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Hillsborough County School Board, District 6

School Board | District 6

Seven challengers are up against April Griffin, who's trying for her third term in office. They include a college student, a founder of the U.S. Green Party, a special-education professor and a member of the Temple Terrace City Council. Griffin has a high profile, most recently for having been at the forefront of the district's efforts to improve school transportation. She has also sparred with superintendent MaryEllen Elia, making for tense meetings of the seven-member board. Marlene Sokol, Times staff writer


Asher Edelson, 20



Alison McGillivray Fernandez, 46


Temple Terrace City Council member

April Griffin, 45


School Board member

Stacy Hahn, 47


Education professor

Experience Asher Edelson graduated from Plant High School in 1992 and is a student at Hillsborough Community College who plans to continue on to a four-year college and pursue a career in politics. Edelson has focused primarily on one campaign platform: student nutrition. He contends the food served in schools was detrimental to his health as a student. He would like to see far more extensive use of locally grown, organic, nonprocessed foods in the schools. Alison McGillivray Fernandez is a second-term member of the Temple Terrace City Council who worked as a financial auditor at KPMG Peat Marwick before leaving the workforce to care for her four children. She's a 1986 graduate of King High School and a 1991 graduate of Florida State University. She also spent 13 years as an active school volunteer. Among her concerns about the district: There's too much administration and promotions do not appear to be based on merit. With an outspoken manner and an interest in students heading for careers before college, April Griffin has tried to be a change agent during much of her eight- year tenure. She has also tried to hold superintendent MaryEllen Elia and her cabinet more accountable, a battle that pit her against Elia's allies on the board and administration. She organized town hall meetings that revealed problems in the district's transportation department, which Elia is now moving aggressively to correct. Stacy Hahn, who earned her Ph.D. in 2001 from the University of Florida, teaches in the College of Education at the University of South Florida. She specializes in exceptional student education. She has also served as a grant writer, grant facilitator and mentor. She contends she can help build bridges between the district and outside institutions and organizations that can lead to more effective recruitment, training and retention of teachers, which ultimately results in better services to students.
How well is the district handling problems in the bus system? "I do not think that the district has handled problems in transportation well at all. I would vote to purchase buses from a local vendor and would push for a policy to require all district personnel to call 911 in case of emergency as to avoid senseless death." "I would have asked for strategic planning workshops to discuss all areas of the district budget; asked about salary comparisons ... (and) spoken with drivers to find out what their concerns are; asked many questions at public meetings and if satisfactory answers weren't received, continued to push for them." "I strongly believe that the district has a comprehensive plan, not just buying buses, but an overall comprehensive plan for change because of me and two other board members and our steadfast demands for change. I am going to be following this issue very closely to ensure that this issue does not get set aside and forgotten." "Twice in 2013, the district staff recommended purchasing new buses. Both times, the School Board rejected the proposals. … Poor fiscal decisionmaking in the past has major implications for student safety, bus purchases, budget and transportation employees and procedures."
Your view of the Florida Standards, or Common Core? He doesn't support them but feels standards are an inevitable part of public school classrooms. "What works for some may not work for all." He thinks the Hillsborough district should opt out of all state tests. "The state standardized test that replaces the FCAT is a mistake." "I do support providing more rigorous curriculum. I do not support Florida standards where they restrict teachers to one measure of achievement, do not match student developmental levels and measure student achievement against only other Florida students and not on a national level." "There is a lack of specificity which makes it very difficult to understand the new standards. I am concerned about the rigor in early levels including pre-K. It will take time for both students and teachers to adjust to the Florida Standards. ... We are also racing to meet the technological requirements." Supports the standards in concept, but takes issue with the introduction of new high-stakes tests. "There needs to be a moratorium on the testing tied to the new standards while implementation is being revamped. The future of all students is at stake so it is imperative that we reset the implementation button."
Assess the Gates teacher evaluation project. It is financially powerful. But "what is funded may not be the best for [Hillsborough] students and teachers." The schools, teachers and parents deserve more of a say as to how the Gates effort should benefit the district and its students. "Strengths: More balanced system of evaluating teacher skills by adding objective criteria, provides opportunities for teachers to work with mentors ... [However,] many teachers believe that the process does not fairly reflect their quality as a teacher." "I have consistently asked about the safety net for teachers who do not agree with their evaluation. I have been assured there are processes in place. This recent case [of a fired teacher] revealed that this is not the case." "We need to know that we have the best-equipped, best-trained teachers in front of our students daily. ... However, I have concerns about the financial impact the grant will have on our school budget and the implications for teacher evaluations and testing."
Concerned about racially identifiable schools? "I am concerned about such a return. I will not tolerate any push for segregation, whether it is racial or otherwise." "I believe that socioeconomic factors impact student achievement more than race. ... The district should focus on creating schools that have balanced achievement levels." "My greatest concern is that every school for which we are responsible, whether it is a traditional school, a charter or a virtual instructional program, is of the highest quality." "There's absolutely no doubt that today's children will live a long life in a diverse world and a global economy and they will need to have both intelligence and a respect for diversity to be successful throughout their lives."
Fundraising as of Aug. 1 Raised $2,716, spent $2,527 Raised $8,537, spent $2,889 Raised $16,835, spent $3,572 Raised $36,419, spent $25,271
Personal Edelson is unmarried and lives with his parents in South Tampa. Fernandez is married to Jose Fernandez and has four children, ages 9 through 18. Married to Brian Griffin. Two sons in their 20s. They live in Temple Terrace. Married to Jeff Hahn. Three sons, ages 5 and 8. They live in South Tampa.




Paula Meckley, 53



Dipa Shah, 43



Lee Sierra, 32


Real estate

Randy Toler, 58



Experience Paula Meckley graduated from Florida State University and worked for the Maas Brothers retail chain, ultimately running a $10 million department. In addition to volunteering in her three children's schools, she advocated to improve the district's math curriculum and organized a volunteer tutoring program for low-income schools, worked part time on the Gates initiative and served on the district's Community Issues Committee. Dipa Shah was born in India and moved with her parents to the United States when she was a year old. She grew up in the Philadelphia area, attending Temple University and Widener University School of Law in Delaware, before relocating to Brandon with her husband, a physician. She's a sole-practice lawyer with experience in bankruptcy, commercial litigation and corporate transactions. She has two sons in the public schools. Lee Sierra works in commercial real estate. But while attending graduate school at the University of Tampa, he was a substitute teacher. Sierra also volunteered as a high school basketball coach. He's a product of the South Tampa schools and earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Central Florida. His mother, Sandra Sierra, has been with the district since 1990, now teaching biology at Plant High School. Randy Toler is the founder or one of the founders of the U.S. Green Party, depending on what account you read. He became interested in the school system through his son, who is severely autistic. That experience led him to network with other parents. He hopes to be a voice for special-needs children and suggests hiring an ombudsman to protect their rights. Toler works in information technologies and also advocates smart technologies to save money.
How well is the district handling problems in the bus system? "From what I understand, the board was protecting the classroom from cuts and teachers and staff from layoffs. ... I would make that same decision." But she'd "review the decision every six months to ensure that no unintended consequences were arising." Shah takes issue with board members organizing forums without consulting the drivers union, poor communication between staff and the superintendent; and says "the board and administration are disconnected from the everyday realities of the district." "The transportation issue has been a black eye on the School Board and our school district." There should have been a planning committee to form a strategy to buy new buses. The board should "work with school bus drivers to come up with a maintenance schedule." "The district has effectively responded to the crisis of late, but was slow to find common ground with the board in which common ground is a scarce commodity. ... I think much more needs to be done in terms of training and staffing of special-needs student bus drivers."
Your view of the Florida Standards, or Common Core? "Common standards can be a useful tool for teachers, parents and students. However, we must remember that it is just one tool and not a final solution to solve all of our educational problems." "If anything, standards could be higher in certain areas." But the choice of texts will be limited, emphasis on assessment will result in "teaching to the test," and there is great state and federal involvement. "Educating our kids is a local government responsibility and right." "While I believe it's important to set standards for our children, I'm not sure that it makes much sense to have nationwide standards that are the same. What makes sense for our kids in Hillsborough County might not work for children in the Midwest or up North." "Too much focus on test preparation and not enough on critical thinking. I believe it's an industrial testing complex driven by big money. Hillsborough County should have a bigger role in determining standards, and less from the state government."
Assess the Gates teacher evaluation project. "The mentor portion of the Gates grant is extremely successful in retaining new teachers. ... The peer portion of the program has great merit. However, it has issues that need to be continually monitored." "The mentoring and support are great for new teachers." But "a good teacher that has been in the profession for more than 10 years does not benefit as much from the feedback. ... With some work, we may still be able to use the concepts and learn from the mistakes." Not all teachers are on board with Empowering Effective Teachers. "Once teachers understand that this evaluation process is meant to recognize good teachers and help teachers that struggle to reach their students better, I think the buy-in from teachers ... will increase." "I believe it needs to be tweaked and I don't think it has shown the results that were intended at the beginning." Specific to the teacher evaluation component, "we need to rethink that. I'm not a real strong supporter of that."
Concerned about racially identifiable schools? "Diversity is a part of life and the earlier children learn to be tolerant and understand differences, the better adjusted they become as adults. However, I am not a believer in busing children all over the place to accomplish this goal." "If the racially identifiable school is the result of intention of the race, then it is acceptable." But if it "is the result of manipulation or discrimination against the race, then racially identifiable schools are unacceptable and intolerable." "I do not believe racially identifiable schools allow children to have exposure to different economic, social, geographic and ethnic backgrounds that will shape them into understanding, tolerant adults." "I am concerned about the return to racially segregated schools and I want to work for a solution to make sure that does not get out of balance. Ultimately it will affect the quality of education countywide."
Fundraising as of Aug. 1 Raised $70,043, spent $44,320 Raised $103,247, spent $36,076 Raised $5,140, spent $2,804 Raised $9,946, spent $9,227
Personal Married to Scott Meckley. Three children, ages 17 through 22. They live in South Tampa. Married to Dr. Suketu K. Shah. Two children, ages 12 and 14. They live in Valrico. Single, no children, lives in South Tampa. Married to Alicia Toler. Three children, ages 6 to 13. They live in Seffner.


About the job: School Board members serve four-year terms, earning $40,000 a year. They respond to constituents and take part in meetings, typically two Tuesday afternoons a week, along with occasional workshops and legal hearings. They provide oversight over the superintendent and staff for the nation's eighth-largest school district. The District 6 seat is countywide.

Hillsborough County School Board, District 6 08/14/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 4:17pm]
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