I. School Safety: The number one priority should be the safety for all school students and personnel. A safe learning environment will help foster enthusiasm, creativity, and positive results. This involves continuing and changing other procedures in place.
A. Increase physical presence of security. As currently planned by PCSB this would mean the following adjustments:
1. Elementary schools are part of the GUARDIAN PROGRAM – one per school
2. Middle Schools will have one SRO per school
3. High Schools will have two SRO’s and most will have two campus monitors.
B. Notifying parents at the beginning of the school year (by letter, or if time allows for printing in the Student Code of Conduct) schools will be subject to random searches using dogs that are trained to find weapons (similar to drug dogs).
C. Schools will have cameras throughout the school with a full-time paraprofessional to monitor cameras.
D. Active-shooter drills will be added in addition to lockdown and fire drills
E. Continued promotion of vigilance on campus by students and faculty and staff in looking out for each other and to report those things that are out of the norm –“See something, say something.”
F. Additionally, seek and/or re-appropriate funding to provide:
1. ID scanning (badge-entry) system
2. E-mail/Text/Phone/Pop-up messages to alert
students and parents of an immediate danger
3. modify schools with more security hardware for points of entry on campus
G. Address the disconnect between the school system, teachers, and students. While probably unintentional, students are not encouraged to form a relationship with their school, especially in high school. While there are numerous extra-curricular activities and sports provided, students who may not have anywhere else to go are pushed off campus and not allowed to investigate the options that are available. We need to develop study halls (not to be confused with ABS), for students to congregate to study and socialize under some supervision, and to be more effective in enlisting teachers to participate in school-based activities. While energy conservation is important, cutting off air- conditioners while staff and teachers are still on campus after regular school hours perpetuates the idea that their efforts are undervalued and/or unneeded,
There is also a concerted effort to have students seek educational opportunities elsewhere. For example, the promotion of virtual school over in-class instruction pushes our students off-campus.
State law requires one virtual class for all students, yet many are signed up without their input to satisfy this statutory requirement, and for additional classes as well. While I believe virtual school has
a role in education, it should not supplant traditional school. It creates numerous unanticipated problems:
1. Students arrive and leave campus throughout the day, making security more difficult with the current open configuration of many Pinellas County schools
2. Teachers are displaced and reassigned because of the decrease in “seat” time, breaking down student/teacher connections.
3. With the student and teacher shuffle, school identification and loyalty is not developed and there is no sense of a school community.
II. Continue to close the Achievement Gap:
A. Currently the County has implemented a six-goal achievement plan using three goals based on academics, one goal based on discipline, one goal dealing with minority teacher training, and one
goal dealing with ESE. Since its inception, this plan has greatly enhanced the overall performance previously underachieving schools. With an increase in resources and well-trained faculty, these schools will continue to improve.
B. Another successful program currently implemented in schools is AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). This is a college readiness program designed to help students develop the skills necessary to be successful in college. Emphasis on writing, critical thinking, teamwork, organizational skills, and reading. The success rate of this program phenomenal.
C. Creating new or redesigning existing programs at school is also needed. An example of this would be what is happening with the Midtown Academy. It was closed as a K-8 school and is re-opening as a K-5 school. The school is for south-county and is made up of 50% gifted and 50% cultural arts. Students will have the opportunity for exposure in both programs. The Midtown Academy is important because this gives students that previously were unable to attend a magnet school of high demand and no space available. This targets a specific area that has great need.
D. We should consider adopting the approach used by the fundamental schools to all schools. This includes mandatory requirements in attendance, homework, and parental interaction with the school. The most effective part of driving this improvement is the parent, teacher, and student connection. Fundamental schools are in high demand and are successful because of these requirements. Why is it only acceptable for the few students in these programs? Why don’t we have these expectations for all our students? There are many alternative education programs available for students whose parents do not want to buy into the fundamental model (virtual school, charter school, private school, etc.). We are failing our students and subliminally sending the message that school is not important because we have devalued attendance and learning in exchange for increasing graduation rates. Sadly, sometimes
graduation rates are not reflective of real learning.
E. We also need to increase opportunities for vocational and technical training. The mission of Pinellas County Schools is to make students “College AND Career Ready.” Not all students will be going to college and we need to provide the opportunity for them to learn a skill that enables them to provide for their families. There is a shortage of skilled professionals and as an education system, part of our responsibility to help guide students into these alternative fields. For many, learning a trade is a path to success. We need to promote and encourage those who choose this path.
F. Finally, much of the success for the closing the achievement gap is a result of the training teachers are receiving about cultural diversity. We need to continue these programs to increase awareness.
III. Increase Student/Parent Accountability:
A. We must reinstitute an effective attendance policy. We can’t teach students if they aren’t there! There is no real attendance policy for schools. While and elementary and middle schools have truancy courts, there are not enough resources available to address high school absences, other than the driver’s license penalty imposed by the state. Students are allowed to miss class without any accountability (other than a lack of learning) and are allowed to make-up credits through extended learning programs, Summer Bridge and virtual schools. While these opportunities should be available to make up deficiencies, too often they are used as an easier alternative to make up credit without the rigor the traditional classroom requires.
B. Parents need to be more informed by checking “FOCUS” and contacting teachers. We need to have higher expectations. We are doing a disservice to our students when we don’t hold them accountable. There is no profession that allows employees to be constantly absent, tardy and to make-up missed work. If we truly are trying to make our students college and career ready, we have to adopt the business model of our society. Businesses don’t tolerate it and we shouldn’t either. This is a very high priority because I believe accountability is a cornerstone for becoming a responsible adult.
I am proposing a partnership with the PSTA and the school system. In many metropolitan areas in this country, schools often utilize the existing transit system to assist in moving students. The PSTA needs riders and the school system needs additional help in transporting students without having to purchase more buses. A student would receive a bus card which would allow the to use at no cost to them. This would significantly increase student after school involvement and would allow them some flexibility with regard to work. The theory is that by utilizing the PSTA, school buses and the associated expenses affiliated with them would be reduced. School buses would still be utilized for elementary school students, field trips and group extra-curricular transportation, but middle school and high school students would use city buses for daily transport. Bus monitors could be hired to ride during peak hours to insure student safety and millions of dollars now being spent for transportation expenses could be redistributed to other pressing educational needs. This would be a win-win for the community – mass transit ridership would increase and schools would be able to individually adjust their start times to best suit the needs of their academic programs.
Paid for by Bill Dudley, non-partisan, for School Board, District 6