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Former state lawmaker Carl Zimmerman wants to serve on Pinellas School Board

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Former Democratic state Rep. Carl Zimmerman knows a few things about public education.

He’s taught in Pinellas County schools for nearly 32 years, most of them at Countryside High School in Clearwater. Now he’s ready for his next challenge, running for the Pinellas County School Board District 3 seat currently held by Chair Peggy O’Shea.

“There’s a lot that I think needs to be changed, a lot of things that I think I can bring to the table so that people truly understand what it’s like to be in the classroom and what we need to do to make it a better experience,” he said Tuesday morning.

Zimmerman spent two years representing north Pinellas in the state House before losing a bid for re-election to Republican Chris Sprowls. While he believes it’s “obvious” that education was taken over in Tallahassee by interests behind charter schools and vouchers, Zimmerman says it also means that public schools need to learn how to compete.

“Because the Legislature is so hell-bent on sending public money to private enterprises, public schools need to learn how to compete,” Zimmerman says, using as an example how in Pinellas County there are large number of specialty type of programs offered for students, but the pamphlets publishing that information are printed exactly the same.

He says that public schools are not only competing against charter schools these days, but against each other. The problem with that, he says, is that they don’t know how to promote themselves.

“We have to promote the heck out of it so that every child is going to want to be in this public school that they’ve chosen, and when they do that, nobody is going to chose a charter school,” he says. “Why would you choose a school that is kind of got a questionable reputation that colleges don’t know, when you choose a public school that has programs that excite you?”

The 65-year-old Zimmerman is a staunch supporter of academy programs which he says gives kids skills to make it in the real world.

“You create academies that are true application laboratories, so that instead of just teaching things separately from the world, you teach things how they apply in the real world and kids end up getting skills that they can actually get jobs with and it makes more sense,” he says.

When he served his one term in Tallahassee, Zimmerman served on three education committees. He says that background would be a boost for the school board, because he says he’s experienced firsthand how some educators have misinterpreted the Legislature’s intent on certain laws.

“Of course, everybody wants more money, but that’s not the issue I hear about most from teachers,” Zimmerman told the Tampa Bay Timesin March. “Give teachers more autonomy. Allow them to teach instead of plastering their walls with meaningless papers about learning goals and rubrics and cookie-cutter lessons.”

Longtime Pinellas educator Nicole Carr filed to run for the District 3 at-large seat late last year.

O’Shea has not filed yet, but said she does intend to run for her fourth term in 2018.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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