Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Your Candidates Talk About Schools and Education

A word of caution: This is a long Post. The responding candidates
have taken the time to provide in-depth answers to your questions.

Each candidate was asked five questions taken from submissions from PATCH readers.
Here I bring each candidates answer to a specific question.
Question 4
We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?

Mayoral Candidates
Bill Foster:
Repeated e-mails to the Foster campaign and a telephone call resulted in NO RESPONSE from the Mayor.

Rick Kriseman:
We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?
We’ve lost our way under the current mayor. Mayor Baker recognized the power that the mayor’s office and the city could have on our schools. I want to take it a step further by working closely with our school system to implement service-learning in our classrooms. Integrating community service projects into the curriculum improves both the student and the community and has proven to be a success elsewhere. 

I will continue and strengthen the Mayor’s Mentors & More program (now under the St. Pete’s Promise umbrella) and seek out additional community partners to assist with volunteering, resources, and strategic planning. 

District 2
James R. "Jim" Kennedy, Jr.
Following repeated e-mails there was NO RESPONSE

Lorraine Margeson
We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?
It is un-realistic to expect council to do more than strongly support and/or create new mentoring /after school activity partnership programs, and to speak loudly and often about the issue so that those who CAN vote and effect school policy are reminded to act.  

District 4
Carolyn Fries
We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?
As I have said multiple times along the campaign train, I share former Mayor Rick Baker’s opinion that “Schools Belong to Everyone”.  Along those lines, I support programs utilized during (and since) the Baker administration such as Doorways Scholarship Program, Mayor’s Mentors, Business Partners for Schools, Top Apple and school visits by city leaders. In particular, I will assist in recruiting business partners and visiting schools. I have already met with Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego to share my background and experience and let him know I am ready and willing to support our schools in any way I can. As PTSA president of John Hopkins Middle School for two years, I brought in programs on bullying, career trends for the future and the Doorways Scholarship program. I also organized the school’s first (and only) STEM-focused career fair with an evening of hands-on activities by practicing scientists and engineers. Under my leadership, 150 JHOP students sold over $17,000 worth of cookie dough in the PTSA annual fundraiser, a 2X+ improvement over the previous year. The amazing thing is that the students accomplished this without a specific project to support. During my meeting with Dr. Grego, I presented a proposal for a school project where students would lead it from start-finish, including project definition, design, planning, purchasing, fundraising, execution and promotion. The open-ended proposal could be applied to a community enhancement project such as landscaping or the establishment and ongoing maintenance of a school garden. The educational experience and sense of accomplishment for students at the end of this project would be incredible.

Darden Rice
 We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools? 
Please see where I addressed education issues previously in Question 1 and specifically how I suggest the city should play a role to support programs to help students at all levels.

 I am very concerned about the disparate resources accorded to St. Pete compared to north County schools. The numbers alone tell the story that we do not get the same resources. The achievement gap was the basis for a successful federal lawsuit, and rightly so, yet it is not clear how the mandated monitoring of the school system is getting us any results when the demand for overdue and urgent change is staring us in the face.  

I support Mayoral and/or City Council liaisons (both elected and staff designees) who specifically work with the Pinellas County School Board on a strategic plan to address problem schools.

I support the City helping teachers by continuing and strengthening public housing assistance programs for teachers who work in St. Pete. This type of assistance would include low interest or deferred interest home buying assistance programs.

I also strongly support the solutions put forth by the Agenda 2020 coalition to address the social and economic inequities in education.

District 6
Karl Nurse
We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?
Schools – I have been on the SAC of two schools.   One did well and the other struggled.   The critical difference was how many parents were active in their children’s education.  The city needs to be a partner in this work.  I support aggressively seeking grants that tackle crime, housing conditions and education as a package in the failing schools neighborhoods.  In the meantime, the city needs to work to increase the number of decent jobs, improve housing conditions and reduce crime in the neighborhoods with struggling schools.

Sharon Russ:
Repeated e-mails and a phone call produced  No Response 

District 8
Amy Foster
We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?Preparing our next generation of leaders is a central tenet of my platform-and one my opponent felt did not belong in a city council race (stating I should just run for school board). We have to focus on our schools if we want to retain the residents we have and attract others to relocate to our great city. We must ensure our residents have the 21st Century skills required to succeed today. Creating jobs won’t help if the skills gap continues to widen. We need to work in collaboration with our schools to increase graduation rates and encourage pursuit of higher education, trade certifications, and apprenticeships. I will support enrichment programs that not only decrease skills gaps but also keep kids off the street from 3-6 PM which helps with public safety issues. I will bring forward proposals to strengthen the programs already in place to include a focus on early education and science, technology, engineering and math. Having a ready and educated workforce encourages businesses to locate here and makes our city stronger.

My entire career has been committed to building public private partnerships in education and workforce development. I will actively leverage national relationships I have to secure grant funding for programs and I am already working with community leaders to identify and apply for some of these opportunities. I will encourage local corporations to provide financial support to extended school day programs as well as to provide role models in the classroom and for important site visits. One of the national programs considering expansion is Citizen Schools-and this would be an excellent partnership for our city. Citizen Schools partners with public middle schools in low-income communities to provide an expanded learning day, rich with opportunities and engaging local citizens in the process. I’ve seen the results of what partnerships like the one I describe above does every day with the states with which I work. I’d like to see our local government take a more proactive role to grow our next generation of leaders and keep them here.

Steve Galvin:
We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?
Like a few of the other candidates in this race for City Council, I do not have any children in our public school system.  Therefore, we should not assume that we have a full grasp of the causes of the problems in each school or that we know the solutions without lengthy conversations with the school administrators and the parents.  The City must establish a good line of communication with the Pinellas Co. School Board so that we can determine what resources and capabilities we have that can benefit those schools.  I would ask that administrators from the problem schools be invited to meet with the Council and the Mayor so that the people most familiar with the issues will have the opportunity to tell us how we as a City can help.  Community wide commitment and instilling an expectation of excellence in the parents, children and teachers is crucial.  Getting parents more involved with their children’s education is part of the solution.  It has been brought to my attention that public transportation to School Board meetings is deficient.  PSTA can get one to the meetings, but there is no bus home. However, the City does not own either the school buses or the PSTA buses.  Here is where the City’s employment of a full time staff person to apply for grants could be beneficial.  Such effort could yield one that would pay for free direct transportation for parents in the poorer communities to and from School Board meetings where they could have a voice in the operation of their children’s school and become more involved.  

I was surprised and disappointed to learn that only 4 of 29 schools in our City had at least 70% of students reading at grade level.  Though I realize that it does not improve a school per se, my wife and I have been, and continue to be, volunteers with Lawyers for Literacy where we tutor third graders in reading at New Heights Elementary.  If more people took just an hour or two out of their week to give to students in the problem schools to tutor them in reading or math, the skills of the students, and thus the schools, would improve.  As I have been saying throughout my campaign, one does not have to wait to run or be elected to office in order to help one’s community.  Though sitting on various boards making decisions for others is one way to volunteer, my way has always been to pitch in, get my hands dirty, and have face to face interaction with those in need.  The City can encourage community service within our schools by offering free tickets to City events or even a reduction in water bills in exchange for a certain number of tutoring or volunteer hours at the problem schools.  The City (Mayor and Council) should extend a challenge to other professions to do what the lawyers have done and inspire the bankers, engineers, realtors, and medical professionals, for example, to form tutoring groups to go into the schools and raise reading levels and math skills.

I have been an admirer of former Mayor Baker’s success at leveraging resources and partnering various businesses in the community with our schools to obtain the equipment and supplies they needed. He limited the participation to only 100 businesses to boost the attractiveness of the program and to maintain the quality of the partnerships.  I would like to see that effort continued.

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Campaign Disclosures: Contributor to Kathleen Ford Campaign, Darden Rice Campaign, Concern Citizens of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman for Mayor, District 2 Lorraine Margeson

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