A conversation with Pinellas School Board candidate Rene Flowers

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Rene Flowers is running for Pinellas County School Board. While she isn’t going unchallenged, you’ll be challenged to find a candidate with more experience and greater ties to her community that Flowers.

I had the opportunity to spend an evening with candidate Rene Flowers, meeting her on-the-fly in the Burger King on Central Avenue just before joining her at an Emerging Young Leaders (EYL) African American History Essay Presentation, sponsored by Alpha Kappa Sorority. Flowers, for the past three years, has coached these young ladies on speech and presentation, and they were simply outstanding.

The first thing that Flowers had to talk about when I met with her was community and youth. She explained how much her community means to her and how critical Pinellas County Schools are in the community and to her and her family. Flowers herself graduated from Pinellas County Schools along with her 11 siblings; her children graduated from Pinellas County Schools and so will her grandchildren.

“Attending public schools paved the way for generations of my family,” sad Flowers. “My parents emphasized to each of their twelve children that we would only contribute to our community by acquiring a good education. I found great support and strength in the teachers and staff at Pinellas County public schools. They prepared me both for college and for life.”

Education and educating is central to Flowers’ commitment in her community. Beginning in 1986, when HIV/AIDS was first being branded as such and losing its initial name GRID, Flowers was a part of the first professionals offering training and community education on the virus and prevention through Jonny Ruth Clark heath center in St. Petersburg, now operated by Community Health Centers of Pinellas.

As a health education prevention counselor, Flowers found educating patients and families to be central to her job.  This role of educating extended through her positions with Bayfront Nursing and Paragon Nursing, providing home health care with her CNA/HHA certificate.

Along the way, Flowers also has committed her talents, knowledge and love of her community to serve in a myriad of important leadership roles. She is a former St. Petersburg City Councilwoman (1999 – 2008), former president of the Florida League of Cities, active board member of the National League of Cities, Helped to found and chair the St. Petersburg Affordable Housing Committee, former officer at WorkNet Pinellas, chair of AMI Kids Pinellas and was a nominee for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce 2012 ICONIC Women With Vision Award. Today, Flowers works for Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services as its training coordinator.

Flowers explained that leadership and experience is paramount when it comes to public service. In discussing decision-making she said, “Leaders need to understand business and organizational processes when they are a part of setting precedents and policies. They need to understand that it is very difficult and at times impossible to undue something and that some decisions will create a broader application than you intended. So, it’s important to make the best decision possible the first time and understand the implications that may come from the decision from many perspectives. The issues matter, but so does how you go about addressing the issues.”

Specifically, Flowers has a few set priorities that she champions for children. These include:

  • Working together to close the achievement gap
  • Support expanding career academies
  • Champion pre-K readiness program
  • Support a fair application process for school choice
  • Provide full support for our classroom teachers

“Just as teachers have a duty to teach, our children have a right to be taught,” said Flowers. There are various social problems that present themselves in the classroom that detract from teaching and learning. A school should be a place for learning but more often also has to be a place where resources can be accessed for youth that goes beyond the capacity of a school.

Too often teachers are put in a position to triage crises—a youth with literacy difficulties, another youth who is agitated and another youth who is ill—all at once, the teacher must handle these crises, which not only prevent a teacher from doing a great job teaching but cheat students out of learning opportunities.

While the schools cannot bear all of the burdens of all of the complex problems that youth experience, they must be a hub for youth and families to connect to other community resources. Even programs such as youth sports leagues and Emerging Youth Leaders along with many others can be an invaluable resource for youth to connect with mentors, connect with their community, discover and build on their talents and have opportunities to increase leadership skills and self-esteem.

Flowers says that this is why she not only is running for the Pinellas County School Board, District 7 seat, but this also is why she is committed to working with youth in her community, such as coaching youth in speech communications.

Rene initially registered to run for the state House of Representative seat, anticipating that the redistricting results would work in her favor so that both she and her colleague and friend, Rep. Darryl Rousson, would not be competing for the same seat.

However, when the redistricting ended, and the lines were officially drawn, this did not turn out to be the case. Flowers and Rousson would have ended up running against one another, which was not something Flowers would do. Therefore, Flowers spoke with Rep. Rousson and withdrew her registration to campaign for the seat.

“[Rep. Rousson] is doing an excellent job. I may not agree with everything he decides, but he represents our community very well, is accessible to his community and is doing an excellent job. If I don’t happen to agree with him, I can call him. I don’t want to lose him, so we had a gentleman/lady agreement that I would not run against him.

Yet, running for a seat on the Pinellas County School Board was not yet in her plans. Until that is she received her first phone call requesting that she run. Then, a second call came, followed by a third, fourth and fifth call. At that point, Flowers said that it occurred to her that not only does her community feel that they need her in this role but that she began feeling that this truly was the best place for her to be next.

“Pinellas County Schools have a lot of heavy responsibilities with the upcoming selection of a new superintendent, increased budget cuts and increased students’ needs along with the need to close the achievement gap in our schools,” said Flowers.

Flowers then knew that she needed to register her campaign to run for the Pinellas County School Board, District 7 seat. She said, “We don’t have dumb consumers or dumb voters, and I intend to honor them with the knowledge, experience and commitment they are seeking from me.”

Flowers managed Lew Williams’ campaign when he championed his cause for children, running for election to the Pinellas County School Board. “’Keep the main thing the main thing,’ and the main thing was children—this was the Lew’s focus when while serving our schools and children,” sad Flowers. “This was his commitment to all of us, and I will carry that commitment to ‘Keep the main thing the main thing’ and keep us moving forward for the children.”

Via Daphne Street. You may reach Daphne at [email protected]

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.