With nearly 75,000 students and more than 80 schools, the Pasco County school district is the largest in the nation to have its residents elect its superintendent.
Cynthia Thompson says whether elected or appointed, the district chief should be an educator. And the Bayonet Point Middle School graduation enhancement teacher wants to be that person.
Thompson, 38, has pre-filed paperwork with the county elections office to run for the superintendent’s office when it comes open in 2020. A Republican, she would face two-term incumbent Kurt Browning if he decides to seek reelection.
Browning has been secretary of state and Pasco elections supervisor, in addition to serving as superintendent. He has not been a teacher.
“He doesn’t see it from a classroom teacher’s perspective,” said Thompson, who has worked for the district since 2008. “Without a teacher leading our education system in our county, we’re not going to get to the place where everyone is brought to their full potential.”
Thompson, who said she has a master’s degree in educational leadership from St. Leo University, acknowledged she would face an uphill battle to unseat Browning, who has held public office for decades. She’s not well known outside her own circle of friends and colleagues, by her own admission.
But she viewed that as a positive.
“That’s the whole point,” Thompson said. “Education should be about the students and about the teachers and about the content, and not about kissing up to people at the state level because of the funding. I’m definitely not a politician.”
She said she will work to get onto the ballot with petition signatures rather than paying the qualification fee, “because I want people to want me there.”
On the issues, Thompson said she opposes Browning’s proposal to raise salaries by asking middle and high school teachers to work an extra class each day. She said the district should look for more ways to teach content and reduce paperwork. And she called for more “proactive” initiatives to prevent struggling students from falling behind and needing credit recovery and other interventions.
“We don’t put enough emphasis on keeping the kids from failing,” she said. “We put too much emphasis on the back end.”
Thompson said she moved to Pasco County in 1995, and graduated from Land O’Lakes High School. She has a 4-year-old who will enter kindergarten next year.