TAMPA — Make it easier to give blood. Explain the school district's $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And, for heaven's sake, hold semester exams before the winter holidays.
Those were only a few of the wishes — often framed politely as questions — that students voiced Tuesday at Hillsborough County's annual student forum. Representatives from every high school and career center peppered School Board members with their ideas and, occasionally, problems.
Many students voiced frustration with the board's decision in the fall to suspend attendance-based exam exemptions and hold exams in January. The moves were prompted by the swine flu outbreak and a calendar bound by state mandates.
"With the first semester now ending in January, has there been any noticeable improvement in exam grades?" asked Robert Gordon of Bloomingdale High.
Board members said the district might soon gain some latitude that would allow more freedom in setting the calendar. Changes in state law might make it hard to reinstate the exam exemptions, but members said they'd try to find an alternative.
"We know that's on the top of your mind," said member Jennifer Faliero.
Junior Thomas Herrera of Strawberry Crest High was one of several students who asked the board about reforms related to the district's seven-year, $100 million teacher effectiveness grant from the Gates Foundation.
"Will student input ever be a factor in teachers gaining their tenure?" he asked, as his fellow students grinned.
Actually, students will get a chance to help rate at least their principals as part of a 360-degree evaluation process that's being developed, said board member Carol Kurdell.
Riverview High student Sarah Wilson said a new blood donations policy requires that students' iron levels be checked, and that has resulted in a 20 percent drop in collections.
"I would be more than happy to look at that," Faliero said.
Some student wishes seemed unlikely to be granted. For example, allowing students to leave campus at lunch time has resulted in car accidents, board members said.
Christina Hancock of Steinbrenner High asked whether the board would "consider allowing students to use cell phones as an educational tool in the classroom." Right on cue, a cell phone rang across the crowded board room.
But all in all, students seemed to appreciate being heard, and board members appreciated the chance to connect with their most important constituents.
"You're going to become voters soon," said member Doretha Edgecomb. "You can put people in the seats in Washington and Tallahassee who can make a difference."
"You don't know the power you have," agreed member Jack Lamb.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400.