Within hours of being sworn in last week as a new School Board member, Robin Wikle found herself knee-deep in a discussion with a personal twist.
In order to trim $40-million from the district's budget, board members concluded they may have to close several schools next year, including Palm Harbor Elementary. That's the school Wikle's husband, Paul, attended as a child.
Wikle went home after the workshop and attempted to explain the situation to her closest constituent, who, like many people she's heard from since, was not pleased.
"Trying to make those fiscally responsible decisions and keeping my emotions out of it will be difficult," Wikle said after her first week on the job. "It makes my stomach hurt."
Among other tough issues she'll face along with fellow board members will be improving the graduation rate, providing resources to struggling schools, and ensuring teacher quality. Wikle spoke Monday with St. Petersburg Times reporter Donna Winchester about these topics and others.
Q. Pinellas earned kudos last week for improving its graduation rate, largely by increasing the number of students who were able to pass the GED test. Do you think that's a valid way for the district to increase its percentage of graduates?
There are many students who pass the GED test and go on to be successful, so I do think it's valid. I don't think the ultimate goal is graduation. I think the ultimate goal is adults who come back to our community and work and pay their taxes. We also have to make sure we provide services for all levels of kids, whether they're GED bound or academically bound for college. I'm a big proponent of vocational education. Sometimes it has a bad taste, but now we're moving toward creating centers of excellence.
Q. Does it concern you that many of the students who graduated based on an alternate assessment were unable to pass the 10th-grade FCAT?
I'm not a fan of the FCAT. I don't think it's an inclusive measure of everyone's lifetime success.
Q. If the board revisits the issue of grandfathering — allowing students to stay at the school they were assigned under the old controlled choice plan — would you vote to keep things as they are and allow children to stay at those schools even though they're not necessarily the neighborhood school?
I would vote to end grandfathering, but I would allow students who are fourth- or fifth-graders and eighth-graders to stay at their current schools if their parents would agree to drive them.
Q. What about that part of the current policy that allows siblings to attend the same school, even if it isn't the close to home school?
I think the district has done everything to make that work, but to be fiscally responsible, we're looking at not being able to do that anymore. Our goal has to be curriculum in the classroom and keeping teachers employed.
Q. What is your view on making more resources available to struggling schools rather than funding all schools equally?
That's something we definitely need to look at. I would like to research counties, other states. I need to challenge myself to look into that.
Q. Would you be in favor of reducing resources to high-performing schools to make more resources available to struggling schools?
I don't know if that's an option. I don't know how the taxpayers would feel about that.
Q. So where would the money come from?
There's got to be other ways, whether it be grants or revenues. We have Title 1, which has been fairly successful in the past. There's just got to be other ways to get revenue for low performing schools.
Q. What would you do to ensure that all children have-high quality teachers?
I do think that's something we have to look at. You have teachers who leave at 4 p.m. and they don't think about school for the rest of the day. Then you have teachers who don't leave until 6 and they bring work home with them. You can walk onto a campus and within one week you know who the dynamic teachers are as opposed to the regular teachers. I think the majority of our teachers are outstanding. Unfortunately, we only hear about the ones who are coming before us with problems. You know what? We need to get rid of them. We need to tighten it up.