NAACP grades Pinellas School Board candidates' debate performances
St. Petersburg's NAACP branch has released a report card grading six Pinellas County School Board candidates' responses at their Tuesday night debate.
District 1 at-large candidates Joanne Lentino and Matt Stewart finished on top with a "B" grade, District 4 candidate Eileen Long was rated a C+ and District 5 candidates Carol Cook, Mike Petruccelli and Eliseo Santana earned C grades. Candidates Bill Dudley, Ken Peluso and Chris Hardman were not graded because they did not attend the debate hosted at St. Petersburg College's Allstate Center.
Candidates were rated by local NAACP officials on how their responses to three questions aligned with NAACP positions and how well candidates justified those positions on a four-point scale. For example, a candidate who received an "A" was given four points for a response in line with the branch's position with sufficient justification, and a candidate who received a "B" got three points because he or she did not give a response in line with the branch but gave a rational justification.
The first question asked candidates how they would strictly enforce timely communication to parents, a complaint the NAACP says is common. They were also asked what policy changes are needed to improve the academic achievement of all students, and to explain why they do or don't support the school district's plan to turn around six of the lowest performing schools in the state.
The report card ranked Stewart with the highest average and gave him the highest rating for any question with a 3.8 for his response to the third question. He said he had a few problems with the district's proposed plan, the first being that it wasn't completely clear what the plan was because he said the district hadn't communicated it well to the public. Stewart also criticized the district for not having measures in place to monitor progress, and said parents, students and teachers should have more of a say in the changes at those schools.
"Are we implementing strategies that are actually going to work?" he asked. "(They) talk about magnets and back off in a week."
The NAACP gave Cook, an incumbent who has been on the board since 2000, the lowest average and the lowest rating for any question with a 1.8 for the third question as well. She defended the district's plan and professed her faith in the district's new turnaround leader, Antonio Burt, and said his academically sound and researched-based methods were already yielding results at the schools.
"We need to give him the opportunity and the time to put his plan in place and move forward," she said. "I am looking forward to continual academic growth as time goes on."
View the report card here.