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Cathi Martin won't seek re-election to Pasco County School Board

LAND O'LAKES — After weeks of toying with the idea of seeking re-election, veteran Pasco County School Board member Cathi Martin has decided against it.

"I'm not going to run," Martin said Tuesday, declining to explain her decision not to run for a fourth term in the District 3 seat, serving southwest Pasco.

She announced her intention just before entering the evening's board meeting. She said she would give more details next week.

Martin struggled at times over the past two years to attend all board meetings. She attributed her absences to ongoing health issues.

Her empty chair became a spark early in 2009 when she missed a teacher disciplinary hearing, causing its delay for what became several months. Soon after, three of the county's Republican state lawmakers called for Martin's removal, saying she had failed her core responsibility of representing the people.

Martin, the nonpartisan board's lone Democrat, at one point last spring announced that she would resign. But she never followed through, instead recommitting herself to fulfilling the remainder of her term.

As the year wound down, Martin began talking with family members and friends about whether to seek another term. She would refuse to give any hints when asked, even as other candidates began circling, leading many to think she was positioning herself for a run.

Only Tuesday evening did she make clear that her 12-year stint on the board would end in November. New Port Richey lawyer Sallie Skipper, an ally of superintendent Heather Fiorentino, has announced her candidacy already.

Martin's decision paves the way for others to jump in.

Plans to revamp alternative education

Also on Tuesday, the School Board got an early look at the administration's proposal to revamp the district's alternative schools. This year, the district scaled back enrollment at Irvin and Schwettman education centers to look at changing them from schools focused on last chances for discipline problems.

Instead, the goal is to make them graduation enhancement centers, better helping the students most in need academically.

Curriculum and instruction supervisor Amelia Van Name Larson explained to the board that the world of education has changed since the education centers opened in the mid 1990s. The three R's for today's students are now relationships, relevance and rigor, she said. "They want to know: 'What's in it for me?' "

Schools have many warning signs to look for in determining whether students are on track for failure or success, she said, and they have the opportunity to intervene early.

This new direction would help mainstream schools reach out first to keep students engaged, leaving the alternative schools for the students with the most needs, she added.

"If we just count on the alternative settings to solve our problem, it will not work," she said.

Curriculum supervisor Kathy Sanz said four schools are piloting several programs, including a variety of online credit recovery programs, combined with face-to-face instruction.

Board members signaled their support for the district's direction. "I'm really glad for the intervention programs, because I think those really hit it home," board member Frank Parker said. "I think the results will be there."

He and others asked for details about how much it would cost to improve buildings and services for the programs to make them work best.

Other ideas also emerged.

Board member Kathryn Starkey said she thought the alternative centers might need to become charter schools to give them more flexibility. She also proposed different school hours and even a different calendar to give students more time in class.

Chairman Allen Altman reminded the administration, meanwhile, not to lose track of the students needing disciplinary attention.

"I love the graduation enhancement deal, but I still think there's a level that is between there and the (Department of Juvenile Justice) … that we need to provide for students who don't want to apply themselves for graduation enhancement," Altman said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Cathi Martin won't seek re-election to Pasco County School Board 01/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 9:01pm]
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