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Gradebook podcast: Is the Hillsborough County School Board listening to the public?

The chairwoman looks for ways to keep comments private, while the board asks for more input on key issues like its superintendent search.
The Hillsborough County School Board holds a workshop in June 2019. [Times]
The Hillsborough County School Board holds a workshop in June 2019. [Times]
Published Sep. 12, 2019

By their very nature, school board meetings are public. They’re held in an open room. Anyone can attend. They exist specifically to deal with the public’s business.

Yet in the nation’s eighth largest school district, the board chairwoman has led the fight to keep residents’ comments to the board largely outside the public eye. She argues that some people wish to address the body privately, but in public.

Plus, the same district — Hillsborough County — is looking for public input into its superintendent search. Through surveys and town halls, residents are encouraged to tell the district’s headhunter exactly what they want to see in the next CEO.

Is the board listening, or just going through the motions?

Reporters Marlene Sokol and Jeff Solochek discuss the role of public comments as the district makes some key decisions.

RELATED: Public comments will be aired again at Hillsborough school board meetings

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  2. University of Florida students walk through Turlington Plaza in between classes on Thursday afternoon, February 13, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla.
  3. Chikara Parks, right, along with her children in front of their home in St. Petersburg. In the back is Kamijah Laswon, 14. In front of Kamijah is her sister Tanijah Clark, 12. Their brothers are 7-year-old Tai'jon Carter, left, and Dai'quan Carbart, 9. The four children used to attend Pinellas public schools. Now they are in private schools, using Florida's tax credit scholarship program. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  4. Florida Board of Education member Michael Olenick speaks during a July 17, 2019, board meeting in Polk County. [The Florida Channel]
  5. A new house under construction in Waterset on Big Bend Road in Hillsborough County's Apollo Beach area. Developed by Newland Communities, which also developed Fishhawk Ranch  in Hillsborough, Waterset has had more housing starts in the past year than any other new-home community in the Tampa Bay area. [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times]
  6. Janiyah, left, and Stephanie Davis of Philadelphia, stand as they are recognized by President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
  7. School buses line the parking lot of the Hernando County Schools Transportation Center earlier this month. Detailed bus route information is expected to be available July 31, and can be found on the district website, edline.net/pages/Hernando_County_School_Board (select "District," then "Transportation". [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  8. Florida lawmakers are considering changes to the state grant that helps students who attend private colleges and universities such as Eckerd College, whose 2005 commencement is shown here.
  9. Students from Lakewood Elementary School dismiss for the day in St. Petersburg, Monday, February 10, 2020.
  10. Orlando high school student Yomar Fontanez is shown rapping in a music video he released Wednesday to commemorate the victims of the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
  11. Chancellor Jacob Oliva explains recommended new academic standards in language arts and math to the Florida Board of Education at a Feb. 12, 2020, meeting in Tallahassee. The board unanimously adopted the proposal.
  12. Pasco County residents have recommended naming the school district's next high school after student Sean Bartell, Sheriff's deputy Capt. Bo Harrison and principal Adam Kennedy, each of whom has passed away. The district received dozens of proposals.
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