Thursday, November 23, 2017
Education

Emails reveal depth of skepticism over new Pinellas School Board member

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Give the guy a chance.

That's the message Jason Mims of Tampa says he wanted to send when he emailed more than a dozen leaders in St. Petersburg's African-American community, urging them to work with Glen Gilzean, Gov. Rick Scott's controversial new Pinellas County School Board appointee.

"It only takes a couple of leaders to shout, 'Crucify him!' The masses will follow," Mims wrote. "Any degree of support from the black leadership in South St. Petersburg will go a long way toward writing a positive script for his time on the board."

The passionate responses Mims got back shows the challenge Gilzean, 29, faces in gaining the support of key community leaders from the district he serves.

"The governor's appointment was a sham," local publisher Gypsy Gallardo wrote. "Glenton and others should reflect on how they pushed and lobbied for that position (WITHOUT picking up the phone to consult African Americans here about the needs of OUR community.)"

Gilzean was named last month to fill the vacancy left in District 7 when longtime Pinellas educator Lew Williams died in December. Gilzean is active in the Republican Party and says he only moved across the bay from Tampa in November, a fact that has outraged some local leaders who hoped the seat would be granted to someone with a deeper understanding of the community.

Though copied on the emails, Gilzean seems to have stayed out of the fray: "My No. 1 response is that I'm here to serve the children of Pinellas County," Gil­zean told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.

Also weighing in on Mims' message were state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D- St. Petersburg, former NAACP St. Petersburg president Ray Tampa, community housing activist Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, and District 7 School Board candidate Rene Flowers.

Mims, a former Hillsborough County School Board candidate, said he wrote his Feb. 8 email after reading comments on Gilzean's appointment in a legislative update Rouson sent to constituents.

"The governor anointed someone who does not know this community, is not of this community and cannot win the hearts of this community," Rouson's update read.

Mims, who volunteers his time coaching African-American students seeking entrance to competitive universities, said Wednesday that he felt it was important to remind the St. Petersburg leaders that the appointment they are so outraged about is that of a young black male who has an interest in education.

"Maybe I should have said IT WOULD BE EXTREMELY DIFFICULT for Mr. Gilzean to win the hearts of the community," Rouson allowed in his email response to Mims.

"No one seeks, not even me, to 'crucify' him. In fact, in good faith, we seek to INFORM him. He thrust himself into this school board candidacy and last I checked was not DRAFTED against his will nor imprisoned to the board by chains."

Tampa also called Gilzean's appointment a "sham" in his email response, but said the community should try to work with him. "Mr. Gilzean is in a position to cast some very important votes, irregardless of the length of his tenure," he wrote.

On Wednesday, Tampa questioned the intense response to Mims' email. Where, he asked, was this passion and outrage when a national report from the Schott Foundation in 2010 found Pinellas had the worst graduation rate among black males?

"True enough, the governor did disrespect our community," Tampa said. "And true enough, Mr. Gilzean participated in that disrespect for this community. … But that's beside the point at this point."

Gallardo said she and other leaders from the African-American community are meeting with Gilzean next week to talk about important district issues. Mims has been invited and said he plans to attend.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or [email protected]

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