Education chief must listen, learn | Dec. 13, editorial
Education chief a respected leader
Florida fourth- and eighth-grade students, their teachers and families deserve to be applauded for recently released test scores showing Florida students outperformed many of their national counterparts in international reading, mathematics and science. Florida fourth-grade readers were ranked second in the world.
These results, based on the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, were released last week by the National Center for Education Statistics. The test scores highlight the impressive progress and achievements made possible with the dedication and hard work of Florida's teachers and students in a global comparison.
It is disappointing that the Tampa Bay Times, before highlighting those successes, chose to attack the selection of Dr. Tony Bennett as Florida's new commissioner of education before he has had a chance to even begin his service.
Bennett is an exciting and respected educational professional with decades of classroom and administrative leadership in education. He held a national leadership position in the planning of our transition to Common Core educational standards. He has the promise and enthusiasm to work with every Floridian to better our education systems for every Florida child.
I hope that someday the editors will choose to be encouraging and directional before they condemn, judge and chastise new leadership in our state, including our new commissioner of education.
Kathleen Shanahan, member, Florida Board of Education, Tampa
Connecticut school killings
Helping children to cope
Most of us are in a state of disbelief because of the recent horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. We not only mourn the senseless loss of innocent lives, but as parents and providers, we also wonder what we can do to help our children. Below are some ideas that you can use to help children cope:
• Try to keep routines as normal as possible. Children gain security from the predictability of daily routines, including attending school and other activities.
• Limit children's exposure to media, including television and radio, so that they do not re-experience the tragedy over and over.
• Listen to children's fears and concerns, encourage them to share their feelings, and provide as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
• Preschool children need brief, simple information and reassurance.
• School-age children may have more questions about their own safety and what is being done to protect children.
• Older children and adolescents may want to talk about their own ideas for making things safer.
• Tell your children that you love them, give them plenty of hugs and reassure them that they will be okay.
• Consider praying or thinking hopeful thoughts for the victims and their families, and help children express their feelings by drawing a picture, writing a poem or saying a prayer.
• Be observant for changes in your child's behavior, appetite, or sleep patterns, which can be an indicator of their grief response. Some children may need the extra support from a mental health professional or clergy.
You can find more information about helping children cope with crises at the National Association of School Psychologists website, www.nasponline.org/resources.
Dr. Kathleen Armstrong, USF Health, Tampa
Culture of violence
I cannot say with any certainty what would cause an individual to walk into a school and murder innocent children, but I would not dismiss the influence of the violent and obscene movies, television, videos and other forms of "entertainment" that we are exposed to every day.
Shootings, murders, explosions and all manner of violence are displayed to us constantly. Are we brainwashing this generation into thinking this type of action is normal?
Many individuals have guns in their homes that are never used carelessly or aggressively. How to keep guns out of the hands of disturbed members of society, and the causes and cures of their afflictions, are issues we must address.
Robert Moore, St. Petersburg
Pathway to employment
The Florida economy is picking up, thanks to sound fiscal policies of the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott's job creation priority. The unemployment rate in Florida is 8.5 percent, down 2.6 percentage points since January 2011 — more than any other state in the nation. While this shows we are on the right track, there are many Floridians still seeking employment.
One sometimes overlooked option for individuals seeking employment is to volunteer. Volunteering helps individuals to develop new skills, gain experience and network.
The Governor's Commission on Community Service, Volunteer Florida, recently conducted a statewide survey of partner agencies asking the question: Do you know of a volunteer who has secured a job as a result of their volunteer work? The results were astonishing: 76 percent of respondents stated that they either hired someone who volunteered for their organization or knew someone who was hired as a result of volunteer activities.
Not only does volunteerism provide an outlet to gain new experience, skills and networking opportunities; it is also empowering and benefits the local community. Volunteering is like a triple crown of service: the community, the nonprofit and the individual are all winners through volunteer work.
Just an hour or two a week can have a tremendous impact. If you're looking for ways you can help both your employment prospects and your community, try volunteering.
Please contact the United Way of Tampa Bay, www.unitedwaysuncoast.org, for volunteer opportunities that might be of interest to you.
Chester W. Spellman, CEO, Volunteer Florida, Tallahassee
Rice decides to back down | Dec. 14
Putting country first
Susan Rice is to be congratulated for putting the country first instead of being focused solely on her career. We need every member of Congress to emulate her and put this country before their egos, which is what they are doing now.
Sylvia Fies, St. Petersburg