Terry Krassner District 2, countywide
Terry Krassner has been involved in Pinellas schools from every vantage point. Her father, Lee Benjamin, was a longtime School Board member, and her children attend public schools. She has been a teacher, assistant principal and principal in Pinellas schools. Her well-rounded experience, deep roots in the community and commonsense approach have prepared her well to join the School Board.
Krassner, 58, was a fifth-grade teacher, middle school reading teacher and assistant elementary principal before becoming principal at Westgate Elementary in St. Petersburg in 1992. She remained there for 16 years before retiring in 2008 with a strong reputation for reaching out to parents and consensus-building. She knows how to manage school-based budgets and hold teachers accountable for their performance.
With more budget-cutting ahead, Krassner has a clear-eyed sense of the challenge. She acknowledges the district has to examine further reductions in busing costs, consolidating services with other local governments, cutting administration and closing more schools. She wants later start times for high schools but would seek more community input. Krassner also could be constructive in collaborative efforts to develop a systemwide merit pay plan for teachers.
Fonda Huff, 54, taught high school math at Northeast and Seminole high schools for 10 years before becoming a math-science coach assigned to four high schools a year ago. Both Krassner and Huff support creating more fundamental schools, but Huff has too much faith that dramatically increasing them would save the district money. She also opposed the slight property tax increase approved last year by the School Board that avoided even more severe spending cuts.
Krassner has wider experience and a broader approach to the job. For Pinellas County School Board District 2, the Times recommends Terry Krassner.
Peggy O'Shea District 3, countywide
When voters elected Peggy O'Shea to the School Board four years ago, it was hoped her background as a professional mediator would help reduce the bickering on the board and elevate discussions about policy and long-range plans. O'Shea has accomplished that mission, and her steadiness has been a plus for a district buffeted by the recession, a change in superintendents and sliding teacher morale. She is a positive force and deserves a second term.
O'Shea, 60, has a professional background in banking, insurance and arbitration that contributed to her commonsense, sure-footed approach as a first-term board member. She raised two children in Pinellas schools and knew the schools as a dedicated volunteer, serving on or chairing the school advisory councils at each of the schools her children attended.
In her first term, O'Shea worked on improving student attendance, making the transition to neighborhood schools smoother and concluding negotiations over a new contract with teachers.
On the increasing demands of parents for more fundamental schools, O'Shea has offered a nuanced response. She knows that all schools can't be fundamental schools, but she wants to explore the idea of a "fundamental elementary district," where elementary schools would adopt some of the standards of full-fledged fundamental schools.
O'Shea's goals for a second term include working to protect the classroom from budget cuts, advancing discussions about a redesign of high schools, and focusing more on student discipline. She's exploring ways to slow the socioeconomic and racial resegregation occurring in Pinellas schools, including offering more magnet programs and more resources for struggling schools.
Retired Pinellas teacher Greg Hunsinger, 59, knows the needs of teachers well and emphasizes improving student discipline. But O'Shea has a broader view of the district and a more energized campaign. For Pinellas County School Board District 3, the Times recommends Peggy O'Shea.
Linda Lerner District 6, South Pinellas
Linda Lerner was first elected in 1990 and is the longest-serving member of the School Board, but her enthusiasm and determination to provide all Pinellas students with a quality education remain strong. She is up to speed on education trends and understands both the needs of students and the priorities of Pinellas parents. While she may not be as influential on the board as she has been in previous years, she remains the strongest choice for this district.
Lerner, 67, a former special education teacher and mental health professional, is a dedicated board member who also is extremely active in the community. She is a particularly strong advocate for making the school district and board more transparent and accessible. She pushed for more technical and career programs for students not bound for college, supported a move toward school-based decisionmaking, wants clearer student discipline rules and works to protect the classroom from budget cuts.
Brian David Hawley, 31, is a Largo Middle School teacher who finds the school district frustrating. Students, parents and School Board members must be more accountable for student performance, he says, but he's not nearly so comfortable holding teachers accountable. He dislikes both the current system of teacher evaluation and a new one being rolled out that uses standardized test results and other variables. Hawley also opposed a property tax increase last year that Lerner supported to avoid deeper budget cuts. He is the teachers' union representative at Largo Middle School but didn't get the union's endorsement, and he hasn't mounted much of a campaign.
Lerner wants voters to judge her on her record. While there have been some uneven spots, it is a strong one overall. For Pinellas County School Board District 6, the Times recommends Linda Lerner.
Lew Williams District 7, South Pinellas
Retired Pinellas schools administrator Lew Williams ran a strong but unsuccessful race four years ago for the countywide seat won by Peggy O'Shea. He learned some campaign lessons, and his deep community roots and experience make him the solid choice in this race.
Williams, 67, retired in 2005 after 34 years with the school district. He was a teacher and then a principal at elementary, middle and high school levels before spending the last 18 years of his career in the upper administration. He has seen the district from every level and is able to take the long view.
While he was an insider, Williams is no apologist for the district. He supports the move to merit pay for teachers. He recognizes the budget shortfall will require further administrative cuts and a more innovative approach to busing. He understands the importance of a coherent approach to student discipline. He supports additional fundamental schools but agrees some of those concepts should be extended to all schools.
With incumbents Mary Brown and Nina Hayden not seeking re-election, Williams would be the only African-American on the board, and his experience with the NAACP Education Committee and other groups involved in bridging the achievement gap would be particularly helpful.
James Harold Jackson, 65, was a psychology professor at Miami-Dade College for more than three decades and has taught part-time at St. Petersburg College. He knows education issues well, but he moved to St. Petersburg in 2007 and lacks the community roots of other candidates. Keisha Bell, 36, is a lawyer with a passion for building community relationships. But her grasp of the broader issues does not match her opponents'.
For Pinellas County School Board District 7, the Times recommends Lew Williams.