James "Jim" Jackson believes the quality of Pinellas schools has fallen enough that it will impact the recruitment of businesses, and the district has only itself to blame.
"A vibrant community needs a world-class school system. I don't think we have that right now," Jackson said. "What company is going to look at Pinellas County … when we have so many D- and F-rated schools that their employees have to send their children to? I certainly wouldn't do it. If we don't improve the schools and the track record of achievement, we're not going to attract new businesses here."
Jackson, 65, who is running for the District 7 School Board seat, is a former psychology professor at Miami-Dade College. He has lived in St. Petersburg for three years. He is divorced with two grown sons. He is a member of the NAACP and the Sierra Club, and volunteered in the Obama campaign in Tampa Bay.
"There are some good people on the School Board. But some people have been on perhaps too long," he also said. "Even giving superintendent (Julie) Janssen an extension of contract with multiple years … I'm not sure that's the right thing to do right now."
Jackson said his top issue is finding more resources to help the district in a time of chronic budget problems.
"You look for help," he said. "You look for volunteers. You look for mentors. You look for businesses that are doing well. … You enlist the help in community partnerships. You go for grants."
Asked if the district isn't already looking under every rock, Jackson said, "If they are, we're not seeing the fruits of their labor."
Jackson said school safety and student discipline is another top issue, pointing to the problems at John Hopkins Middle as but one example. He said the district needs to better communicate with parents about its expectations for their children's behavior, and help them overcome their hurdles.
"There have been changes on campus, but I don't think there have been changes at home," he said. "I don't think we're listening to the needs of parents."
Jackson also said he wants to see more fundamental schools, and more attempts by Pinellas to emulate successful programs elsewhere.
He pointed in particular to the Harlem Children's Zone and to the Urban Prep charter school in Chicago, which St. Petersburg Times columnist Bill Maxwell wrote about.
Ron Matus, Times Staff Writer