Lew Williams isn't the kind of School Board candidate who started thinking about education the day before he filed his papers with the Supervisor of Elections Office.
Williams, 67, built a career working in K-12 schools, beginning as a teacher in Pinellas County in 1970 and rising through the district's ranks to become a principal at every level, then an area superintendent, before retiring in 2005.
After running unsuccessfully for a countywide seat in 2006, Williams said he was already entertaining the idea of taking another stab at the job.
Williams says the chief concerns facing the district today are surviving a budget crisis, closing the achievement gap between races and income levels, implementing disciplinary rules that deal firmly with chronically disruptive students without going overboard, and giving parents the tools they need to help their children succeed academically.
"It's not going to hurt to go back and draw off of some old-school things," he said, recalling night training classes for parents on topics that concern them like standardized testing.
"In too many instances, we have babies raising babies," Williams said, "and many times these young parents are not the role models they want to be because they lacked role models themselves."
He is also concerned that the move back to neighborhood schools has led to increasingly racially identifiable schools, especially in parts of District 7.
"If we're going to do this, placing a lot of disadvantaged learners in a setting, we are going to have to put the resources in there." By resources, he said, he means people and money.
Williams said his proudest moments as an educator came when he was able to use innovative solutions to address glaring problems. While presiding over Pinellas Park High School, he was shocked that no African-American students were enrolled in advanced classes. So he started a program that encouraged high-achieving minorities to take advanced classes.
His thoughts on other topics:
Expansion of fundamental schools: As a father of two former fundamental students, he supports the model. But he is concerned about their potential to siphon strong students from magnet schools.
Superintendent Julie Janssen's performance: He describes Janssen as "a very caring person, and I would give her high marks in that area. Pinellas is a very challenging district, and there are times you make good calls and there are times when you make calls that are not well thought out. That being said, I think she's a person who will listen."
Rebecca Catalanello, Times Staff Writer