank you for your time and attention and I ask for your support and the Endorsement of the St. Petersburg Times Newspaper. Remember, “Lew will do what’s best for our children”!
13) In November Florida voters will reconsider the 2002 class size amendment. What is your position on that issue?
I am in favor of the classroom size amendment. Children cannot learn in a 1-30 ratio and teachers cannot teach in that environment either. However, I also think that this measure was not thought out carefully as it relates to the budgetary implications over time nor would the administration (whoever it would be) would support adequately funding the measure.
This is too often the case, a mandate without the required FULL FUNDING! Adequate funding from the Department of Education and not the pretense from lottery winnings is what is needed. Funding is not to be the fiscal burden of municipalities. It should have been 60% from the state and 40% from the municipalities. This formula has switched if not with higher percentages.
14) Describe why voters should consider you for this office and what you hope to accomplish:
I have been a resident of Pinellas County for over 40 years and an employee with the Pinellas County School System for thirty-four of those years. I have taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels, I have served as principal on all three levels ranging from south county to north county, along with serving as the Area Superintendent. My employment has allowed me to work in the trenches with families and students who have found it difficult to achieve a level of success for them on an individual basis.
My children attended public schools and as such, their mother and I were and are very involved in the education that they receive. What we (I) expected as a parent was no less than what I gave as an employee of the system.
My wife currently teaches at Fairmont Park, a school that is on the radar for a facility that needs some attention. My daughter just received her masters in education from National Louis University. On top of all of that, I refused to remove myself from education. Henceforth, I own a daycare center in South St.Petersburg. I have the gratification of seeing young bright minds begin to open and develop.
I feel that my experience will assist the sitting school board members and the superintendent to accomplish real solutions to problems focused in discipline, school safety, budget shortfalls, student achievement, staff accountability, class size, and the tools the teachers need within the facilities to have a good productive day of learning.
I know that I can bring exuberance, time, attention, and certainly experience to the school board.