Tallahassee: Candidate from for Superintendent of Leon County Schools
Tallahassee, FL – On Saturday, October 10, the Progressive Parent Teacher Student Alliance (PPTSA), a subcommittee of Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC) hosted an online candidate forum for Superintendent of Leon County Schools, with the aim of giving the viewing public an opportunity to learn where the candidates stand in relation to the progressive platform put forth by TCAC.
The event was hosted on Zoom and broadcast on Facebook Live. Although TCAC put on the forum, moderator Dawn Freo opened the event by clarifying, “TCAC does not endorse candidates but we encourage candidates to endorse our policy platform and demands.”
The three candidates running for Superintendent are incumbent Rocky Hannah, Democratic challenger Dr. Pam Hightower, and write-in candidate Keisha Washington—only Dr. Hightower accepted the invitation to participate. The forum was moderated by PPTSA Chair Isabel Ruano and TCAC Communications Director Dawn Freo, and covered the topics of educational equity, Title I funding, COVID-19, disparities in discipline with regard to nationality, and school safety.
Leon County is home to the poorest zip code in the state, 32304, and as such the students there face increasing inequities when it comes to education. As Dr. Hightower put it, “Giving us equal does not make it equitable”. She presented excellent proposals to address these inequities: creating after-school opportunities to students within impoverished communities and increasing the resources being allocated to schools that are falling behind.
Dr. Hightower suggested initiating “progress monitoring” to determine where students are academically when they begin school, followed by the current standardized tests in April/May. Progress monitoring already occurs in the majority of Leon County schools through STAR testing, an application that sends Florida tax dollars out of state. “Though Dr. Hightower said many good things in regard to teachers, she seemed to be very pro-testing, the exact opposite of what many teachers feel is needed, including myself,” said teacher and local activist Megan Grant.
With regard to school safety, Dr. Hightower intimated that school resource officers (SROs) being on campus is a positive, provided they are properly trained. She stated that SROs should not be disciplinarians, and that having them on campus starting in elementary school would teach students to have “a whole different respect for officers.” Research suggests that police presence on school campuses in Florida is a large contributor to the school-to-prison pipeline. According to statistics from the US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, in 2015, Florida schools referred 13,749 students to law enforcement, 30% more often than the national average. Florida schools are also more than twice as likely to refer Black students to law enforcement and 3.25 times as likely to refer students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). The tasks Dr. Hightower suggested SROs should carry out—traffic control, bicycle safety, anti-bully training—could easily be done by trained, unarmed, civilian personnel.