With no incumbent in the race for District 1, voters are sure to get a new face on the Pinellas County School Board come election day.
But voters who came to Thursday’s local candidates’ forum sponsored by the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce looking for a clear-cut choice between Joanne Lentino and Matt Stewart may have been disappointed. The differences between the two are subtle and come more from their perspective than from sharp disagreements concerning the issues facing the Pinellas school system.
They both agree the system has problems and that the achievement gap between black and white and between poor and financially well-off students needs to be fixed. And they agree that the school system can’t do it alone — parents and the community need to be involved. Both would push back on the constant testing that children undergo.
Instead, Stewart and Lentino said it’s their individual viewpoint that will make the difference in how effective each would be as a school board member.
Stewart said he has a child in the Pinellas County School System. If elected, he would be the only member with a child actually in the classroom. That parental perspective, he said, is needed on the school board.
Lentino, a recently retired Pinellas teacher, says her recent experience in the classroom means she’ll know what questions to ask. Lentino adds that, being retired, she won’t have another job to worry about leaving so she can serve on the board. Stewart is an HR manager for Hillsborough County and on the adjunct faculty at St. Petersburg College.
Lentino would stress early childhood education because that “is where it all begins.”
Stewart sees a need for more vocational education classes to help create an “economic pipeline” to improve employment prospects for students.
The nonpartisan District 1 race is run countywide. Early voting ends Nov. 6. The election is Nov. 8.