The Pinellas County School District needs more honesty and transparency, and must hold its students more accountable for their own success, said School Board candidate Brian Hawley.
"John Hopkins blows up and all of a sudden the School Board is throwing resources at it. But that didn't just happen," Hawley said. "The School Board only jumped on it as an issue after it appeared (in the St. Petersburg Times). That's disingenuous. They need to be on top of these problems."
Hawley, 30, is a Gibbs High graduate. He teaches language arts at Largo Middle and is an adjunct professor at USF St. Petersburg. He has a bachelor's in business administration and a master's in education, both from USF. He and his wife, also a teacher at Largo Middle, are expecting their first child in July.
Hawley said teaching wasn't his first gig. He said he traded options at Raymond James and managed a JCPenney and an Office Depot before doing some soul-searching. "I always wanted to make a difference," he said. "Selling shirts or pencils wasn't fulfilling that need."
The same impulse prompted him to run for School Board, he said. He said that he likes Linda Lerner but that her votes have not always followed her words. "She'll say, 'Oh, yes, we need to look out for the rights of teachers and then … she was one of the quickest to vote for the seven-period day."
His top issue: doing what the people in District 6 want him to do. "One of my biggest priorities will be trying to get a feel for the people in the district … and try to represent how they feel about things," he said. "I have strong feelings, obviously, about education, but they can't weigh more than what the people want."
Also near the top of his list: what he called "student accountability." As an example, he noted an e-mail that an administrator recently sent to teachers, listing nine things to improve student achievement. No. 1, according to his summation: Don't give them zeros if they don't turn in work. No. 2: Don't make them write long paragraphs.
"I think the system we've put in place is empowering students away from things like hard work, dedication," he said. "It's pushing them toward apathy and not working hard to get what you want."
District grading and attendance issues are part of the problem, he said. Schools are more concerned about getting students to pass than making sure they master the skills they need to succeed, he said. "If students know they can just take a two-week computer class (to recover credits), then what's the incentive for them to really learn the material?"
"We need to get back to a system that encourages students to be accountable for themselves. Some of my kids say, 'I've already passed, Mr. Hawley. I don't need to do this. I've gotten my four points.' ''
Ron Matus, Times Staff Writer