Two weeks ago, I was driving from Gainesville back to St. Petersburg, and I stopped for gas on State Road 200 in Ocala. After I got out of my truck and started pumping, a late model Honda Accord sedan with a Canadian license plate parked at the pump next to me. A white family — a man, a woman and three preteens — were in the Honda. The man got out, we spoke simultaneously and he started pumping....
University Preparatory Academy, the new charter school in south St. Petersburg, opened last August with lofty promises.
From the start, it had serious problems, most notably failing to establish a board of advisers in a timely manner and using a bus company not yet approved by Pinellas County School Board. Daily management was so chaotic that at least 77 pupils withdrew, and four teachers and the curriculum director left. To change the school's direction, the governing board hired Darius Adamson as principal. Adamson is a founding partner of the Solomon Group, a North Carolina-based corporation with a proven record of transforming troubled schools into high performers. I talked with him about his objectives and long-term vision for the school....
One of the first campaign promises new St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman kept was to hire an administrator to oversee economic development for Midtown, the predominantly African-American community south of Central Avenue.
He chose 40-year-old St. Petersburg native Nikki Gaskin-Capehart for the job. Her official title is director of urban affairs. Kriseman also hired 38-year-old Kanika Tomalin, another St. Petersburg native, as deputy mayor. A large part of her job will be to work on projects to improve Midtown. Kriseman has hired two women with proven records of solving problems....
During the early 1970s when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, one of my two roommates was a Jew. We became close friends and beer-drinking buddies, and many late nights we studied together in Regenstein Library. We still correspond on issues that concern us.
He introduced me to the University of Chicago Hillel, the Jewish student group. He was a member even though he was, as he said, "an agnostic Jew from Boston" who spoke his mind. He said the Chicago chapter, even with its problems, was one of the most tolerant in the country. I accompanied him to several functions that were open to the public, and I was impressed with the sophisticated, uninhibited debate on many controversial issues, including Israel....
Duck Dynasty, the so-called reality show on A&E, is not on my menu of TV watching. In recent weeks, though, I've learned a lot about the show because of comments that Phil Robertson, the cast's patriarch, made during an interview with GQ magazine that led to his suspension from the show. • Here's what Robertson said about African-Americans: "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field. … They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people' — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."...
I used to be a terrible last-minute procrastinator about buying Christmas gifts. I would find myself on Christmas Eve searching store shelves trying to figure out what material things to buy for this or that person. I had a particularly hard time buying for the older people in my life.
A few years ago, an acquaintance taught me how to give the perfect last-minute gift — a meaningful, lasting gift — to friends and loved ones of any age....
Desperation seems to be the new guiding force in many of Florida's public schools as they try to improve the performance of students struggling in the classroom.
Tutoring, both after school and on Saturdays, is one of the popular trends to emerge from this desperation.
The Pinellas school district has set aside $4.5 million this year to boost its enrichment programs for students who are behind academically. Officials apparently believe that if students are in school more hours each day, they will learn more....
I am certain that as she did in 2008, Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016. But presidential politics can change in a flash. • When I read the New York Times' recent article, "Eye on 2016, Clintons rebuild bond with blacks," I realized that Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are repeating a failed strategy of the 2008 campaign: They are aggressively wooing the support of black leaders, including elected officials, heads of civic and civil rights organizations, celebrities and, of course, black ministers. • And once again, they apparently trust these leaders, especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to keep their word, perhaps delivering the black vote, an important bloc in presidential elections....
Florida's public schools come under increasing pressure each year to show students are improving academically. In more recent years, state and local lawmakers have been turning attention to the quality of classroom teachers and measuring teacher performance.
The popular measure of teacher performance now is student scores on high-stakes standardized tests. After all, research consistently shows that students with high-performing teachers tend to score better on all academic measures....
EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK
‘When I was a boy in Scotland I was fond of everything that was wild, and all my life I've been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures," conservationist John Muir wrote in his essay "A Boyhood in Scotland."
If you change Muir's Scotland to Florida, you get a good description of my childhood and how my love grows each day for what remains of the Sunshine State's wild places, particularly Everglades National Park....
A universal truth in education is that regardless of their race or ethnicity or income, students whose parents are involved in their learning tend to perform better academically, graduate on time and move on to college or professional schools at higher rates than those whose parents are not involved.
Emma Banks, principal of Inlet Grove Community High School, has embraced this truth and is making parental involvement part of standard operations....
Albert Einstein said that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
In Florida, environmentalists have their unique definition of insanity: knowingly destroying our environment — one of our major economic resources — while blocking efforts to slow or stop the destruction.
This brand of insanity plays out daily and has for decades, from the moment business owners, their political supporters and lobbyists learned that the abuse of our precious wild places can bring huge profits....
Freshman admission to elite colleges and universities has been based on meritocracy, individual ability and achievement of the so-called "best and brightest."
The primary measuring tool has been the standardized test, and the SAT and ACT are the most used. Of course, a lucrative industry charges would-be applicants a lot of money to coach them on subject matter that appears on these tests....
When I read that the last Volkswagen campervan would roll off the assembly line on Dec. 31, I was transported back in time.
The company in Brazil that is the world's last manufacturer of this automotive icon will stop production. It says it can't make money and meet the country's new safety mandates of antilock braking systems and air bags beginning 2014.
I fell in love with the Volkswagen campervan during the summer of 1964, at the end of my freshman year of college. I was driving with a schoolmate in his old Plymouth sedan from Texas to Atlanta. Outside Vicksburg, Miss., the car broke down and we started walking in search of a service station. We didn't dare hold out our thumbs as hitchhikers because — as two young black males in the Deep South — we were afraid to attract attention....
Chuck Harmon, 53, will retire in January as St. Petersburg's longest-serving police chief in recent history. There are good reasons for this longevity. In addition to being street-savvy and professional, he is honest, soft-spoken and measured in his actions. And he clearly loves the city he swore to serve and protect.
When I learned he was retiring, I asked him to talk with me about his legacy and issues related to the department and its future....