With complaints mounting about testing, academic standards, textbooks and a host of other education issues, Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart announced she would form a statewide panel to advise her.
More than 2,800 Floridians applied for 10 spots on the Keep Florida Learning Committee, which lists as its goals "reviewing further deregulation opportunities for the school system, reviewing the instructional material review processes used by school boards, identifying strategies to increase parental involvement in education, and reviewing the implementation of the Florida Standards and the Florida Standards Assessment."
Just two seats went to parents. One of them lives in Pasco County.
Trinity-area mom Julia "Megan" Hendricks, executive director of MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance, told the commissioner of her passion for public schools, saying they're "imperative for not only our workforce but our nation's wellbeing."
She noted her master's degree in business administration, and experience working at the University of South Florida, as key to her being a productive committee member.
"I believe it's one of the best uses of my time," wrote Hendricks, who has been active in the Opt-Out Pasco organization.
Hendricks spoke with the Tampa Bay Times after being chosen for the group, which meets for the first time today (March 27).
You're one of only two parents on this committee. I was wondering what made you decide to apply in the first place?
Well, I'm a huge supporter of public schools. Both of my parents were public school teachers. My husband is a public school teacher. My in-laws were public school teachers. So I've got, you know, just a lot of passion in me for the whole concept, I guess, if you will, of public schools.
I think it's just tremendous when you stop and think about it that we offer a free education to every single child in this country. People take that for granted all the time. They don't even look at countries that don't have education for their kids. And I personally believe that education is pretty good, it actually is high quality in this country. And it makes me sad when I see people complaining about their public schools. I'm not saying their complaints are unwarranted, because I know that parents and teachers are having issues. There's a lot going on out there.
Honestly, I want people to be proud of their public schools again in this state. I want businesses to come to this state and say, I'm proud to bring my kids and my employees to bring their kids to be educated in this state. I want parents to say, "Yes, my child goes to XYZ school and I love it,'' instead of what they're saying now, which is all kinds of negative things. So, I guess that's my motivation.
I've seen your emails to the (Pasco County) superintendent. Is your concern about testing per se? Or do you have a perspective that you're bringing besides just wanting to see schools be better?
To be honest, I am a little bit leery about coming out strong on one side of the issues or another in the media. My agenda is not political. But you've read my emails. You know I have concerns with the tests. I do think that our children are being tested too much. I mean, that's not a secret. I'm not going to deny that.
Are you doing anything specific about that, testing? Are you actively doing anything besides just exploring these issues?
I've been doing a lot of research on these issues for the better part of three or four years. Even before my kids were in school I've been researching it, because it's always been something of interest to me, something I'm passionate about. As far as specific action, I've been speaking up a lot. I've been to some Pasco School Board meetings. I have met with some people, you know, leaders in the district and state. I am basically just trying to make my voice heard right now.
Were you surprised to be selected as only one of two parents for this committee that over 2,800 people tried to get on?
Yeah. Just because statistically. Not to say I don't feel qualified, because I do. That's why I applied. I was elated, to be honest with you. I am happy the state saw something in me and saw that I would bring something to the table.
I was looking at the mandate for this committee, and it talks about things like deregulation and implementation of standards. Have you been reviewing those issues yourself? Do you feel like it's going a certain direction before you ever get there?
That's a good question. I don't know. I really don't have more to go by than what's been released to the public. I have high hopes they put me on there for a reason and they're going to take my perspective into consideration.
Is there something you would like to accomplish, if you could accomplish one thing by being on this committee?
(Long pause) That's a good question. I'd like to think about that some more. Offhand, I'd go back to my original statement. I'd like to improve our public schools and make people proud of them again.
Well, how would you improve them then? Because my definition of improvement might be completely different from yours.
Exactly. That's a good point. I think the state realizes that and that's probably why there's a little bit of diversity on that committee. I guess I would say I'd like to provide the perspective of a parent who is on the ground and looking at this from a day-to-day perspective, which not everybody in the state is doing. Not all of them have kids, and not all of them are looking at it from the perspective of a parent.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.