Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Education

Scott appointee to Pinellas School Board has short time in county

Glenton Gilzean Jr. has lived in Pinellas County only since November.

Despite that short residency, Gilzean will soon be one of seven people casting votes affecting more than 100,000 Pinellas County students.

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed Gilzean, 29, to replace the late Lew Williams in the District 7 School Board seat representing St. Petersburg and much of south Pinellas.

Gilzean, a former Florida Department of Education staffer who now directs the nonprofit organization Educate Today, lived in Tampa until November, according to his application to the governor. He has been renting a room from a friend in St. Petersburg since then.

"The governor picked the person with the most qualified record and he has the prerogative to pick the candidate he thinks can best fulfill the duties," said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Gilzean's selection from among 10 applicants left some local leaders dismayed. He filed his application with Scott's office on Dec. 13, 10 days after Williams died. He changed his voter registration from Hillsborough to Pinellas on Dec. 16.

"He hasn't lived in Pinellas County as long as some of the other applicants," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, whom Gilzean listed as his first reference on his application. "So I'm a little surprised at the appointment."

Latvala said he has known Gilzean for about three years and described him as "a fine young man" and "hard working."

Gilzean did not respond to a Times reporter's email or phone message seeking comment.

In his application, he said he was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of Jamaican immigrants, and grew up poor in Broward County. He said his parents stressed education.

"It was one of their most important goals to make sure my siblings and I were enrolled in school choice programs with the anticipation we would be successful," he wrote.

Gilzean was a regional field director for the DOE from 2006 to 2009 and he now directs Educate Today, which was created in 2008. According to public records, its purpose is focusing on "low-income and minority populations with a commitment to community service, civic engagement and economic development."

State Rep. Darryl Rouson said it's disappointing that Gilzean takes such a critical seat — one formerly held by a man who spent more than 30 years living in Pinellas and working for its schools.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "Not because he may lack some educational background, but because the community worked extremely hard to reclaim this seat from politics."

Before Williams was elected in 2010 over a candidate who raised three times as much cash as him, the seat was held by two-time incumbent Mary Brown, the first African-American elected to the board. Brown also beat a competitor with strong political ties.

Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association President Kim Black said there were many people interested in the position who know Pinellas County better. "It appears once again that politics trumps children," Black said.

Gilzean holds a bachelor's degree in biomedical sciences and a master's degree in entrepreneurship, both from the University of South Florida. According to the Governor's Office, he has served on the state Department of Education School Choice Parent Advisory Committee and as chair of the Hillsborough Head Start/Early Head Start Policy Council. He also worked as a staffer for U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez and state Rep. Ed Homan — both Republicans.

"He has dedicated much of his life to ensuring students have the opportunity to learn and achieve in the classroom," Scott said in a written statement.

Former St. Petersburg City Council candidate Gershom Faulkner said he has been renting a room to Gilzean while he looks for a place. Gilzean listed Faulkner's house as his address in his application to Scott.

"He's not new to education," Faulkner said. "He's very well qualified for the job and as far as being new to the area, he's not new to being in Tampa Bay."

Watson Haynes, co-chair of the Concerned Citizens for Quality Education for Black Students, said that while he has offered to help Gilzean in his new position, he believes the learning curve will be steep.

Gilzean will serve until November, when voters will pick a permanent board member.

"It's an eight-month relationship," Haynes said. "So I think the community has to do a couple of things — see what he's going to do in that period of time and seek to develop candidates in that time to run for that seat."

Lew Williams' widow, Arthurene Williams, said she spoke with Gilzean before his appointment. She said she found him energetic, open to suggestions and focused on kids. "I was impressed with him," she said.

School Board member Terry Krassner said she wasn't concerned about the appointment.

"If he was running for election, it's one thing. But he's the governor's appointee," she said. "Whoever's part of the selection process, that's an issue they have to bear."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or [email protected]

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