Even as some reformers describe a crisis in public education, Tampa Bay area residents are offering a time-tested response: My child's school is just fine.
Parents in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties give generous marks to their children's schools and teachers, according to a St. Petersburg Times-Bay News 9 poll conducted last month.
Forty-nine percent of respondents rated their schools as "excellent," while 41 percent rated them "good."
Almost as many gave good grades to their kids' teachers. Eighty-five percent gave teachers a rating of either "excellent" or "good."
The phone survey of 702 parents was conducted Sept. 24-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
The ratings remained consistent across racial, economic and gender lines.
A number of parents who answered the poll agreed to interviews Wednesday. Several said the degree and ease of communication between teachers and parents strongly influenced their opinion of the school system.
Jac Generalli, whose children go to Clearwater Fundamental Middle School and Curtis Fundamental Elementary School in Pinellas County, said mandatory parent-teacher meetings promote a climate of trust and transparency necessary for children to succeed.
"We're very well informed," Generalli said.
David Haglund of Hernando County said his daughter's teachers at Springstead High School respond to e-mail queries promptly and keep parents updated about students' progress through an online system.
"They put the emphasis on what the children need," Haglund said. "They do it very well."
Some parents noted smaller class sizes and the diversity of classes offered. Others said they like schools that provide children with greater access to technology and use the latest teaching systems available.
Tony Arredondo, whose daughter is in first grade at Philip Shore Elementary School of the Arts in Hillsborough County, said he was glad she has access to a computer lab at school. Becky McClintock, whose third-grader attends Oakhurst Elementary School in Largo, said she appreciated the school's use of SMART boards, which are interactive white boards.
An overwhelming proportion of parents — 73 percent — said their children received just the right amount of homework.
Tom Johnston said his children, who attend Charles S. Rushe Middle School and Sunlake High School in Pasco County, spend the perfect amount of time on homework every night — 30 minutes to an hour.
But others said they would like to see their children challenged a little more.
Arredondo said the 20 to 30 minutes his first-grader spends on reading and math homework every night is simply not enough.
"I haven't seen any science or geography homework," said Arredondo, who rated the Hillsborough school system as "good." "I understand math and reading are what the little ones are focused on. Let's turn that up a notch."
Arredondo, who has an 18-year-old stepdaughter, said the type and quantity of homework children get seem to have remained the same for the last decade — one indicator that the school system hasn't improved significantly.
His solution: "Pushing the limits a little bit more."
Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 661-2441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.