Pinellas County school officials call on legislature to make improvements to public ed
Pinellas County School Board members rubbed shoulders with state lawmakers Wednesday morning in hopes of getting some of their priorities heard in Tallahassee. During a breakfast served up by culinary students at the Clearwater PTEC campus, Pinellas School Board member Peggy OShea hopes to get additional resources to expand career-driven curriculum.
Because then kids leave high school with job skills, true job skills that they can take into the workforce and come out with a better future than they would have with just a high school diploma with no career background.
She also hopes to secure funding to improve, maintain and expand school infrastructure. OShea understands the tough political climate in the state legislature, but says lawmakers should be concerned with what constituents want for their childrens education.
I think when youre elected to office whether its school board or the state legislature, youre not elected because people want your ideas to go forward. Youre elected because they want you to carry their ideas forward.
Funding for public education suffered a more than $1 billion cut in 2011 shortly after Governor Rick Scott took office. In 2012, Scotts budget restored $1 billion of that. But critics argue it didnt come close to replacing what was slashed. Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego is hoping to get some of the funds back.
Our base student allocation is still down hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Were trying to recover from that and our request is that we provide those funds in a very flexible manner not tied to specific things, but provide the district some flexibility so that our bargaining and our unions can sit down and insure that these funds go for the betterment of students.
Grego is also focusing on changes to the state educational standards as districts transition to Common Core. The new standards are aligned with almost every other state in the nation and are intended to be tougher. But new tests to accompany the standards havent been chosen yet. Grego says the state should allow districts a three-year transitional period.
Weve been used to writing our own the FCAT over many, many years and it has been validated. It has a high level of reliability. Now were jumping to another assessment. We dont know what that assessment is. We dont know its not been validated, it hasnt been tested. Were setting high standards. Were attaching that assessment to teacher performance pay, administrative performance pay. So we have that cart before the horse.
Grego is also worried about the school grading system many see as flawed. He says Pinellas implemented a grading rubric that takes multiple factors into account instead of relying solely on students testing scores.
We take a look the same way we did a few years ago where we looked at our high school grading system and we said theres many things that contribute to good schools. We looked at advanced placement. We looked at accelerated courses. We looked at various graduation rates. We looked at a variety of measures for high schools. Were saying that that same type of system, the examination should take place with elementary and middle the same way that we very successfully did it in partnership with the high schools.
Members of the Pinellas County legislative delegation listened to pleas from the school board as well as stakeholders such as the Classroom Teachers Association and the PTA. When asked about his legislative priorities for public education, Representative Dwight Dudley, a Democrat, says he wants to see more of a push toward early childhood education.
Its pretty obvious that so many kids from lower socioeconomic situations come into our school system so ill-prepared and they end up behind, brutally behind, deeply behind, irreversibly behind and we need to do something about that.
By focusing on children as early as infancy, Dudley says it could have a marked effect of student success.
The experts say that, The Annie Casey Foundation says by about third grade they lose interest in school. By fifth grade theyre completely disinterested, they become behavioral problems and disruptive and so on. They end up dropping out. Theyre five times more likely to be incarcerated.
Dudley is not on the education committee that writes bills, but he says he will be an advocate for early childhood education and support a bill if its brought up. The legislative session starts March 4.
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*These dates have been corrected since this story was broadcast.