It’s essentially de rigueur for any school board candidate to say they “truly love education.”
In Nicole Carr‘s case, the proof is in her CV, which shows her background as a teacher, school counselor, assistant principal and district administrator over the past 24 years, the last 18 spent in Florida.
Now she’s trying to parlay that experience into a seat on the Pinellas County School Board in 2018.
“I think there are definitely a lot of very difficult decisions that need to be made that have such a huge impact on the direction that public education is going to go right now, and if we don’t have knowledgeable people ask difficult questions and who really examine the implications, I think that we can end up in some very bad situations for public education,” she said while sitting down with this reporter at a Starbucks in downtown St. Petersburg.
Carr’s father taught kindergarten when she was growing up in Rhode Island, and she says she spent summers in his classroom as a youth. That’s where she says she first was infected with the bug of being committed to public education and school improvement.
After graduating from Rhode Island College in 1993 with a degree in Secondary English, Carr entered the teaching world by teaching English to 9th graders at an Indian reservation in Zuni, New Mexico.
But what Carr learned there was that she lacked the knowledge about the social and emotional needs of her students, and ended up going to the University of Florida to obtain a Master’s degree in school counseling and mental health.
When she wanted to determine if her counseling programs were effective, she went back to learn more about research, earning a Ph.D. in program evaluation at UF.
In addition to earning those academic degrees, Carr served in a number of schools as a teacher, principal and counselor, including two years as an assistant principal at Lakewood Elementary — one of the five schools featured in the Tampa Bay Times “Failure Factories” series of reports in 2016. She gladly took on that assignment while working in the turnaround office with the Pinellas School District, she says.
“I wanted to go and work at one of the schools because I felt that there was so much oversight and they really just needed more hands on people actually working there, rather than someone coming in and telling them what to do, “she recounts.
Carr has worked in the District itself, as a Title I Research Specialist and senior coordinator of Accountability. She’s learned over the years how to drill down into the data and help principals understand their school grade and how to improve it, emphasizing that grade “doesn’t even begin to capture the whole needs of the school or what even need to improve the school.”
Carr is big on talking about the “climate” of a school, and says it’s “paramount to any kind of change and improvement.”
When asked to define that climate, she lists the teachers at that school; the retention of high-quality teachers and their ability to have strong classroom management; strong knowledge of the content and pedagogy; the ability to execute a lesson well and measure that students have learned that lesson; good rapport with students.
Those factors she says are “far more important than just their students’ performance on a one-time assessment.”
Like most public educators and their advocates, Carr wasn’t pleased to see Gov. Rick Scott sign HB 7069, the huge education bill that included the controversial ‘Schools of Hope’ program for charter schools.
With more provisions from more than 20 separate pieces of legislation included in the bill, Carr thinks the Legislature packed too much into one bill and even takes exception to the requirement that mandates a daily recess session for every public school except charters.
“I’m a huge proponent of students getting outdoors and being active, but as a former assistant principal you had to design the master schedule, where you had to coordinate all the other legislative mandates, and so you have a 90 minute uninterrupted reading block that has to take place — 180 minutes of reading, 60 minutes of math, 30 minutes of science, you have to make sure that P.E.’s in there, and then everybody has to have a lunch in a safe and orderly fashion. So then where do you find room for 20 minutes a day for recess unless you extend the school day?”
Florida ranks 37th in the nation regarding spending on education, according to Education Week.
For Carr, that’s obviously disappointing, and she doesn’t appreciate legislative actions in Tallahassee that she says takes away from the local autonomy of school districts and counties.
“Mandating such specific things like how many minutes kids are to be taught in a certain thing, that gets right into the classroom, and then you want a teacher to be respected and valued, but you’re going to micromanage them that much?” she asks. “How can we expect to attract high-quality candidates into the profession when we’re doing what we’re doing now. Who wants to be a teacher?
Regarding Superintendent Mike Greco, Carr says he’s done “a lot of good things,” specifically giving props to his Summer Bridge program for students in K-4 grades for students performing below grade level in reading or math or need additional help to stay on track. However, she thinks it would be beneficial if the “climate” of schools was monitored more closely.
“If we got more input from stakeholders — teachers, principals, staff, other district leadership in a way that they felt would be safe, I think that would benefit us as a district,” she concurs.
Carr has filed to run for the countywide District 3 seat currently held by Chair Peggy O’ Shea, who has said she will file to run for reelection for a fourth term next year. Former state Representative Carl Zimmerman has also filed to run for the seat.