Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. News
  2. /
  3. Gradebook

Meet the candidates for Hillsborough School Board District 3

Six are in line to replace Cindy Stuart.

Second in a series. Part 1, covering District 1, is here.

District 3 for the Hillsborough County School Board extends from the northern suburbs of Carrollwood and Lutz through New Tampa and into the northern reaches of eastern Hillsborough, including Dover and Thonotasassa.

The district has been represented since 2012 by Cindy Stuart, who is leaving the board to run for clerk of court. The candidates for this wide-open seat are substitute teacher and fitness trainer Alexandra Gilmore, Gaither High teacher and union official Leo Haggerty, Pinellas County teacher Jennifer Rose Hill, public accountant and airport administrator Mitchell Thrower, substitute teacher Jessica Vaughn and retired business executive Rick Warrener.

Alexandra Gilmore, 39

Alexandra Gilmore [ Courtesy of the Alexandra Gilmore campaign ]

Occupation: substitute teacher, fitness instructor

Education: Bachelor’s in public communication, University of South Florida; master’s in teaching and learning, Nova Southeastern University.

What are the three most pressing issues for the school district, and how would you address them?

Funding, infrastructure and bridging the gaps of the district with teachers and parents for the beneficial support for the students.

I would address these issues by utilizing my personal experiences, other parents’ stories, and current teacher experiences. The district has ignored parents’ and teachers’ concerns. I would not ignore the concerns of those who matter in our educational system. These important voices have been ignored repeatedly and things need to change. I would bring these issues and concerns to the forefront so they can be addressed immediately without retaliation.

What approach is needed to improve academic performance at the district’s lowest-performing schools?

The approach I would use to improve the lowest-performing schools would be to create a platform for collaboration within the district, for teachers, parents, and students. We have to have everyone at the table so that we can change the results for the success for students. What the district has been doing has not been working so we have to change and flip the table. Flipping the table back to caring about students and teachers is essential. The district has lost its focus and the purpose of their positions, which is academic success. What would this cost? This would cost people putting themselves to the side and allowing students to be their first and only focus. This has been needed for years and we have gotten so far away from the issues and the specific job duties. Only thing needed is transparency, removal of the toxicity, putting drama away, and collaborate as a team for our district.

How would you improve reading scores, especially in the lower grades?

We need to find a way to change our text books. The Springboard book for Language Arts and Reading is a complete disadvantage to students. These books do not teach the basic reading and writing skills. They took away phonics and fundamentals of reading. Reading should be fun and engaging and should allow students to find their own interest, hobbies, and discover who they are. Teachers need the freedom to be creative in the classroom when it comes to young readers. The state and district have not allowed teachers to create and implement ways to engage young readers due to strict testing and curriculum guidelines imposed by the state.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

I’m not sure about the role of the charter schools but I do know some of the disadvantages and they are perpetuating modern day segregation by separating a certain class of students. Traditional public schools seem to be ignored by the district and the state, while traditional schools have to share money with charter schools. There are so many traditional older schools that have been neglected severely. Charter schools take away the mass majority of honor students and higher socioeconomic backgrounds. This leaves traditional schools behind which causes segregation among our students. This is to target students and put them on track for the “pipeline to prison.”

How would you address the racial and ethnic disparities in student discipline and academic achievement?

This journey of having to constantly battle racial disparities has been a constant uphill battle for me and my family. This was the reason and motivation for me to run for the District 3 School Board seat. My son was bullied, harassed, and our concerns were taken lightly by the school, the district, and due to me being an advocate I received retaliation. I would like to see teachers and administrators take training that addresses the issues of racial disparities in the classroom and as well in the classroom. This has been a continuous issue in our district that needs to be addressed immediately. I have personally experienced racial disparities within my own son which to me relate to others. It is not a good feeling and I would not want any other parent or child to endure what we have endured just to have my son to be treated fairly.

Does Hillsborough need to consolidate some campuses and facilities? If so, where and how would you go about it?

No, I do not think this an effective method because students need to be grouped age and grade appropriately. Elementary, middle, and high schools were separated for a reason and needed to stay that way. If you consolidate schools there could be an increase of discipline for many reasons with kids not being grouped accordingly with age and grade.

• • •

Leo Haggerty, 67

Leo Haggerty [ Courtesy of the Leo Haggerty campaign ]

Occupation: Teacher

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Northland College.

What are the three most pressing issues for the school district, and how would you address them?

1-COVID-19. Realistically, this is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Frankly, if I had the right answer to this question, I would be the Florida Commissioner of Education, but I truly do not. The problem facing our district is that none of the possible scenarios that I have heard are good ones. There is no failsafe method of reopening our schools to guarantee total safety for our students and employees.

2-Funding. I was the first person at a January of 2018 School Board meeting to publicly recommend that the district put forth a referendum to the voters of Hillsborough County to earmark a sales tax that would be designated solely for school improvement. In November, that half-cent sales tax came to fruition when the voters overwhelmingly approved it. Now, the state Legislature must do their part and provide the financial resources to school districts to provide not just an adequate education for students, but an exemplary one.

3-Communication. The School Board must emphatically make voters aware of the fact that elections matter. If you have a child in public schools, voters need to be made aware that every candidate that doesn’t totally support fully funding public education is siphoning revenue away from programs that will enhance your child’s learning in the public school environment.

What approach is needed to improve academic performance at the district’s lowest-performing schools? Does that require additional resources? If so, where would you get them?

1-The district needs to move forward with a long-term plan and not move on and hope the issue will go away. A logical first step would be to spend some time investigating other public schools throughout the United States that have successfully dealt with this dilemma to see if any of that success could be applied to Hillsborough County. Then the School Board must understand that whatever plan that is brought forth will most definitely be uncomfortable in the beginning. The plan must be transparent so all stakeholders can accept this as an effective method of implementing change. Finally, stay the course. Years of habitual failure at the district’s lowest-performing school will not be fixed overnight.

2-Yes because one part of the plan, in my opinion, must include these lowest-performing schools being turned into wrap-around community schools. The schools must be transformed into centers for not just education but for providing basic services such as mental health and medical health and counseling and other vital necessities that our lowest economic students just are not receiving. I would, upon my election, have the district initiate a series of grant proposals from the state and federal government to facilitate this program.

How would you improve reading scores, especially in the lower grades?

Luckily, I have been married for the last 40-plus years to an elementary teacher who just retired after 32 years in the classroom, with 28 of these years in the School District of Hillsborough County. One evening, after an extremely frustrating union meeting, I just asked my lovely bride, “What’s the big difference between your third-graders reading on or above grade level and those that can’t?” She said, without hesitation, “The difference is that the ones that read at or above grade level have had someone read to them at least 30 minutes a night.” That was an epiphany for me. When I am elected, I will look to put into practice what I would call the “Gammy Reads” program. We will find volunteers, preferably retired teachers, who will be recorded reading a specific book for 30 minutes that students can download and follow along each evening.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

Charter Schools were started for a purpose. They were not-for-profit centers that concentrated on a specific area with a concentration in physical or behavioral disabilities. Now, charter schools have morphed into for-profit sites that drain financial resources away from our public schools with none of the accountability that public schools are subjected to. I do not now, nor will I when elected, support any for-profit charter school initiative in Hillsborough County. The education of our children is not an area where making a profit is the prime directive and should not be for sale.

How would you address the racial and ethnic disparities in student discipline and academic achievement?

When talking about discipline, the data needs to be examined to make sure the School Board is getting a true picture of what is transpiring. Are these single incidents or habitual cases when it comes to the individual being referred for disciplinary actions? If it is a habitual offender, an intervention plan must be put into place to change the behavior so that student can become productive in the school setting. If that isn’t possible, then an alternative education site may be in the best interest of that student. School cannot exist without discipline and a reasonable set of expectations for students must be in place and enforced.

Does Hillsborough need to consolidate some campuses and facilities? If so, where and how would you go about it?

Absolutely not. The district is growing by leaps and bounds, especially in South County, where numerous new schools will need to be constructed. To consolidate selected campuses and facilities would mean that the School Board would have to redraw boundaries. That’s bad enough when it has to be done when a new school is built. As a School Board member, I am not comfortable at all with informing a group of parents and students that they will be moving to a new school unless it is totally a last resort due to excessive overcrowding. Changing school is a traumatic experience not just for students but for parents and should not be taken lightly.

Jennifer Hill, 46

Jennifer Hill [ Courtesy of the Jennifer Hill campaign ]

Occupation: Pinellas County teacher

Education: Bachelor’s in business management, College of New Jersey; master’s in education, University of St Francis; doctoral candidate, University of Florida.

What are the three most pressing issues for the school district, and how would you address them?

COVID-19: Change school schedules to limit the contact and number of people being transported to or learning within the building. Prepare teachers to teach both virtually and face-to-face in a blended model.

Education Equity, or the opportunity gap for children from low-income families just beginning kindergarten puts them 12 to 14 months behind in reading readiness from children who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch, and it continues to grow wider as the student progresses through school. Solutions: Start sooner. Make pre-school a priority, free and aligned to the skills required to be successful in kindergarten.

Safety: There must be a nurse on staff at every campus. There must be mental health advocates and trained staff on every campus. All adults that interact with students should be trained to look for warning signs of physical and mental illness and know the procedure for ensuring that the student is referred for services quickly.

What approach is needed to improve academic performance at the district’s lowest-performing schools?

As of 2019, 43 schools in Hillsborough were considered among the lowest performing in the state of Florida. Thirty-nine of these schools have persistently underperformed for at least 3-5 years. This is more than Miami-Dade and Broward combined — two districts that are substantially larger than Hillsborough. On average, 95 percent of the students that make up these schools come from economically disadvantaged homes. The approach that works best is to engage with the community that supports these schools. Give families ownership and leadership in their schools. Listen to the community members to hear and understand what they want and need from their school. The school, fairly or not, must fill the gaps in the lives of the students to create a safety net. Racial and social justice must be at the forefront of all that we do to ensure that our students feel safe and welcome in our schools.

Does that require additional resources? If so, where would you get them?

The number of students enrolled at challenge schools is declining. Some of these schools should be closed or combined to pool resources and save money. Some may even be sold to pay for future expenses.

How would you improve reading scores, especially in the lower grades?

First off, the way we measure reading proficiency should be challenged. Due to implicit testing bias, most reading tests fail to capture the actual growth of a student. Not every concept presented on the test is one that the student has background knowledge to support. This puts the reader at a disadvantage before the test has even begun. While whole reading techniques work great in the flow of reading class, we must return to phonemic awareness, decoding strategies, and research-based practices that empower students to engage with the material. Frankly, students lose their love for reading the moment we as teachers place tasks on them about the reading.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

Our public schools should have the ability to be as flexible as the charter schools to allow parents to feel they have better options. Charter schools should not exist where there is a public school that can meet the need. The only time a charter school should be engaged is when the needs of the community have grown larger than the public school’s capability. The charter should be limited until the public school has the time to create the infrastructure to meet the community needs.

How would you address the racial and ethnic disparities in student discipline and academic achievement?

Restorative justice works. Period. Punishment does not. The putative structure of school is meant to drive out students instead of educate them or create empathy. We would see far fewer incidents across the board if students felt that their teachers cared about them and that they would be allowed the opportunity to talk out issues rather than be kicked out for impulsive childish behavior.

Does Hillsborough need to consolidate some campuses and facilities? If so, where and how would you go about it?

Unfortunately, we do. As much as I love the notion of community schools where students walk safely to class, we have some schools that are consistently underperforming. The students do not feel safe. The building is crumbling and the cost of repairs is not sustainable. This should be decided by the community at large. The School Board may vote based on community input and school data related to achievement, safety and maintenance.

Mitchell Thrower, 52

Mitchell Thrower [ Courtesy of the Mitchell Thrower campaign ]

Occupation: Senior Manager of Administration, Hillsborough County Aviation Authority

Education: Bachelor’s in management, Tulane University; master’s in business administration, Florida State University

What are the three most pressing issues for the school district, and how would you address them?

The most pressing issue right now is how our students are going to be taught in the upcoming school year. Are they going to be physically in schools, using e-learning/virtual schools or a combination of the two? The recently completed School Reopening Survey indicated 53 percent of parents were comfortable sending students to school for the upcoming school year. We need to make sure teachers have adequate resources and training to teach virtual classes. My youngest child attends Walker Middle School and I witnessed some of the issues that occur with e-learning. We need to ensure that all students have the technology and training necessary to utilize the e-learning platform.

The second issue, which is also a major concern to all parents that I have talked to, is what are the schools going to do about safety related to COVID-19. Schools need to ensure that they are effectively communicating their safety plans to parents.

The third issue is accountability and fiscal management. With Hillsborough County having a $3.3 billion dollar budget and a half-cent sales tax that is generating $138 million a year, we need to ensure that the district is spending it wisely.

What approach is needed to improve academic performance at the district’s lowest-performing schools? Does that require additional resources? If so, where would you get them?

Strong principals can recruit better teachers to their school, and this dramatically increases the chances of all-around success. There must be open communication with children and parents, and they need to see the connection between academic achievement and future success. We may need to consider redistributing resources to ensure that students and teachers have what they need to be successful. I also believe that partnerships with private companies, retirees and groups such as the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, where mentoring and tutoring can be provided to help improve student learning. Counseling services, free meal programs and other services can address essential needs, which might otherwise interfere with a child’s ability to learn.

How would you improve reading scores, especially in the lower grades?

I am a strong believer in early childhood education and have served on the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County. The Early Learning Coalition, in partnership with Hillsborough County Schools, provides Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK), an early childhood school readiness program, free of charge to families. Studies have shown that children who participate in high-quality early childhood education programs develop better language skills, score higher in school-readiness tests, and have better social skills once they enter school.

In addition to early learning programs, I believe we need to ensure that teachers are trained in literacy development and provided the tools to enhance literacy skills and that schools utilize small group instruction. I also believe in parental involvement and providing volunteer opportunities to read to children in the classroom.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

I am a staunch supporter of the public schools and I am in favor of quality educational options for all students. I believe that charter schools fill a need in our school system and provide our students with more options. I think the Hillsborough County school system should try to partner and work with charter schools, especially when it comes to where they are located. There are areas in our community where our current public schools are over-capacity or other needs exist and charter schools could possibly satisfy those needs.

How would you address the racial and ethnic disparities in student discipline and academic achievement?

We need to ensure that schools are communicating with parents especially when it comes to issues that a school might be having with their child. Teachers and administrators need to be fair and firm when addressing disciplinary issues. Students need to know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Teachers should receive diversity, inclusion, and discipline training.

We also need to ensure that all school resource officers are properly trained, engaged in the school and known by the students. School resource officers should know how to deal with the students so that their handling of disciplinary issues such as minor non-violent infractions do not escalate into violent criminal incidents.

I am also a big fan of partnerships with groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters. They have the Bigs in Schools Program, which I believe is an excellent way to provide mentors to students.

I would want to see the budget detail by school and the amount allocated per student at each school. For those schools that are receiving less than or more than the other schools I want to know why.

Does Hillsborough need to consolidate some campuses and facilities, and if so, where and how would you go about it?

Given the current situation with COVID-19, we need to finalize our plans for how we are going to teach students for the upcoming school year. We need to determine what our schools will look like and make informed decisions based on short-term and long-term needs. Once we know what student learning will look like, we can decide whether the consolidation of campuses and facilities is necessary. After the situation is assessed, we can determine how to effectively deploy resources to ensure student success.

Jessica Vaughn, 42

Jessica Vaughn [ Courtesy of the Jessica Vaughn campaign ]

Occupation: Substitute teacher

Education: Bachelor’s in education, University of South Florida

What are the three most pressing issues for the school district, and how would you address them?

Personally, I believe that parents should have a choice about sending their children back to school physically for the next school year. Parents who feel comfortable and who rely on school for childcare should be able to send their children back to school. However, there should be a virtual option available for parents who would rather self-isolate. Teachers who are immunocompromised should be able to teach the virtual classes from home. Classrooms and common areas should be re-designed to accommodate social distancing. Each classroom should be sanitized several times a day. School staff who can work remotely should be given the opportunity to do so. Staff who must do their jobs in person should be provided with all materials needed to do their job safely. Each student should have hand-sanitizer and disinfectant wipes inside of their desk for easy access. Physical contact should be limited and enforced. Masks should be provided and worn when age appropriate.

How to handle the potential budget crisis coming down from Tallahassee and how that will affect our already underfunded schools? We can address this by advocating and asking for a robust federal aid package, making sure that state aid is distributed equitably and by deprioritizing aid programs which only favor affluent districts while ignoring already underfunded communities.

Our failing achievement schools and the danger of approving reckless charter school expansion. If we weren’t spending so much on charters, we would have more academic and social support for our students living in poverty. Expansion of charter schooling is exacerbating inequities across schools and children because children are being increasingly segregated by economic status, race, language, and disabilities because charter schools are raising and spending vastly different amounts, without regard for differences in student needs.

What approach is needed to improve academic performance at the district’s lowest-performing schools? Does that require additional resources? If so, where would you get them?

In order to improve academics in our lowest-performing schools, we need an approach which examines the needs of each school individually. That approach starts with the following six steps. 1) Understand what each individual school needs. 2) Quantify what each school gets and how it is used. 3) Invest in the most important changes first. 4) Customize the strategy to the school. 5) Change the district, not just the schools. 6) Invest in low-income/low-resource communities and build “community schools” in those areas.

In many cases this will require additional resources. For some resources we can rely on outsourcing donations and accessing community support, However, our first priority needs to be focused on streamlining the current budget, analyzing other successful models and maximize infrastructure building.

How would you improve reading scores, especially in the lower grades?

First, we need to prioritize access to early childhood education. Also, it’s no coincidence that as we eliminated reading coaches within our schools, reading scores went down. We need to focus on our reading programs to make sure that we are implementing the most current reading strategies. Learning the phonetic sound of a letter before the letter name has a huge amount of success in developing early readers. We also need to make sure that our students (especially in areas with less resources) have access to reading materials. Also, we need to place teachers according to their teaching strengths.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

Honesty, I am outraged that charter schools are being used as a mask to privatize education. I am 100 percent against “for profit” charter schools. We should be investing all our resources into making our public schools equitable and successful. However, since the state is mandating that so much funding be allocated to charter schools, we should only be approving charter schools that offer us an environment to try out new forms of education without making a profit. I would love to see public Montessori charter schools, which everyone could access, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Both Pepin Academy and Learning Gate are examples of great charter schools locally.

How would you address the racial and ethnic disparities in student discipline and academic achievement?

Racial and income segregation are directly tied to systemic poverty. In order to make any real impactful changes within these communities, we have to demand sweeping structural changes. That means advocating for and investing in fair and livable wages, access to childcare, health care, access to housing, criminal justice reform, infrastructure and transportation. However, we can address racial and income segregation inside our schools by making sure that our achievement schools have extra funding, equal access to materials and supplies and are staffed with quality/experienced teachers/personnel. Also, making sure that school choice is available, accessible and fair is essential to addressing racial and income segregation. In regard to discipline, positive approaches and restorative justice approaches result in improved school climates and increased educational opportunities.

Does Hillsborough need to consolidate some campuses and facilities? If so, where and how would you go about it?

I could see how the idea of consolidating some facilities might be appealing from a budget standpoint, but the truth is that most of our schools are overcrowded and stretched too thin as it is. As a district we are already struggling to find ways to meet our growth as a county, especially educationally. Making sure that developers pay the appropriate impact fees and develop responsibility is a better solution.

Rick Warrener, 75

Rick Warrener [ Courtesy of the Rick Warrener campaign ]

Occupation: Retired bank controller and chief financial officer.

Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, Bowling Green State University.

What are the three most pressing issues for the school district, and how would you address them?

The most pressing issue is inadequate funding. Voters must demand that the Legislature reorder its priorities to provide adequate funding. This issue can only be addressed by inspiring citizens to research the issue, the candidates and go to the polls prepared to vote for candidates who share their priorities.

Next: Teacher working conditions. Bring average teacher salaries up to at least the median among the states (currently 46th) and reduce their administrative burden to allow them more time to plan and prepare to teach.

Third: School building deferred maintenance. Another example of the need for more funding.

What approach is needed to improve academic performance at the district’s lowest-performing schools? Does that require additional resources? If so, where would you get them?

Full staffing of low-performing schools with excellent teachers, guidance and mental health counselors, parent/community outreach personnel and preschool programs. Training of the entire school staff in a program like “Leader In Me” and its implementation as a way to engage each student in his own education. This would certainly cost more, which would probably mean a combination of finding some other area of district spending to reduce (exceedingly difficult with an already inadequate budget) and seeking community financial support from local businesses.

How would you improve reading scores, especially in the lower grades?

Expand preschool and other early learning initiatives.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

The appropriate role for charter schools is in serving currently unmet needs. Public charter schools should have to meet the same standards as traditional public schools.

How would you address the racial and ethnic disparities in student discipline and academic achievement?

A. Student discipline. In the effort to leave no child behind, we need to make more guidance and mental health counselors available to students who demonstrate a lack of self-discipline. The benefits of finding the key to engaging a student in his own education are enormous for both the individual student and for classmates whose quality of instruction is compromised by a disruptive student.

B. Academic achievement. We must continue to strive to assure that equal opportunity to learn is provided to all students. We again must recognize the importance of finding the key to engage each student in his own education as the goal of equal outcomes cannot be achieved without the student’s engagement.

Does Hillsborough need to consolidate some campuses and facilities? If so, where and how would you go about it?

The question of consolidation is one which must be studied and recommended by the administration after full consideration has been given to the wishes of the community as well as the budgetary needs of the district.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement