I have been teaching for 23 years: Dallas for 15 years, Anchorage, Alaska, for five, and I most recently completed my third year with the Hillsborough County School District. So many ideas have been floated on how to improve schools that are floundering. Things such as: replacing the principals, replacing the teachers, bringing in new curriculums, extending the school day and giving teachers more staff development.
In Dallas and Anchorage I taught in only Title I schools, those with high percentages of poor children. In most of my years in these schools it was very rare to get parents to come in for conferences, PTA meetings or anything school-related. Test scores were low even though our staff worked tirelessly with the students.
My last five years in Dallas, I was successful, and the difference was parents who were involved in their child's education. Not just one, but two actively involved parents. Most of my families were poor immigrants. The students came from two-parent households and the parents worked hard to provide for a better life for their child.
For conferences, there was not one break during the four hours they gave us. Lines were wrapped outside of the classrooms. Our staff would get bonuses every year because our state test scores were always in the 90th percentile. I did not change the way I taught. The thing that made a difference was that the students knew that they were held accountable at home as well at school. Parents would make sure homework was done (even if the parents couldn't help, due to the language barrier), make them study for tests, and make sure they came to school every day.
I have had the honor and privilege to teach at one of the best public elementary schools in Hillsborough County. We continuously place up in the top five in the district every year. I am very successful with my students. It is not that the teachers at my school are any better than the other teachers in the district. Our staff is very dedicated and works hard just like the others employed in Hillsborough County.
What makes my school different from the others I taught at for 20 years is the active role of the family. Many of my students come from divorced families, but both parents are actively involved in the lives of their children. This means everything. The kids know that they just do not have one parent fighting for them; they have two who make sure that their education comes first.
Nadine Graves, Tampa
Elderly and homeless
A scary prospect for many
The possibility of becoming homeless is a scary thought. It's even scarier to a person who is old and frail with dwindling finances. Among this growing population of older adults living in poverty are people forced to grow old in the streets and in shelters, elderly people who have recently become homeless or who remain at constant risk of losing housing. The number of elderly homeless adults is expected to more than double between 2010 and 2050, when over 95,000 elderly people are projected to be homeless.
Increased homelessness among the elderly is largely the result of poverty and the declining availability of affordable housing for certain segments of the aging. Throughout the nation, there are at least nine seniors waiting for every occupied unit of affordable elderly housing, with a waiting list often of three to five years. Many older homeless people are entitled to Social Security benefits, however these benefits often fail to cover the cost of housing. A person receiving Supplemental Security Income of $674 remains well below the poverty line and cannot afford housing at free-market rates anywhere in the country.
Some elderly are unaware of their eligibility for public assistance programs and face difficulties applying for and receiving benefits. Elderly homeless people in particular often need help navigating the complex application process.
Yet all the statistics appear to fall on deaf ears. Instead of increased funding, funding has been reduced. To prevent elderly Americans from becoming homeless, we must provide enough low-income housing, income supports and health care services to sustain independent living. For older adults who have already lost their homes, comprehensive outreach health and social services must become available, as well as access to existing public assistance programs. Finally, like all people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, elderly people require adequate income, affordable housing and affordable health care in order to stay secure and live their lives with dignity.
Jewel Littenberg, Atlantis
Voice mail? You might as well use papyrus June 24, commentary
Try some face-to-face talk
Is Alexandra Petri serious, or is this column tongue-in-cheek? If it's the former, then she's undoubtedly one of the many people you see in restaurants, behind the wheel, or in other public places so attached to her electronic leash that she finds it impossible to personally interact with her fellow human beings.
Then comes the time when her "phone" is damaged, destroyed or stolen, rendering her incapable of carrying on with life as she knows it. To her and others of her mind-set, I'll say this: Talk to your family, friends and neighbors face-to-face; you may be pleasantly surprised by what a lift it gives you and them.
Sue E. Conrad, North Redington Beach
Marketplace Fairness Act
Online sellers avoiding tax
Earlier this month, I traveled to Washington to speak with Congress about how important it is to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act without further delay. Small businesses across Florida deserve to compete on a level playing field that doesn't include tax loopholes that allow online-only sellers to avoid collecting sales tax.
My store repeatedly operates as a showroom to bargain shoppers who believe they are receiving the ultimate deal because they think they can shop online tax-free. However, when an online retailer doesn't collect the sales tax from that purchase, the burden falls to the customer to file the tax directly with the state. Today's tax collection system isn't keeping up with today's retail environment. As a result, local businesses like mine pay the price.
After 40 years as the owner of Allen Sports Center in Seminole, I know the importance of supporting our local economy. We hire locally, and we generate tax revenues that go to essential services our community relies on every day. We are also involved in supporting the community through charitable causes. When's the last time a dot-com retailer sponsored one of our Little League teams? The reality is that local businesses like mine contribute in many ways to the overall health of this town.
My staff and I, and many other retailers in Florida, have been waiting for a real solution to end the unfair advantage online-only sellers have over local businesses. The House Judiciary Committee has a chance to level the playing field and give stores like mine a fair chance to compete. I urge Florida Reps. David Jolly, Daniel Webster, Rich Nugent and Thomas Rooney to help move this bill forward so that Congress can enact the Marketplace Fairness Act this year.
Don Bates, Seminole
On chief, mayor's call alone June 25, editorial
Input on chief helpful
Could it be? The Times, Florida's Best Newspaper, discouraging free speech and dissent? This admonishment of the City Council for "venting" about the selection process, Police Department leadership and the need for a quick decision to the council's liking, is out of order.
It tacitly suggests that Mayor Rick Kriseman does not need nor want input. I have seen enough of the mayor's actions to believe he has the moxie to understand the buck stops with him and furthermore, honest dissent can indeed produce a thoughtful mix of public sentiment.
Once the decision is made, then the council should get on board and support it. Same for the department, the Times and the community. For now, let the process play out.
Norm Bungard, St. Petersburg
Pasco school removes book | June 25
Open up the discussion
Over the last 15 years many books, classics included, have been removed from the schools. I am not sure what the problem is. We live on a diverse planet with millions of opinions: Should we all be censored because one person takes offense to a book, an issue, an idea?
Instead of trying to shelter a child from real-life issues, "F-bombs" included, why not open these areas up for a discussion? And maybe give the child some credit for intelligence and free thinking.
So many of us seem to take too many trivial issues to heart. Why not be more concerned for the future of children concerning issues of health, food, clean air and a safe planet to live on.
Vicky Rey, Hudson