This is a period of necessary transition for the Pinellas school system at a time of difficult challenges. A new superintendent is settling in with new energy and wider support, and the Nov. 4 election is an opportunity to add new faces and fresh thinking to the School Board.
The issues facing new superintendent Julie Janssen and the board members are issues of critical importance: a high school graduation rate that is unacceptably low, a racially defined achievement gap that is unacceptably high, and a new student assignment plan that is changing the demographics of individual schools and quickly creating racially identifiable schools in south Pinellas.
Janssen has demonstrated her willingness to embrace new approaches, including a high school makeover with "centers of excellence" and a menu of vocational and educational options aimed at making those years more relevant to all students. The Pinellas Education Foundation has been pushing to grant more autonomy to all school principals and hold them more directly accountable for results, and Janssen has signaled a willingness to move toward more school-based decisionmaking.
The School Board has not helped advance big ideas in the past. Too often, it has become bogged down with the latest teacher discipline case, minute details of budget cuts or clashes of personality. In this election voters can put three new members on the board, and they should eagerly embrace the opportunity. Jennifer Crockett
District 1 (countywide)
Jennifer Crockett, 36, is a parent and activist who has become a fixture in schools and at the central office in Largo. She unsuccessfully ran for a School Board seat two years ago, and she has continued to develop expertise on the issues and an appreciation for the shortcomings of the current board.
"I would like to be a part of a well-balanced board that can come together with a common goal for our district," Crockett says. "Rather than spend 95 percent of a three-hour workshop talking in full circles, we should be moving toward that common goal."
In the primary, Crockett finished only 600 votes behind incumbent Janet Clark. But that tells only part of the story. Clark, a former middle school teacher who was elected four years ago, received only 29 percent of the vote. More than two-thirds of primary voters were looking for change.
Those voters were on the right track. Clark, 54, has viewed herself as some sort of a auditor general, except that she has no training and ends up mostly tilting at windmills and wasting the board's time. In this race, Crockett is the new face who has earned the chance to show she can do better.
For Pinellas County School Board District 1, the Times recommends Jennifer Crockett. Nina Hayden
District 2 (countywide)
Nina Hayden is not your typical School Board candidate, at least by professional profile. She is an assistant public defender and finds herself often trying to defend teenagers who have turned away from education. Now she wants to work within the school system to help young people succeed.
Hayden, 34, finished first in a five-way primary to succeed board member Nancy Bostock, who is running for the County Commission. Hayden has mentored many students, and in her job she frequently sees youthful offenders who dropped out of school. She wants to push educational programs that will keep them in school and on the right path.
"We need to utilize technology in student learning to develop job readiness and provide more opportunities for students to enroll in programs where they can learn a skill," Hayden writes. "Teacher training and expansion of the career academies would be needed to accomplish this goal."
Hayden is opposed by Sean O'Flannery, 40, a Lakewood High School social studies teacher with enormous energy and an impressive reputation in the classroom. On a board that already has so many former teachers, though, Hayden brings more professional diversity and a different perspective.
For Pinellas County School Board District 2, the Times recommends Nina Hayden. Ken Peluso
District 4 (North Pinellas)
Either of the two candidates who soared through the primary in District 4 could make a strong School Board candidate, but Ken Peluso brings a slightly stronger background in business and community service.
Peluso, 52, runs his own chiropractic clinic and has served on virtually every kind of school and civic group that exists in the Palm Harbor area, including the Chamber of Commerce, Community Services Board and the Fire Department Pension Board. More importantly, perhaps, is his current role as chairman of the Pinellas Early Learning Coalition, which oversees prekindergarten programs throughout the county.
Robin Wikle, 45, is similarly impressive. She is a former special education teacher who now helps run Coldwell Banker Wikle Properties. She has been engaged in a broad range of activities in her community of Tarpon Springs — including school, youth, recreation and scouting organizations.
This seat is open because three-term board member Jane Gallucci did not seek re-election. While both candidates have the potential to be solid contributors on the School Board, Peluso has the edge.
For Pinellas County School Board District 4, the Times recommends Ken Peluso.