TAMPA — After the Hillsborough County middle school forum Thursday, this much was apparent:
SpringBoard is toast.
None of the 44 middle school students who met with School Board members in a question-and-answer session had a kind word about the math and English curriculum that the district buys from College Board, the education nonprofit.
Carolyn Torres of Burns Middle School detested it so much, she said, "I burned my book."
Board members, while not taking any official action, listened eagerly to these top students and their complaints, which were well-timed as the district re-evaluates all of its curricula.
Hearing about other problems on the buses, frustration over state tests and a disappointing menu of electives also provided a window into the sometimes baffling world of middle school.
While the rest of the district has grown in population, middle schools shrank by 1,206 students between last year and this year.
Many moved on to high school under a new program that allows over-age students to catch up with their peers. But charter schools also appeal to a growing number of families who fear the rocky transition from the more nurturing environment of elementary school.
Several students in the two sessions complained about the bus system.
Roee Polinger of Franklin Boys Preparatory described "fights, student insults, disrespect to the bus drivers and overall loudness. Can you arrange for more supervision on the buses?" he asked.
From Ferrell Girls Preparatory, Alessandra Rivera said she takes two buses and has friends who are at the bus stop at 5 a.m. "It's dark, and it's not safe," she said. "Is there anything you can do to make magnet busing better?"
Skyler Anderson at Buchanan Middle School asked, "Why does the district ask the students to do so many surveys, but never gives us the results back?"
That one got a conciliatory response from deputy superintendent Van Ayres, who said the district will make sure the results of the yearly student climate survey are shared with the students.
"We share it with our teachers, we share it with parents," he said. "But we oftentimes forget to share it with the people who matter most."
Students asked about the district's ongoing budget crisis, and whether it will affect their schools.
Board member April Griffin assured them it will not, but also lamented that the board learned of a spending imbalance as members were welcoming a new superintendent, Jeff Eakins, and discussing initiatives that will help more students succeed.
"We have all these amazing plans, but we're having to put the brakes on," she said.
Board member Sally Harris compared the dilemma to that of a teen with $20 and invitations to the skate rink, the movies and lunch, which are certain to cost far more.
"That's what this district has to do every single day," she said.
The yearly tradition of student forums, which began with just high schools, dates more than a decade in Hillsborough.
As invariably happens, it was part civics lesson. Board members explained that standardized tests are a state decision. They urged the students to find a way to get word to their legislators.
Everyone had at least one chance to play teacher.
Responding to Burnett Middle School student Dynasha Ward's question about uniforms, chairwoman Susan Valdes asked the kids about their career plans.
Most were future doctors or engineers. Adams Middle School's Felix Tavarez-Diaz wanted to be a baseball player. If not that, he said, a basketball player.
Either way, Valdes told him, he'll wear a uniform.
"We're preparing you for life," she said.
Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @marlenesokol.