The Hillsborough County School District has embarked on two ambitious efforts — a $202 million collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reform how teachers are trained and paid, and an effort to move more of the district's 190,000 students into Advanced Placement courses. Voters should look for School Board candidates who have the skills and judgment to make tough decisions in the next four years on budgeting, academics and staffing. These races are nonpartisan and open to all voters. If no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers advance to the November general election.
Candy Olson | District 2 (south county)
Candy Olson, who is seeking a fifth term, has long been one of the most engaged and forward-thinking members of the School Board and deserves to be re-elected.
Olson, 62, has been a solid voice on a range of hot-button issues since first taking office in 1994. She has been pragmatic in dealing with court-ordered racial integration, school crowding and other sensitive issues. Her transparent working style has helped bring parents into the decision-making process. Olson stays up to speed on educational policy, and she is visible in the schools and with community groups. Her institutional history and sense of fairness are vital at a time when the district is re-examining its curricula and its expectations of the instructional staff.
Frank Hernandez, 29, understands the district well for having lived in Tampa only four years. The University of South Florida graduate student speaks convincingly of the need to focus on strengthening the elementary and middle schools. The two candidates are not a dime apart on the major issues — or in their energy levels. Olson gets the edge because of her experience.
For Hillsborough School Board District 2, the Times recommends Candy Olson.
Richard Bartels | District 4 (east county)
The incumbent, Jennifer L. Faliero, first won election eight years ago on the strength of her activism in the community, fresh ideas and commitment to hold the school district accountable. But she has not grown in the job, and she seems distracted. Richard Bartels could fill the void at an important time.
Bartels is a former teacher, principal and administrator who retired in 2008 after 38 years with the school district. He knows educational policy and grasps the financial realities and political landscape the district will face in the coming years. Yet Bartels is more than the status quo. He is recognized as a quick read and strong leader, qualities the district will need as it works through both the Gates grant and a move to place more students in advanced courses. The 61-year-old Bartels has an eye for the standards that should be expected of teachers, and he appreciates that different students have different needs.
Faliero, 47, has no major accomplishment to point to, and she seems preoccupied with the anecdotal instead of the bigger picture. Stacy White, a 37-year old pharmacist, voices a legitimate concern that the Gates project might weaken local control. He also has a good feel for how the district should balance career tech and college prep. Kirk E. Faryniasz, a 54-year-old former Air Force officer who moved to Florida in 2005, ran for the state House two years ago and still wants to get elected to something.
Bartel's headstrong nature is clearly a strength for a high school principal, but to make the transition to the School Board he will need to give and take.
For Hillsborough School Board District 4, the Times recommends Richard Bartels.
April Griffin | District 6 (countywide)
Apart from a grasp of detail and commitment to the job, members who represent the entire county need to appreciate the diversity of the district and balance competing needs. That's what distinguishes incumbent April Griffin from her competitors.
Griffin has filled a niche by being an advocate for technical and career education. At a time when much of the attention is focused on college preparatory programs, Griffin has rightly pushed the administration to remember those students who are more focused on obtaining the necessary job skills to enter the modern work force.
Griffin, 41, caused concern early on by being critical of the administration soon after first winning election in 2006. But she does her homework and has since moderated. Griffin has broadened her expertise and become more constructive. She sees the value in reforming how teachers are paid and promoted and in putting more students in rigorous academic courses. Yet at the same time Griffin realizes that benchmarks and backstops need to be in place to ensure that these experiments are working.
Terry Kemple, 63, has made a name promoting a conservative Christian agenda. The last thing this district needs amid the complexity of retooling teacher pay and curriculum is to have the schools distracted over social issues. Sally A. Harris, 60, and Benjamin Fink, 34, are not running serious campaigns.
For Hillsborough School Board District 6, the Times recommends April Griffin.