In south Pinellas, Flowers and Gilzean face off in school board election

10/19/12 Samuel Johnson
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Yesterday candidates for Pinellas County School Board election debated each other at a candidate forum at 5th Avenue Church of Christ. Rene Flowers and Glenton Gilzean laid out their plans for the common problems facing the schools in South Pinellas’ District 7.

Rene Flowers, a former St. Pete City Council member, is seeking re-election to the nonpartisan school board. Both candidates told the thirty attendees about their plans to improve educational performance for students and for teachers. Flowers said eliminating the FCAT will help in that assessment.

“…So it gave a true definition in the learning of equities. And where we needed to go in order for that child to have those abilities to matriculate to the next grade. I think that we have teachers on board that are willing to go back to that. We need to make sure we provide them with the support they need to do that.”

Glenton Gilzean was appointed by Governor Scott to fill a School Board vacancy. Gilzean said the community, especially the business community, can help improve a student’s education.

“the board approved last week Tuesday, unanimously a partnership with Fifth Third Bank. Where they’re going to have 213 employees who live in Pinellas county and work in Pinellas County; go into our high schools and provide financial literacy skills to every high school senior. The objective of that is, one, the practitioner; having someone who actually works (in) that industry providing the knowledge for the students.”

Flowers advised an overarching approach to developing talented teachers. One component would be training teachers in a cultural sensitivity to their students. She said a working dialogue between teachers and parents is also important.

“Parents have to understand that; yes there are consequences for behavioral issues and or concerns. And once the teacher has addressed it and done their part, it’s really up to the parents to make sure they shore that up. That they are supporting the stand of that teacher so that the child is not able to play two ends against the middle. But they are getting the same at home that they would get in school. They truly begin to understand decision making and what consequences are if they behave in a negative manner.”

Gilzean also acknowledges the pivotal role of teachers. His plan calls for a restructuring in the combination of teachers, schools and students.

“When you look at some of the schools that are in district 7 the reason why they’re low performing is that there is a large percentage of teachers who are within their first two or three years of teaching. I think that is unfair. I think what we need to do is identify our high performing teachers who are in our district and we say; ‘hey, we are going to give you two years. Come and work in our low performing schools; we’ll provide you ten thousand dollars in bonus money.”

As a result of budgetary concerns some traditional school courses are being dropped from the curriculum. A referendum on the ballot asks voters if they’re willing to fund school programs by extending a half-mil property tax assessment. Flowers said the communities of Pinellas can promote better education by voting yes.

“I am asking that they perform the referendum; 411, which is to make sure that teachers get an additional three thousand dollars in their paychecks and the balance, 20 percent, goes to art and culture.”

Some candidates for the Sheriff’s race and one County Commissioner seat were also at the political forum. We’ll bring you coverage of both before the election.

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