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Meet the candidates for Hillsborough School Board District 5

Three are trying to unseat incumbent Tamara Shamburger
The current campus of Middleton High School in Tampa opened in 2002.
The current campus of Middleton High School in Tampa opened in 2002. [ Times (2006) ]
Published Jul. 4, 2020|Updated Jul. 4, 2020

This is the third in a series. Part 1, on District 1, is here and Part 2, on District 3, is here.

TAMPA — District 5 for the Hillsborough County School Board covers some of the county’s highest-poverty neighborhoods, served by schools that have struggled for decades. Improving the prospects of children in marginalized communities has been one of the district’s most pressing challenges, and School Board campaigns touch on compelling issues of equity and racial parity.

Tamara Shamburger was elected to this seat in 2016 after career educator and long-time board member Doretha Edgecomb stepped down. Now three challengers, some with high profiles in the Black community — Elvis Piggott, Selena Ward and Henry “Shake” Washington — want to stop her from winning a second term.

Elvis Piggott, 32

Elvis Piggott
Elvis Piggott [ Courtesy of the Elvis Piggott campaign ]

Occupation: Pastor, Triumph and Deliverance Cathedral

Education: High school

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

First, we need to examine literacy rates in our schools, primarily in kindergarten through second grade. Students that enter kindergarten with no preschool experiences begin their school experience at a deficit. We need to promote the importance of our youngest learners attending pre-K in order to get a head start to learning letters and letter sounds before they get to kindergarten. Students that don’t already have this under their belt by October in their kindergarten year will continue to lag behind their peers. We need to make sure highly qualified teachers are setting the foundation for students in kindergarten through third grade with an intentional and systematic phonics program in addition to a balanced literacy approach that allows the teacher to model reading and writing for their students and guide them until they are able to become independent readers.

Second, we need to address equity of resources in our schools. Equity means that every student gets what they need to be successful. This starts with putting systems in place that ensure that every child receives an equal chance for success. We must ensure teachers have the materials, resources and training they need to meet the various learning levels and needs of their students. Schools that are considered “challenged” or “failing” would also benefit from smaller class sizes to adequately support students with intensive interventions.

Third, I would like to address the disciplinary policies and practices within Hillsborough County Schools. There is no doubt that there is racial bias regarding student discipline in our schools. Our African American male students are more likely to be suspended or referred for expulsion than our white students. ESE students are often being referred to the office for their behavior and suspended. When students are repeatedly suspended, they are missing out on valuable instructional time which will impact their ability to be successful in school. I would address this disparity by forming a task force that looks at the data and identifies schools that have high rates of suspensions for our African American and ESE students.

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?

An “All Hands-On Deck” approach is needed to improve academic performance at our lowest-performing schools — many of which are in District 5. At the core we need to ensure there are no teaching vacancies in these schools and the teachers are highly qualified. Coaches and Resource Teachers are needed to support teachers in planning instruction, interventions and directly working with students. These schools also need to have leaders that have a proven track record of academic achievement and that will work just as hard on building a positive culture at the school. We also need to work to empower parents and tap into community members and organizations to mentor and sponsor programs for students. Community partnerships are essential in providing these schools with additional materials and resources for students that would complement their learning and promote a positive and nurturing school environment.

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

The key to building good readers starts with an intentional and systematic phonics program through the third grade. These are the years where we need our students to learn how to read and oftentimes phonics is not part of daily instruction. There needs to be an emphasis on decoding and phonemic awareness in the younger grades, as well as spending time building vocabulary through exposure to a variety of types of text. In a balanced literacy approach, students are able to see both reading and writing being modeled and are given opportunities for independent practice. Teachers also are able to meet the individual needs of students through small group interventions. Above all, we need to make sure we have teachers that inspire a love of reading in our students.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

The appropriate role for charter schools is to provide parents with a choice for their children. I have talked with several parents that have pulled out their children from traditional public schools to attend charter schools. Parents feel their child is not successful in public schools and seek an alternative. We need to dig deep into the data to determine why parents leave and what type of charter school they choose. The goal is to make the neighborhood school a parent’s first choice. We can achieve this by making sure our schools have the resources and programs they need to meet the needs of their students.

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

As a board member, this will be one of my priorities. Improving Black student achievement takes a collaborative effort. I plan on building a team of students, teachers, parents, community members and principals from elementary, middle and high schools to discuss the ABCs: Attendance, Behavior and Curriculum from District 5 Schools. These key components will drive our students to success. Meetings will take place monthly to review data, discuss areas of strength, areas of growth and to determine action steps.

We will work with parents to remove barriers that can cause poor attendance and find ways to empower parents and families. We will connect with community partners and organizations that can provide mentors to students, sponsor clubs, and support attendance incentives and recognitions. We will analyze attendance data to identify students that are “at risk” and have an attendance rate of 90 percent or below for the month. Identify attendance interventions to increase attendance rates.

When behavior expectations are clear and positive behavior structures are in place, behavior referrals and suspensions decrease. The team will discuss and emphasize practices that strengthen relationships and build a positive school culture. We will encourage the training and coaching of teachers to implement positive behavior interventions and structures in the classroom. Training for both leaders and staff members on school-wide positive behavior expectations for students and adults within the school community will be encouraged, as well as the implementation of restorative justice practices. We will work to establish consequences that will correct behavior and analyze discipline data to identify trends and patterns and discuss action steps for improvement.

Curriculum is also an area that needs to be examined. When instructional materials represent the interests of the students and reflect the diversity of students, engagement increases.

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

Consolidating some campuses and facilities can result in fiscal savings. It would be necessary to look at the sites in question and determine how the consolidation would impact students. Sometimes what may be fiscally sound may not be what is best for students. I would say, under the right circumstances, housing two schools on the same property but maintaining their own identities can be a win-win. Consolidations such as housing Mendez and Carver at one facility can be viewed as a success. I also think about how Lockhart Elementary has welcomed Tampa Heights on their campus while still maintaining the individuality of both schools.

Tamara Shamburger, 45

Tamara Shamburger
Tamara Shamburger [ BONNIE RAUK | Sweet Tee Photography ]

Occupation: Insurance agent

Education: Bachelor’s in political science, University of South Florida; MBA, St. Leo University

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

• Adequate funding will address many of our shortfalls such as transportation, technology, staff pay, programmatic options, etc. As a current and continued School Board member and member the board’s legislative committee, through consistent and effective advocacy, I will continue to encourage our state legislators to prioritize public education by increasing the base student allocation to a more reasonable rate and restoring the local millage rate to its pre-recession levels. Locally, I will continue to hold the superintendent accountable for the financial health of the district by ensuring that as a nonprofit, the superintendent is diligent in “increasing revenue” by reducing all unnecessary expenses. I will also encourage the superintendent to seriously vet a property tax referendum to raise revenue for increased and sustained staff pay.

• Equity. There must be racial equity, educational equity, pay equity, facility equity … equity in all forms that will serve to eliminate any barriers to academic success of all students and prosperous careers for all staff. In 2016, I was honored to help pass the district’s national award-winning racial equity policy. I will continue this work by creating additional equity policies and through holding the superintendent accountable for implementing effective procedures.

• Academic achievement is our paramount duty. As a board we exercised our biggest power in the hiring of a superintendent with the tenacity to lead and drive strong instructional practices in the district that will lead to measurable academic performance and closure of the achievement gap. As a board member, I will continue to work alongside the superintendent setting expectations of excellence and holding him to the results until every student has an opportunity to academically succeed.

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?

We must continue to put our best assets where we have the most to gain. We must ensure our most effective and highly effective teachers (in VAM and classroom management) are in front of our highest-needs students. Strong instructional practices and fortitude are critical to lifting our lowest performing schools. Our teachers and classrooms must be equipped with adequate resources and supports in order to favorably shift the outcomes. The new Transformation Zone will provide the necessary infrastructure through equitable funding, intense support/professional development for staff, and specialized district-level support to ensure every school, every student has what is needed to succeed.

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

Literacy must be our North Star. A strategic redesign of our literacy curriculum is needed. Having even one school on the state’s lowest 300 list is unacceptable. The district must continue to focus on strong literacy initiatives such as the third-grade reading initiative “Read. Write. Now” and new initiatives such as SIP that focuses on phonics. Moreover, we must continue to focus on and partner in the early childhood arena. Making sure students are reading on level and ready for the rigor of public education must begin before kindergarten, as early as preparing the mother before childbirth.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

The appropriate role for charters is to fill the gaps where public education falls short. Whether it be to alleviate overcrowding where the district has an inability to timely build new schools or to provide specialized services, such as that for our ESE populations. I strongly believe that charters should be mandated to demonstrate great need and a focus on education and not profit. As a board member, I have supported the closing of charters that lacked fiscal responsibility and those that have academically failed children. I have also supported charters that have shown significant gains in student achievement compared to local traditional schools. As a board member, my priority is to focus on and ensure that HCPS traditional public schools are the best and first choice for our families.

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

We must address and eliminate institutional and systemic racism in our schools, as mandated by the Racial Equity policy, through effective implicit bias training, implementation of more restorative behavior management plans in lieu of longstanding punitive practices, and promote culturally responsive classroom management. As a board member, I expect the superintendent to be tenacious in addressing disparities and swift and bold in eliminating them. Disproportionality in student discipline and student achievement amongst Black students is great. Black students are less safe, more restrained, and pushed out of schools and referred to law enforcement more than other demographics. These disparities come not from student behavior itself, but from the way adults in the schools are responding to the student behavior. It is incumbent upon the School Board and superintendent to eliminate any policy that is discriminatory on its face or that gives way to discriminatory behavior.

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

I have proposed a district-wide rezoning study to review the overcrowding and under capacity issues throughout HCPS. In a poorly-funded system, we must determine if we can alleviate overcrowding by rezoning to under capacity schools. Many of District 5 schools are in fact under capacity. While we have a need for more “community schools,” in a per-student funding model we must ensure that we maximize every dollar to create the greatest impact on student achievement. HCPS has attempted to maximize space by dedicating over 400 empty seats in District 5 schools to Early Childhood classrooms. But as gentrification continues and neighborhoods change and shrink, we must continually assess our footprint in Hillsborough County. However, many factors must be considered, including existing debt and potential future growth/development when considering school or facility closures. The district’s growth management department has done well in eliminating surplus properties.

Selena Ward, 46

Selena Ward
Selena Ward [ Courtesy of the Selena Ward campaign ]

Occupation: Career educator, now a substitute teacher

Education: Master’s in science, Jackson State University

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

Educational equity, achievement gap and COVID-19.

Educational equity is a priority. An academic system that practices educational equity creates a strong foundation for a society that is fair and thriving. All students must receive instruction from qualified teachers in buildings that are safe and conducive to learning in a district with sufficient resources. I would address this issue by visiting all the schools in my district and evaluating their condition. We must allocate money in the budget to make sure that all schools are up to standards. I would also urge the superintendent to begin working on a teacher recruitment and retention plan. District 5 students often go the whole year without a certified teacher and multiple substitutes. This must stop. Early education must increase in areas where achievement is low. In some households, time does not allow for parents to focus on important skills such as the alphabet, sounds and printing. Therefore, we must create access to programs such as Head Start, and pre-K. The mindset of early education being an option must also change. Parents must be informed on how important it is to enroll their students in these programs.

COVID-19 is a new issue in not only education but for the world. In order for schools to open we must understand how to keep our students and employees safe. School Board members must of course follow the direction of the state but also work to ensure that policy and funding is in place to implement procedures that will guarantee a healthy environment. I would address this issue by reviewing the data collected during this pandemic for an understanding of the pros and cons. Then develop an emergency plan.

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?

First, additional resources are an understatement when teachers are currently asking for resources, period. We must provide educators with the tools needed to perform their job. Academic performance improvements should be teacher driven with student focus instead of district driven with a test score focus. Teaching students versus teaching the test. Teachers should have assessments, standards and guidelines, but the overall goal should be student focused. We must provide teachers with training that they need based on their requests, we partner with organizations and business to provide free tutoring and mentoring for high risk students. We create an environment that develops the whole child.

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

The district will roll out a phonics program next school year which I am in agreement with, but this is just a start. As mentioned before, I also believe that we need to increase enrollment in early education programs such as Head Start and pre-K. Early learning in District 5 must increase. Also developing after-school programs through partnerships with parks and rec and the local library to create a community that encourages reading. We also must educate students and parents on the dangers of too much screen time and provide alternatives that include recreational reading. We must foster a love of reading in students early.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

Florida law dictates the role and responsibilities of charter schools in Hillsborough County and the state of Florida. First, charter schools are the law. Board members can only approve or deny the recommendation of the superintendent. When an application is brought to the board, it has been vetted and researched. Board members must follow guidelines and base the approval on the dictated laws. The role of all schools, including charters, is to provide quality education for students.

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

TRAINING! TRAINING! TRAINING! Often the disconnect is from the lack of knowledge. We must provide more training on diversity and inclusiveness. Being aware of the inequity is often the first step in making positive change. Studies show that students of color are suspended at higher rates. All persons involved with making decisions regarding our students must be aware of their biases when dealing with others. We also must provide more counselors in our schools. Especially schools with high suspension rates. Too often, students are referred to a resources officer when a mental health expert is needed. Alternative methods of discipline must also be explored.

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

Consolidation of campuses must be researched. Cost effectiveness of keeping a neighborhood school open is always a concern, however other factors play a role such as transportation. I am not in the position without in-depth research to make a recommendation on closing a neighborhood school.

Henry “Shake” Washington, 71

Henry "Shake" Washington
Henry "Shake" Washington [ Courtesy of the Washington campaign ]

Occupation: Retired educator and school district administrator

Education: Bachelor’s, University of Southwestern Louisiana; master’s, Nova Southeastern University

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

The Hillsborough County School Board is tasked with supervising the work of a superintendent who is charged with leading over 200,000 students taught in 250 schools by more than 15,000 educators. An organization of this magnitude will manage hundreds of issues annually. Yet the district must also prioritize key issues and give those issues the time and attention deserved. The three most pressing issues for Hillsborough County are equity in education, teacher quality and school funding.

Equity in Education: Differing from the concept of equality, where all students would receive the exact same support as they are educated, equity dictates that we make judgments about the needs of students as individuals and give those students what they need to ensure their success. The inequity that has been a part of the school district and overall community has given rise to such issues as the school to prison pipeline and inconsistent disciplining practices for students of color. Comparatively, students of color are over-represented in our ESE programs. The gap in achievement between students of color and their non-white counterparts is significant and persists from grades K-12 across all subjects. These issues must be rectified because students deserve to be educated in a building that they can be proud of and receive the very best education possible regardless of their zip code.

Teacher Quality: We must find the money to pay our teachers competitive salaries. Too often we find teachers that must work multiple jobs to meet their financial obligations. This is unacceptable. In order to recruit and retain the best teachers to our district, our teachers must be treated as trusted professionals. To show our support, we must offer them job conditions that will set them up for success. These things may include providing teachers a fair evaluation system, opportunities for advancement that are not limited to leaving the classroom, meaningful professional development, a seat at the table for developing policies and procedures, classrooms where fair and consistent discipline practices are utilized across the district and protected time for planning.

School Funding and Fiscal Accountability: Florida per pupil spending is $9,075 compared to the national annual average of $12,000 per student. As a member of the School Board, I will put pressure on Tallahassee to appropriately fund our schools. Additionally, the school district needs to be a good steward of the funds that it has.

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?

Of the 29 transformation schools across the district, 22 of them are in District 5. As a School Board member, addressing this inequity will be at the top of my agenda. Improving the academic achievement of our students in our most challenged schools requires transformational leadership with a focus on talent, curriculum and community engagement.

Students in our lowest-performing schools must be in front of the most talented teachers and leaders each day. This means that districts must have the appropriate funding and working conditions to recruit and retain teachers and leaders who are experts in their fields. Additionally, those individuals must be committed to continuing to develop their talent through engagement with the right professional development and learning.

Additionally, we must ensure access to culturally relevant curriculum and sound instructional practices. In other words, there can be no question of what to teach or how to effectively deliver instruction to students. The students from underrepresented and underserved communities that attend our most challenged schools need to see themselves and their stories in the curriculum, making cultural relevancy a key consideration.

In our most challenged schools, communities and families must be viewed as partners in the pursuit of school improvement. The school must be willing to step into the role of social service center, providing families community resources and support while respecting their input and contributions.

Lastly, the school leader also makes a tremendous impact on school culture and direction. The school leader in a challenged school must have the appropriate school improvement and turnaround experience to get the job done.

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

Primary teaching and learning provide the foundation for future achievement. Currently, the state offers voluntary pre-K programs for all students. Our district needs to be sure that parents have the necessary information for taking advantage of that resource. Any barriers to accessing the resource — including but not limited to technology, correctly filling out paperwork or reliable transportation — should be removed to support families. No family should forfeit the opportunity to send their student to a pre-K program.

Although some students are enrolled in district schools for pre-K, other students attend school with private pre-K providers. Because private programs can vary in terms of quality and effectiveness, I would encourage our district to create and maintain key partnerships with these providers.

The focus on high stakes testing and school grades unfortunately coincides with less support provided to our K-2 students and teachers. We need to intentionally provide this support at K-2 and even earmark resources to put coaches and resource teachers in the lower grades.

Other districts have found success with creating K-2 schools and centers that focus only on our youngest learners. With K-2 centers, the immediate pressure of high stakes testing and school grades is removed, allowing teachers to focus on building strong readers and mathematicians. Exploring K-2 centers as a pilot program, and then possibly a model, may be another avenue for improving reading rates.

What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?

Florida statutes have authorized the creation of charter schools to give parents additional choices for educating their children. Though charter schools can function independently, the school district is still responsible for monitoring them fiscally and academically. I think there should be more vetting and alignment with the requirements mandated for the public school system before any expansion of charter schools takes place. We need to ensure these schools are held to the same standards as traditional public schools and are held accountable for improving student academic outcomes. I am a firm believer in public education and charter schools certainly have their places and I am on the side of all students and their academic success.

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

It has been long known that students of color are over-represented when it comes to discipline referral incidents, school suspensions and expulsions. Additionally, students of color fall victim to what is termed as the school to prison pipeline, the direct relationship between strict school policies and the disproportionate imprisonment of students from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. Solutions to addressing this important issue include positive behavior systems and restorative practices as district-wide initiatives. Also, teachers must be trained in culturally relevant pedagogy and receive support with uncovering their hidden bias. The truth is students from underrepresented and underserved need our support overcoming the systems that have thrust them to the outskirts of society and heighten their marginalization. Responding to their behavior positively through rewards that enhance their intrinsic motivation is paramount to reducing negative behavior incidents. Also, when students make mistakes, they need the opportunity to correct their wrongs and move forward through restorative practices. Lastly, teachers make the difference. Teachers must forge relationships with these students, support them and advocate for them in a way that will ensure their success.

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

Consolidating schools often causes loads of strain and discord in the community. It also can result in unequitable consequences for some of our most vulnerable populations. Particularly in the current climate, sensitivity must be adopted and we must ensure that closing a school does not add to the systemic racism and prejudice that some students already face. If consolidating schools is an absolute necessity because of budgetary considerations, it would not be a decision made in isolation. I would recommend that a committee of district and community stakeholders join together to make the decision.

In the event that facilities or departments must be consolidated, I would be concerned about the staff impacted. Although the school system must make fiscally dependent decisions, we must also be relationship oriented and not destroy the lives of people who have faithfully served us.


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