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Lew Williams wins seat on Pinellas School Board, ensuring racial diversity

Lew Williams hugs Keisha Bell during a victory party at his 
St. Petersburg home. Bell, a former candidate in the race, threw her support behind Williams in the general election.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Lew Williams hugs Keisha Bell during a victory party at his St. Petersburg home. Bell, a former candidate in the race, threw her support behind Williams in the general election.

He may not have pulled in the dollars, but Lew Williams rounded up the votes.

Despite being outspent almost 3-to-1 by his competitor, the 67-year-old retired school district administrator won 52 percent of the vote Tuesday, landing him a seat on the Pinellas County School Board.

"I think when you try and stay on message and people feel that your experience is what is needed at this time, the money is not the major factor," Williams said.

His victory also ensures that the School Board will maintain racial diversity. Williams, who is black, will fill the seat vacated by retiring board member Mary Brown, the first African-American to be elected to the board.

Competitor Jim Jackson, 66, a retired Miami-Dade College professor, raised $42,623 to Williams' $16,545. He made expansion of fundamental schools a cornerstone issue.

"I have no regrets," Jackson said Tuesday, blaming his loss largely on news coverage and the lack of endorsements from the teachers union and the St. Petersburg Times.

Williams, who worked for Pinellas County schools for almost 35 years, campaigned on his experience. He said he plans to bring a strong voice to issues plaguing south Pinellas County schools: attracting and maintaining quality teachers, and implementing proven programs to help struggling students.

One of the first items: a multifaceted student assignment plan floated by district superintendent Julie Janssen.

"I think our superintendent rolled out a good plan for students who are achievers, but I didn't hear enough specifics for our struggling learners," Williams said.

Particularly concerning, he said, is the lack of specific strategies to address a black male graduation rate that is, by one measure, the country's worst.

While almost 58 percent of students attending District 7 schools are minorities, 69 percent of registered voters are white, according to figures from the Pinellas County supervisor of elections.

Williams will be sworn in as a School Board member Nov. 16 along with Terry Krassner, who was elected in August to replace Nina Hayden in District 2.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Lew Williams wins seat on Pinellas School Board, ensuring racial diversity 11/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 1:32am]
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