Maureen Ahern, a longtime resident of Pinellas County and an active community volunteer, has filed to run for a seat on the Pinellas County School Board.
Ahern, who lives in Seminole, will run for the seat that represents District 6, an area that covers mid-Pinellas, Seminole and the south beach communities. This is Ahern’s first run for public office.
“I have tremendous respect for teachers,” said Ahern, 53, who worked briefly as a substitute teacher. “I know firsthand how challenging a job it is and they need to be rewarded and celebrated for all their hard work.”
Ahern said she is concerned about the achievement gap between black and white students. Less than half of black males who attend Pinellas high schools earn a diploma. Ahern said she also is troubled by the growing number of turnaround schools. Just last week, the district added nine more schools to its current list of five turnaround schools.
Discipline in the classroom is another concern of Ahern, who said she was appalled at the four-minute cell phone video taken in January inside a Gibbs High School classroom that showed two female students fighting amid encouragement from their fellow classmates. “Every second in the classroom counts and students and teachers deserve to be in a safe and structured school,” she said.
And then there is the more recent situation of a Tarpon Springs middle school teacher who was found guilty of “immoral” behavior toward female students. The first incident was reported in 2000. “This is totally unacceptable,” she said.
Ahern said she is quick to acknowledge that the district has a lot to be proud of as well. She said she is impressed with the variety of educational choices students have in the district, including fundamental, magnet and career programs. “We must prepare all students for life after graduation whether they’re heading to college or going directly into the job market,’’ she said.
Ahern was a journalist in Pinellas County for nearly 20 years. A graduate of the University of South Florida, she worked for the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Newspapers and WTSP Channel 10. She says she always viewed working as a journalist as a type of public service – asking the tough questions, digging for the truth and informing people of important issues in their communities.
Ahern says she believes her background in journalism and her more recent experience in business would be a benefit to the school board. “I believe a school board should have members representing a variety of professions.”
Ahern is married to state Rep. Larry Ahern and has three daughters. She is a member of St Jude Catholic Cathedral in St. Petersburg, where she served as co-chair of the church’s major renovation project. She is the vice president of the Bay Pines Estates Civic Association. She served on St. Petersburg’s International Relations Committee and was vice-president of the 49th Street South Business Association.