Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Parent engagement at the heart of District 3 School Board race in Pinellas

Pinellas County School Board member Peggy O'Shea is facing a St. Petersburg professor in her bid for a third term.

O'Shea, 64, says she wants to see through plans the current board has set in motion, such as new career academies, ideas for magnet schools and new programs that target the district's struggling minority students.

Kent Curtis, 47, says the board has made recent turns in the right direction. But as a parent and volunteer at St. Petersburg's Lakewood Elementary, one of the lowest-achieving schools in the state, he says he has detailed plans to address high-need schools.

A professor first at Eckerd College and now at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Curtis founded the Edible Peace Patch Project, creating school gardens and linking students with college-age mentors at seven Pinellas schools.

He says he believes the School Board could do more to improve parent engagement at its low-performing schools.

"The district acts as if a lack of parental involvement is because parents don't want to be accountable to their kids, but in fact … many of them don't know how to, don't feel welcome in the schools, and are uncertain about what it means to be involved," Curtis said.

When Curtis tried to discuss his experience and insights with school administrators coming in to restructure Lakewood, he says he was met with "polite disdain."

He says an important first step would be for the board to hold a forum, "an airing of grievances," for parents who feel ostracized.

O'Shea, whose own daughters graduated from Palm Harbor University High and Gibbs High, says she has been a strong advocate for parents. "They'll call us with concerns, questions and sometimes frustrations. Being a School Board member is about being available to them, it's knowing how to help them, and new board members don't always know how to help."

In her eight years on the board, O'Shea says she has pushed for career academies, as well as tougher enforcement of attendance policies.

"If they're not in class, that's the first problem, because they can't learn," she said.

If re-elected, she says that, like Curtis, she would focus on schools that year after year post alarmingly low pass rates on state math and reading exams.

Five Pinellas elementary schools, all in St. Petersburg, were among the 25 lowest-achieving schools in the state, according to a recent ranking by reading proficiency on the FCAT.

"We've got to pull that up. You don't want to hold the high-performing kids back, but you've got to bring the low-performing ones up," O'Shea said.

Although the candidates agree on that issue, O'Shea has done less to get the message out.

She has raised $3,600 — by giving to herself. A Largo businessman has given her $500, but otherwise she has not received outside campaign donations.

Curtis has raised more than $10,000, mostly in checks from $5 to $500 from individuals throughout the county. He has spent much of it already, mainly on campaign consulting.

He has garnered endorsements from Pinellas County Commissioners Charlie Justice and Janet Long, as well as St. Petersburg City Council members Karl Nurse, Amy Foster and Steve Kornell.

He also has been endorsed by a dozen downtown Dunedin merchants, the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas and the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Pinellas.

Some of that support is not surprising, as Curtis is a registered Democrat and lives in St. Petersburg. O'Shea lives in Oldsmar and is a registered Republican.

She has been endorsed by the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

The two are competing for the District 3 at-large seat, which is chosen by voters countywide.

O'Shea recently was diagnosed with breast cancer, a fact she made public last week, saying she wanted people to know in case she had to miss some campaign events for her health.

"I plan on being as active as I can," she said.

Said Curtis, "My heart and prayers go out to her."

The election is Aug. 26.

Parent engagement at the heart of District 3 School Board race in Pinellas 07/29/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 10:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Senate ponders health care bill it doesn't want to be law


    Buoyed by a signal from House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a pared-down health care bill late Thursday that he hoped would keep alive Republican ambitions to repeal Obamacare.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed concerns about passing the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare without assurances of further negotiations.
  2. Arrest made in shooting death of 19-year-old found in lot


    A 20-year-old Tampa man was arrested Thursday night for the shooting death of a 19-year-old whose body was discovered in a vacant lot on Tuesday.

  3. Rays fall to Yankees in 11 on Brett Gardner homer (w/ video)

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — The front office did its part Thursday, making two trades to bolster the roster in a push for the playoffs. But the Rays didn't follow up in a frustrating 6-5 11-inning loss to the Yankees.

    Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge stands on the mound and can only watch as the Yankees’ Brett Gardner starts to circle the bases after his walkoff home run leading off the 11th inning.
  4. Believe it! Rays are buyers, trade for reliever Dan Jennings and 1B/DH Lucas Duda

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — Dan Jennings' ability to render lefty hitters useless with a sinker that gets beaten into the ground and Lucas Duda's power to blast baseballs off and over outfield walls should make the Rays better.

    Lucas Duda
  5. Bucs' direction is decidedly up for first time in several years


    TAMPA — If you want to see a team give the Heisman Trophy stiff-arm to expectations, check out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Tight end O.J. Howard, left, the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, was brought in to give QB Jameis Winston another big-play option.