Programs that work
The agony of the Pinellas elementary schools is shocking and all the more heartbreaking because of the ubiquity of such problems in metropolitan schools around this country. As a nation that espouses the principle of the right and necessity for free public education, we must also take steps to ensure that every child, regardless of color, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and ability, has equal access to a quality educational experience. Yet according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project, schools are more segregated now than before the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education opinion in 1954. The flourishing of neighborhood schools has, because of epidemic racial segregation in this country, led to a resegregation of our schools.
The disorderly children we read about are still children and should not be stigmatized for behavior they learned from parents and their communities. All schools need a continuum of services — social, psychological, health and sex education, nutrition, child rearing, employment and financial advice — for students and their families.
In the early years of this century, the Pinellas School District had an Office of Community Services and Human Relations with a staff of 16. Together with my staff of 14 at the National Conference of Christians and Jews, we provided students, teachers and administrators training, giving thousands of participants opportunities to interact, learn and discuss ways of improving school climate and achievement. We began Camp Anytown, a weeklong multicultural leadership experience for teenagers that Community Tampa Bay continues today. More than 5,000 teenagers have participated in its 25 years. Our programs were cited as "Promising Practices" by the U.S. Department of Education, along with the Principals' Multicultural Advisory Committees that still operate in the district.
I retired in 2004 and financial exigency reduced my staff, and the Office of Community Services and Human Relations no longer exists. Just one full-time staff member and dedicated volunteers are taking up the slack. Until our society is willing to address and remediate the social problems that led to the outrageous incidents recounted in this series, to provide the resources to attract, train and retain competent, committed staff, the school-to-prison pipeline will continue to reflect our failure as a humane society.
H. Roy Kaplan, Tampa
Stop blaming the victims
The new school year begins. Parents whose children attend low-performing schools in south St. Petersburg face the year with trepidation while parents in the same neighborhood who attend magnet schools such as Perkins, Sanderlin or Jamerson look forward to the school year with anticipation. They are similar families but face different outcomes because of schools that differ in quality.
Let's stop making excuses by blaming the parents and children for school failure. Let's stop focusing on errors made in the past.
It is time to implement and expand tried-and-true approaches — smaller classes, highly trained teachers, exciting instructional strategies, wrap-around support services, community collaboration, positive discipline — that can turn schools around.
Linda Paul, St. Petersburg
Realistic regulation | Aug. 24, letter
Crist's Uber stance right
Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist and I don't always agree on political topics, but we do on passenger safety and taxicab regulation. The Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission or a similar organization is the proper agency to protect passengers and the public in the regulation of cabs and cab drivers. Uber and Lyft operate illegally in Hillsborough. They do not have proper insurance. They illegally pick up and deliver at the airport and other regulated locations without complying with regulations. They don't wait their turns at hotel or airport taxi stands but operate without the control of a dispatching system or a queue system, swooping into locations to drop off or pick up fares in front of properly licensed cabbies. They have no published fares or a fare box installed in their vehicles. In effect, they make up a fare based on what the market will bear. Perhaps most worrisome, Uber and Lyft drivers have no commercial licenses, no special driver training, and have had no background checks. Their vehicles are not inspected and may be unsafe.
I urge Crist to keep fighting the good fight for the safety and protection for both cab passengers and those sharing the road.
Joseph A. Barkley III, Belleair Bluffs
Get to work
More serious problems
I just received a large postcard from a Florida state representative. It said he had voted to protect Floridians from Medicaid expansion, and provided a phone number I could call to thank him. It did not mention whether he was doing anything about Duke Energy charging Floridians for a nuclear plant Duke doesn't intend to build, or cleaning up our Gulf of Mexico fishery from the BP oil spill, or funding a new boat to scientifically study the spill, or starting up solar power here, or ending the Legislature's unconstitutional gerrymandering, or planning for rising sea levels — which I can imagine wiping out Tampa Bay's waterfront real estate, with legislators then funding "emergency" bailouts for waterfront Realtors and developers by inflicting a plague of taxes on everyone else.
I called the number, but it was answered by a recording so I did not leave a thank-you. So now my message is: Florida has problems more serious than Medicaid expansion. Please get to work on those.
Early Sorenson, Dunedin
Start thinking again
It was smart to include recent articles about higher education and the liberal arts in the paper. Colleges that no longer challenge students to think ties in with redistricting battles and failing schools.
Despite the inevitable march toward an automated future in which traditional employment will be increasingly rare, policymakers prefer to talk jobs over social services, and they prefer to insist kids be trained to be productive instead of to think and create. But not long from now, we will no longer be able to hide the fact that there are not enough jobs. People will be forced to start thinking again.
Rebecca Hendricks, Clearwater