Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Education

New Pinellas School Board member advocates vouchers

Pinellas County's newest School Board member is an advocate for school vouchers, as is the man who appointed him to the seat.

Gov. Rick Scott tabbed Glenton "Glen" Gilzean, 29, for the position Monday even though Gilzean has only lived in Pinellas County since November. He is currently renting a room from a friend in St. Petersburg after he lived in Tampa for many years.

Gilzean (pronounced Gil-ZEEN) heads up a nonprofit organization, Education Today, that was designated last year as one of four organizations in the state qualified to distribute private school vouchers to low-income families. However, the group didn't award any scholarships.

"We need to make sure all children, regardless of race, color or where they live have the opportunity to get the best education," said Gilzean, who founded the nonprofit in 2008 while he was in graduate school.

Gilzean's appointment stunned some local educators, who said Scott could have chosen someone who had lived in Pinellas County longer. Gilzean was appointed to fill the seat of Lew Williams, who died Dec. 3.

"That was the governor's decision and that's his decision," said board member Linda Lerner. "I do think it's disappointing he hasn't lived in Pinellas County more than a month or two. But it will be a new perspective."

On Tuesday, Gilzean attended his first School Board meeting in Largo. He arrived as the first public speaker began to address the board and was quickly escorted to the board table. He greeted and shook hands with the six sitting members while a second public speaker tried to hold the board's attention.

Gilzean, who will be sworn in Jan. 30, did not vote. He spoke only at the end, saying he was looking forward to doing the job.

Gilzean moved to St. Petersburg from Tampa in mid November. Active in the Republican Party for years, he applied for the District 7 School Board job on Dec. 13, 10 days after Williams died. Gilzean said in a brief interview with the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday that, despite appearances, he didn't relocate especially to fill Williams' seat.

He had been looking to move to Pinellas already, he said, since Educate Today signed a lease to open an office in St. Petersburg in October.

He said his top priorities will be to help raise Pinellas County's anemic graduation rate for black males. He also wants to work with the superintendent, he said, to do a better job reaching students who live in public housing.

"I really want to see that there is support to help them any way we can, because that is the only way we're going to break the cycle of poverty," Gilzean said.

While those who know Gilzean speak highly of him, it was clear Tuesday that he has a lot of introductions to make.

Before Gilzean appeared at the board meeting, his fellow board members had little they felt they could say about him.

"I've not met him, so I have no opinion," said board member Peggy O'Shea.

"I don't know the gentleman," said board member Janet Clark.

Gilzean takes over the District 7 seat serving St. Petersburg and most of south Pinellas, an area that serves the highest concentration of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

His appointment runs until November, at which point he could run for election. Gilzean said he hasn't decided if he will.

"I really want to make sure I understand the dynamics of the School Board and make sure to address any concerns that the citizens and the parents and the teachers and the principals have," he said. "And then, from there, I'll make that decision."

Gilzean said he views the job as a full-time position and he expects the board of Educate Today to replace him as director.

Curtis Stokes, a local business leader who is involved in the school voucher movement, said Gilzean has strong opinions about school choice, but he doesn't think it will surface during his time on the board.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or [email protected]

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