What made Jade Moore such an institution in Pinellas public education was also what made him such an invaluable source to those of us who watched from the sidelines. Moore, who died Thursday after suffering a stroke, knew his stuff. He believed in what he was doing, and he would never let education ideology cloud his plain assessment of right and wrong. And, yes, Moore would speak his mind, usually with blunt, sometimes profane and often comic effect.
Moore ran a union with 8,000 teachers and could throw a punch with the best of them. He retaliated to legislative cutbacks in 1991 by stuffing what was then called the Florida Suncoast Dome with 15,000 educators and supporters holding signs imploring, "Don't $hortchange our Kids." He skewered a Pinellas School Board that in 1998 voted to seek an end to the federal court order on desegregation, and then fought a choice plan for student assignment that he viewed as a retreat. But Moore became a force in education policy for three decades in part because conflict was not really in his genes and was never his first impulse.
School boards and superintendents from other locales would marvel at the relationship between the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association and the school administration. Most contracts through the years were signed after friendly collaboration, not threats and mediation. Moore came to respect most of the superintendents with whom he worked, though he remained partial to Scott Rose for his inspirational style through the 1980s. Moore managed to develop such strong bonds with school officials that former superintendent Clayton Wilcox made the unfortunate mistake upon his arrival in 2004 of seeing Moore as part of a good ol' boy network that needed to be rooted out. Moore remained as Wilcox left.
The Moore persona was a tapestry of color and contradiction. He would cuss enough to make the timid blush. But he also was a Sunday school teacher who really did live by the Golden Rule. Nothing got him angrier than to see teachers be made scapegoats for political causes or to be publicly humiliated for private and personal transgressions. But he would avoid like the plague defending any teacher who he believed didn't belong in the classroom. He was an unabashed liberal Democrat, but he befriended so many Republicans that he even managed an appointment from Gov. Charlie Crist to a constitutional taxation review panel. He could describe, in detail, the district cost differential multiplier in the Florida Education Finance Program but much preferred to settle budgetary policy over a bottle of bourbon.
Back in the early 1990s, when tensions were high with then-superintendent Howard Hinesley, Moore was persuaded by a former PCTA president to lobby School Board members for the four votes necessary to remove Hinesley. He failed, and to the day he passed away he seemed to regret what he had done. Guerrilla politics were never Moore's style, and the failed attempt nearly severed his relationship with Hinesley. "I'll never go there again," he would say. "I won't do it."
The lesson was never lost, and Moore even found himself taking friendly fire as a result. A splinter group calling itself TUFF-Teach emerged in 2001, condemning what it saw as too much coziness between PCTA and school administrators and state lawmakers. But Moore was unyielding and argued that cooperation, not confrontation, is more productive in the long run. In his characteristic style, he said: "You don't score points by taking a dump on these guys."
What I always saw in Moore was an unfailingly sentimental view of public education. He would speak wistfully of his own days at Clearwater High School and the way such schools can be a gathering place for children from different walks of life. Nothing got him more emotional than to talk about a teacher who had made a difference in a child's life. That was the Sunday school teacher in Jade. He honestly believed in saving one soul, one child, at a time.
Jon East is a former editorial writer for the St. Petersburg Times who wrote on education issues for two decades.