A conversation with Jim Jackson, candidate for Pinellas School Board

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Jim Jackson has served an impressive 44 years in education and is now seeking a seat on the Pinellas County School Board.

With most of this time spent at the college level, he is currently involved in an innovative evidence-based program in Pinellas County Schools called FACE IT. For those not familiar, FACE IT—Families Acting Collaboratively to Educate and Involve Teens—is an alternative to suspension for youth who have alcohol, tobacco or other substance abuse involvement .Jackson is very pleased to be a part of this program, and he should be. FACE IT has an impressive success rate by not only engaging students but parents also are required to participate to help ensure student success. Jackson is committed to finding solutions that work—FACE IT is only one of those.

Though Jackson has been in education all of his life and so has his family, he has not served on the School Board previously, though he did run for a seat on the board two years ago in District 7 but lost to Lew Williams. He has since become a staple at school board meetings and other community education gatherings. This year, Jackson is running in an at-large race against incumbent Janet Clark and opponent, Elliot Stern.

I asked Jackson why he believes he is a better candidate for the seat than incumbent Clark. Jackson said, “[Clark] has had eight years to try and make a difference, and I haven’t seen much change as a result.”

Jackson criticized Clark for being known as the board member who usually goes against consensus. “We need people working together as a team to create change and implement solutions that work. Always being on the other side and opposing the majority doesn’t help progress,” said Jackson.

Among the issues that Jackson holds as his primary concerns and ones in which he would like to take a leadership role are:

  1. Raising student achievement for all students—especially those who fall in between high achievers and low achievers who naturally receive more attention;
  2. Increased vocational programs, complete with internships, that can lead to jobs upon graduation, particularly for those students who are not college bound;
  3. Reduce youth violence and bullying, which tragically can lead at the worst to youth suicides and at the least isolation—schools should be a safe place for every student; and,
  4. Emphasize the benefits of school districts, where students, families and schools can once again be a part of a local community within close proximity to homes and local businesses.

Jackson remarked on school districts saying that families used to work hard to move into the best neighborhood they could afford that had the best schools so that children could get the best education possible. Realtors used to include school districts in their sales pitches, emphasizing community and students used to attend school with youth in their neighborhoods, naturally extending these relationships from the classroom to front yards.

Now, parents don’t have any idea where their children will be attending school, and this doesn’t necessarily leave them with improved choices. Magnet and fundamental schools are often ruled out as options due to priority seating. Osceola, for instance, took no new students last year. Jackson said, “Palm Harbor [University] looks like a trailer park with all of the portable classrooms they have to deal with their increased student population.”

Jackson also discussed the upcoming search for a new superintendent. He said that he actually developed an itemized wish list of all the many qualifications he believed a new superintendent should have. “Pinellas needs to conduct a national search to find the best person for the job,” he said. “We don’t want to end up like Seminole that had to reopen it search due to weak candidates. Broward, on the other hand, just hired a Chicago businessman. I think Pinellas needs and educator, but it was an innovative idea.”

Jackson shared a few specific qualification he believes the new Pinellas County superintendent should have:

  1. Needs to be able to do more with less [money], because the budget isn’t getting better overnight;
  2. Innovative in evaluating efficiencies within the school system (Jacksonlauded Dr. Stewart’s launch of a school district-wide audit to determine efficiencies and identify inefficiencies—he said Pinellas has needed that for a long time.);
  3. Needs to be an educator, have a knowledge of business and needs to be a communicator;
  4. Needs to have an understanding of technology and willingness to support advancements;
  5. Willing to hold town hall meetings to stay connected and informed about community needs and how businesses and education link;
  6. Launch a mentoring program for new people to ensure that there are solid succession plans in place and the county doesn’t have to keep people on that are 5 years past their drop rate because they don’t have a qualified successor; and,
  7. Someone who has a willingness and is likely to develop ties to the community and stay—Pinellas has had four superintendents, for several reasons, in eight years, and that’s too many, said Jackson.

Community is a central part of Jackson’s platform and life. He feels that community engagement is lacking in some neighborhoods because great effort is needed to link families, businesses and schools together versus expecting it to happen.Jackson recommended incentivizing engagements with nominal Wal-Mart gift cards, having school representatives walking through the neighborhoods talking to families and building relationships. Jackson said, “It’s about taking responsibility for your community and being an active part of it.”

Jackson talked about the need for the public to know about community resources, not just school officials and social service providers. He said too, “I came across some providers who didn’t know of 2-1-1 as a resource, and I was happy to tell them what I knew and encourage them to use it.”

Pinellas County School Board candidate Jim Jackson is hosting a meet-the-candidate gathering Tuesday, officially launching his campaign for Pinellas County school board District 1 At-Large.Jackson’s campaign event is March 20 from 5:30 p.m to 7 p.m. at Studio@620,620 First Ave. S., in downtown St. Petersburg.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.