By Karen Murphy
TALLAHASSEE — Two experienced educators vie for the Leon County District 2 School Board and offer plans they hope will improve education on the county’s south side.
Rosanne Wood, with 36 years as a teacher and principal at SAIL High School, said her top priority is developing a climate of respect among students. “You have to start young and help the children develop respect and empathy for those different from them,” she said. “This will help them their entire lives.”
She feels there is too much testing, both on the school-wide and individual level. She said, “Teachers feel pressured and discouraged about school grades. Teachers should be able to make learning rich and meaningful, through experiences like field trips.”
Wood thinks kindergarten through second grade is “way too young for letter grades, way too young to categorize a child as a failure.” Instead she recommends reports to parents which show standards mastered or not.
Her opponent, Dr. Roger Pinholster has 40 years of experience in education, over 20 in Leon County. He was assistant principal at Godby and Lincoln high schools, principal at Fairview Middle School, and a guidance counselor at Rickards High School. His top priority is improving the quality of instruction and increasing the retention of teachers.
“We take our teachers for granted,” he said. He advocates many ways to retain local teachers, including making salaries more competitive with those throughout the state. He also suggests a scholarship program for local teaching students, paid for by the Leon County Schools’ foundation. “The money would be a scholarship if the student stays and teaches in Tallahassee. If the student leaves, it would be a loan.”
District 2 Inequities
To address District 2 inequities between passing and failing schools, Pinholster wants to reduce turnover. “Title 1 schools (schools receiving funding from a federal program for at-risk students) have double the turnover rate. Nine percent are beginning teachers. To have equity at schools, we need the same level of teachers at all schools.”
He also wants to reduce principal turnover. “Principals at Title 1 schools don’t last long and teachers turn over when principals do. Research shows achievement drops when there is a lot of turnover. I would like an internship and mentoring program where principals in the district work a semester at a disadvantaged, Title 1 school. I can tell you, I have worked in both and it is tougher (at a Title 1 school).
Wood recommends changing the incentives for teachers working in Title 1 schools. “Currently, teachers get bonuses for the school getting a good grade. I want to give recognition incentives that recognize what teachers are actually doing (for students).”
She believes test scores for schools correlate with economic status.
“The scores give a false impression of schools (in poor areas) because they don’t get high grades. They are doing great jobs, it’s just that these kids are coming in behind the others and teachers are having to try to catch them up,” she said.
Southside High School
At issue in the District 2 race is also a suggestion to close Rickards or convert it to a middle school and build a new high school in the district, possibly on Tram Road.
Pinholster believes the high school should remain at Rickards. He said some say Rickards is in a dangerous neighborhood. “What is it saying about giving up on those neighborhoods?” he asked.
He said, “If the school is moved, the community will wither.”
Pinholster said the Rickards buildings’ exteriors are in good shape, but the interiors are falling apart. He suggests “imploding the middle of the school and building it back like Chiles. We would save half of the planning by leaving it there.”
Wood said of the proposed new school, “In general, new construction brings new equipment and technology. It would be a huge boost to the south side. If the facts, figures and budget support it, I will too. But, at the same time, there are other schools that need help too.”
Another hot topic in this year’s race is the Federal Government Directive on Transgender Issues.
Both Pinholster and Wood agree this will not have a big effect in District 2. “There is more fear than there needs to be. It is not something new. It should be handled in a private and respectful way,” Wood said.
Pinholster said he wishes the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community would do more outreach with school principals. He wants a better relationship, so when there is a conflict it is not “we versus them.” He said, “That way, we can fix a problem without it making the newspaper.”
Both support county funding of Pre-K programs and more emphasis on vocational training in high school.
Leon County School Board members are elected during the general election in November.
Two apparently highly qualified candidates. Both career educators with sound ideas. The folks in district 2 have a tough choice.