District 3 candidates see challenges and potential for Pinellas schools

Pinellas County School Board member Peggy O'Shea, center, is facing challenges from Nicole Carr, far left, and Carl Zimmerman, right, as she vies for a fourth term. [DIRK SHADD / SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Pinellas County School Board member Peggy O'Shea, center, is facing challenges from Nicole Carr, far left, and Carl Zimmerman, right, as she vies for a fourth term. [DIRK SHADD / SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published July 12 2018
Updated July 12 2018

A three-term incumbent, an educational specialist with a doctorate in school counseling and a teacher with 33 years of classroom experience are vying for the countywide District 3 seat on the Pinellas County School Board.

All three have clear ideas on the district’s biggest challenges and how to address them, but each has a different take on the specifics.

Peggy O’Shea, first elected to the board in 2006 and re-elected in 2010 and 2014, said she believes that closing the achievement gap between black students and white students should remain a primary focus for the board.

If re-elected to a fourth term, O’Shea said, she would continue to champion kindergarten readiness, work to expand career education and lobby for increased legislative funding for K-12 schools.

"Ultimately, the challenge is living up to our vision of 100 percent success for all students," she said. "That’s why we’re here."

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O’Shea, 68, managed a commercial arbitration and mediation service and raised two children before her election to the board. She describes herself as open-minded, reasonable and capable of thinking globally.

Among her proudest accomplishments is national recognition for the district’s career academies and a "forward-thinking approach" to enhancing school security.

In a year when four seats on the seven-member board are up for election, O’Shea said continuity is important for maintaining momentum and sustaining district initiatives. She perceives the current board as diverse, high-performing and engaged in a positive relationship with the community and with superintendent Mike Grego.

"We’ve made great strides, but you always need to continue to improve," O’Shea said.

First-time School Board candidate Nicole Carr says the district’s biggest challenge is identifying problems accurately before attempting to move into solution mode.

Carr, who has taught elementary, middle and high school students and worked in the district office as an accountability coordinator, would advocate for a more robust process of evaluation and cost-benefit analysis before spending taxpayer money.

"We need to examine the implications of policies and the impact they’ll have on the people who have to implement them," said Carr, 47. "And we need to collect information in a more systematic way."

Carr cites her tenure as assistant principal at Lakewood Elementary, one of the district’s most challenging schools, as her reason for wanting to be a board member. That experience, she said, combined with her background in school counseling, would make her a strong advocate for struggling students.

She says classroom teachers are in the best position to improve across-the-board student achievement but too frequently are diverted from that task.

"We have to give our teachers the time to plan and provide interventions rather than spending time on paperwork," she said.

The mother of two young children who describes herself as hardworking, truthful and compassionate, Carr also said she would advocate for providing a safe learning environment and recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers.

Carl Zimmerman is making his first run for School Board after working more than three decades at Countryside High, where he taught English, TV production and broadcast journalism.

Zimmerman, 67, cites a poor climate and board members who don’t spend enough time visiting schools as the district’s biggest challenges.

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"There’s a laundry list of things that have been neglected and are destroying our schools," Zimmerman said. "In my years as a teacher, I watched the system get worse and worse."

Zimmerman, the father of two grown children, said he was alarmed when he learned the district was facing the prospect of having to hand over academic control at three struggling schools to a private company at a cost of up to $2 million.

"That sits with our board," he said. "They should have recognized that problem early on and taken care of it."

His top priorities, in addition to improving student achievement, would be making schools safer and beefing up career education programs to give more post-graduation opportunities for students who are not college bound.

He believes his teaching experience and the term he spent as a state representative in the Florida Legislature from 2012-14 make him the best choice in the District 3 race.

Describing himself as engaged, effective and knowledgeable, Zimmerman says he is the "key person" to bring board members together.

Carr leads the field in fundraising efforts, posting $58,080 in monetary contributions and attracting $3,536.27 in in-kind contributions since she filed to run in October 2016.

Zimmerman has collected $14,654.58 in monetary contributions and $783.39 in in-kind contributions since he filed in May 2017. O’Shea has garnered $2,910 in monetary contributions and $123.50 in in-kind contributions since she filed June 1.

Candidates in the District 3 race, open to any Pinellas County voter, will appear on the Aug. 28 primary ballot. Early voting will be held from Aug. 18-26.

The last day to register to vote in the primary is July 30.