In her first term on the Pinellas County School Board, Janet Clark sometimes had to push hard to persuade her colleagues to go along with her ideas. But Clark, a former middle school teacher, says those four years were more about planting a seed than scoring any victories.
"I'm cynical and I'm skeptical and I just don't believe anyone," she said in a midsummer interview along the campaign trail.
Clark, 54, embarked on her second term Tuesday after beating out three opponents in a race that began last winter. The candidate who embraced a platform of fiscal accountability and favored a proposal that would give individual schools a greater voice in how they are run says she's now turning her attention to what comes next.
She shared her views on the issues closest to her heart with St. Petersburg Times education reporter Donna Winchester.
What are three things you want to see the board and/or superintendent do in the next 180 days?
I think we must get the transportation issue worked out. That's one thing that's really high on my list, making sure that we're not overspending on transportation, and having more reasonable start times for our high school and middle school kids.
We have four or five centers of excellence now. We should have the majority of them on line in the next 180 days.
I'd also like to see the district get the teacher contract worked out. That's one thing that's really bringing morale down. With a new superintendent and a new board, teachers and staff need to know we're not going to be operating in the same way we always have.
What is your view on elementary and middle school students' riding the same bus in order to save money on transportation?
I think that we really should be looking at options like that. I don't think there's a problem with it. If it's a way for us to save money, we need to look at it. We already have paraprofessionals and teacher assistants riding our buses, so we do have an extra pair of adult eyes. I think it would work.
Despite the fact that Pinellas no longer uses race ratios in assigning children to schools, the district maintains that it's committed to diversity. What would you do to ensure that children from different backgrounds attend school together?
I don't think we'll be able to ensure diversity until housing patterns change. People want their kids in a school close to home. Diversity is not something that we're going to be able to manipulate artificially, but I still think it's a good thing to aim for. I absolutely think we should keep trying. Continuing to apply for federal magnet school assistant grants is one way of attempting to keep schools integrated. And it can't hurt to have discussions with people. But I really don't think people will go outside their comfort level.
The school district uses numerous discipline programs, yet we still hear that kids are out of control in the classroom. Do you have a handle on which programs are working better than others?
Discipline has to be something that an individual school determines that's best for that school. We can't force programs on schools. There has to be staff and faculty buy-in to make sure that a program works. You can't put the same program into every school. That's one of the things that can come out of decentralizing the district.
There seems to be a clamor for more fundamental schools. Do you think fundamental schools are the answer for all families?
I think what people mean when they say they want a fundamental school is parental involvement. I would like to have that involvement in every school, but we can't mandate it, so it's kind of a pie-in-the-sky thing. I think fundamental schools are right for a lot of kids at the elementary school level. But I think if we get behavior under control, the demand for fundamental schools won't be as great.