What do Pinellas schools do well? Poorly? School Board candidates log in.

Four hopefuls aim to take the District 7 seat representing the county's southern end.
Caprice Edmond, Corey Givens Jr., Sharon Jackson and Karl Nurse are seeking election to Pinellas School Board District 7.
Caprice Edmond, Corey Givens Jr., Sharon Jackson and Karl Nurse are seeking election to Pinellas School Board District 7. [ Courtesy of the candidates ]
Published July 30, 2020

The primary election comes Aug. 18. Some voters have already received their mail-in ballots. The Pinellas County School Board could change course with the results, as three of seven seats are up for grabs.

We asked the candidates to tell us in writing what they think the district is doing right, and where it could do better. Today, we offer you the responses as submitted from the four aspirants for single-member District 7, representing southern Pinellas.

Incumbent Rene Flowers did not seek another term, so the district will have a new representative.

If no one takes a majority, the two top vote-getters would square off in the Nov. 3 general election. Because it’s a nonpartisan race, every registered voter can participate.

Here’s what the hopefuls had to say. We’ve provided links to each candidate’s website for you to get more information, if available.

Caprice Edmond, 32

What are three things the school district does well?

  1. Monitor the Bridge the Gap plan: Providing quarterly updates.
  2. The school district has improved communications, hosting virtual board meetings/ workshops, utilizing multiple platforms and hosting board meetings throughout the county. 
  3. Providing Magnet, Fundamental, Technical and Vocational programs that satisfy diverse student/family needs.

What are three things you would change about the school district, and why?

  1. Significantly increase the resources we devote to mental health, wrap-around services and resources for students and families. I have a MEd in Educational Leadership, MA in Elementary Education with an English Speakers of Other Languages Endorsement, a BA in Psychology and a certification in infant family mental health. I have been an Independent Living Specialist for students living in foster care. I have seen how providing mental health support and resources allows students to overcome barriers, reduce disciplinary issues and increase teaching and learning. I know that we can end the School to Prison Pipeline in Pinellas County and improve the amount of out-of-school suspensions. Twenty-six percent of the suspensions were given to black students for defiance and classroom instruction while this demographic represents 18% of the student population.  By providing additional resources, programs and mental health services we can close the opportunity gaps. 
  2. Family Engagement - we need to increase resources devoted to family and community engagement programs. The work of the Office of Strategic Partnerships, Community and Family Engagement under Dr. Brimm is critically important and much of this work is going well but the family and community engagement programs are underfunded and are not performing as well as they should. After the PTA County Council did an excellent job obtaining a national PTA grant to increase family engagement, I got deeply involved by attending and helping to conduct three listening sessions in the District then I traveled to Virginia with the President of the PTA County Council to analyze the data we gathered. Families were clear: we want our students to be looked at as a whole-child, not a test score and they wanted additional communication and resources expended on family and community engagement. We have several community partners (e.g. NAACP, St. Petersburg Chapter and PCTA) that want to continue this work - we just need to provide the platform and the resources to allow our school stakeholders to improve family and community engagement. If we can improve family and community engagement we will increase student performance and decrease disciplinary issues.
  3. Increase and prioritize culturally relevant training and instruction to increase equity. Our own students, via petition, have asked schools to combat racism with revised text, a full accounting of history and teacher training. I have facilitated and participated in equity trainings and I know doing this will help us recruit and retain a diverse base of educators making our schools and a better place for our students, staff and families.

Corey Givens Jr.

What are three things the school district does well?

  1. Promoting career academies
  2. Addressing the need for more technology
  3. Expanding magnet and gifted programs

What are three things you would change about the school district, and why?

  1. Intensify community involvement
  2. Devise a four-year plan to close the achievement gap & shut-down the school-to-prison pipeline
  3. Motivate families to increase parental engagement and maximize student potential.

By focusing on these three areas, we can improve academic achievement at some of our district’s lowest performing schools.

Sharon Jackson, 68

What are three things the school district does well?

  1. Making available choices for parents to select an educational setting they feel is best for their children including home and virtual school. There are over 75 magnet programs ranging from STEM, Medical, Judicial, Arts, Montessori, Technology, Arts, IB, and Fundamental.
  2. Continue providing options for students who are not college bound helps to reduce early exiting from high school. Opportunities such as technical education and certification programs give high school students the motivation to remain in a school setting until graduation.
  3. Continue to target strategies to improve the graduation rate. It was reported all subcategories of student populations improved with an overall improvement of 86%.
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What are three things you would change about the school district, and why?

  1. Engaging parents in their children’s schools and building relationships with parents (family engagement). Many are working 2 or more jobs. Redefining parental involvement which may not mean physically walking into a brick and mortar building. Finding options to support parental involvement in their children’s lives. Establishing a welcoming environment, address their concerns and give immediate feedback. Creating a system for communicating through utilizing technology such as virtual conferencing. Research shows that students do better in school when parents are involved with their educational process.
  2. Continuing to focus on improving schools, especially those that are underachieving by providing resources including highly skilled teachers with a focus on hiring African Americans, engaging the community, and monitoring student progress. The community school model is an extremely beneficial concept to families and students providing wrap around services.
  3. Offering comparative salaries to attract highly skilled teachers and staff while seeking additional incentives through engaging local governments in partnerships offering affordable housing for school district employees.

Karl Nurse, 65

What are three things the school district does well?

  1. Summer Bridge has been a significant help.
  2. The transformation zone work has helped focus additional resources in the schools with the greatest needs.
  3. The new Melrose Elementary is a community school with wrap around services which might be a game changer.  

What are three things you would change about the school district, and why?

  1. Need to significantly increase resources in the earliest grades ((K-3) to close the gaps among students. The earlier the problems are addressed, the easier it is to close the achievement gaps.  
  2. The school system should play a vocal leadership role in early childhood development work. While I realize they have limits on funding, they can facilitate partnerships and have a large megaphone.  Again, earlier is better. Thousands of children start Pre-K behind. 
  3. Finally, the school system needs to connect children in high school with paths towards skilled, middle class jobs. The majority of students will not get or need 4 year degrees.  But, without post high school skills/certifications/licenses/apprenticeships and such, they are on a road to very modest incomes.  Germany does the best job in the world providing all children with a path to a middle class life.