Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State PTA launches Real Talk to give a voice to those underserved by public schools

TAMPA — The Florida PTA, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is trying to get more people talking about equity in education.

A California-based consulting group called "50+1 Strategies'' is helping mobilize teachers, parents and community leaders around the state. A digital media campaign is under way that allows people to describe experiences they've had in the schools.

So far, local meetings have involved organizational leaders more than typical residents. At a gathering in January in West Tampa, guests discussed issues such as racial bias, funding disparities and reasons why parents sometimes feel alienated from their children's schools.

A town hall meeting at 10 a.m. April 15 will be open to a far broader group of participants. The location has not been announced. Similar meetings and campaigns are under way in Pinellas, Dade, Broward, Duval, Orange and Leon counties.

The effort is a chance for the PTA — which battles a reputation for appealing mostly to comfortable suburbanites — to become immersed, in a very public way, in the ongoing struggle to ensure equal educational opportunities regardless of race and income.

State PTA president Cindy Gerhardt said she's thrilled to see turnout at the meetings and the first of the video interviews. She is also enjoying this chance to work in a coalition with religious and civil rights organizations on issues that intersect with the PTA agenda of helping children.

"It's the right time, the right place and the right message," she said, referring in part to changes under way in Washington, D.C.

Despite the success so far of what the organizers are calling "Real Talk," one issue has been uncomfortable to talk about in Hillsborough: The Gates Foundation's $150,000 contribution.

People who disliked the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers system, which centered on a complex system of peer evaluations for teachers, have not forgotten the stress it caused — or the fact that when the seven-year experiment ended, the school district faced a $142 million spending hole.

Hillsborough no longer uses peer evaluations.

"The Gates Foundation has never once been successful with public education initiatives, so I did not feel it appropriate to get our local organization involved," said Jennifer Morley, a former teacher and current American Civil Liberties Union chair in Tampa. Morley also questioned the use of paid organizers.

PTA leaders are adamant that the Gates group and 50+1 — which have a long-standing working relationship — have no agenda and have not interfered in any way with their project.

The Tampa Bay Times asked the Gates Foundation for more information about its expectations. So far, none has been provided. On its website, the foundation lists this objective for the PTA project: "To foster community dialogue around educational disparities through the use of a radio and public forum campaign."

Supporters of Real Talk say what matters is getting underserved communities more involved in the schools. "Is there money from the Gates Foundation? Yes," said the Rev. Russell Meyer, a member of the Hillsborough steering committee. "But they are simply writing the checks for our ground game."

That ground game looks like this: Community forums, followed by town hall meetings to include policymakers, culminating in a statewide symposium.

"We are, completely from the ground up, trying to bring in stakeholders and people in the communities to actively reach parents and teachers," Meyer said. "We want to have everybody in the conversation."

In Miami, state PTA vice president Carolyn Nelson-Goedert said Real Talk will "shine a light on educational inequity, or the fact that we need educational equity. Black and brown children are underrepresented. They don't always have the voice that other children have."

After producing the videos and attending the meetings, Nelson-Goedert said, parents can emerge better able to advocate for their children when trouble arises, or write to a lawmaker about an issue of concern. "We want to make sure that people recognize their power," she said.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol

State PTA launches Real Talk to give a voice to those underserved by public schools 03/16/17 [Last modified: Monday, March 20, 2017 11:12am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pasco commuters watch out: Broken water main restricts State Road 52

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A water main break has caused a portion of State Road 52 — one of the busiest roads in Pasco County — to buckle on Thursday afternoon, reducing three lanes of westbound traffic to just one.

  2. Man taken into custody after live streaming drive along Clearwater Beach sand

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Clearwater Police took a man into custody Thursday afternoon after, they said, he drove his car over beach chairs and umbrellas along Clearwater Beach and streamed it on Facebook.

    Clearwater Police took a suspect into custody Thursday afternoon after he drove along Clearwater Beach to Caladesi Island, running over beach chairs and umbrellas. [Courtesy of Clearwater Police]
  3. Once trapped and wounded, manatee and calf return to the wild

    Wildlife

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The small crowd readied cameras and craned their necks, peering over heads and through bodies to try and catch a glimpse. Brittany Pharel, 10, wanted to see the hulking manatees, a mother and her calf, laid out on blue tarps Thursday along the edge of the Pithlachascotee River.

    Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo's associate veterinarian Lauren Smith, 33, examines the heart rate of a manatee calf named Cottee just before it was released into the waters of the Pithlachascotee River on Thursday. 
Cottee's mother Pascow was released at the same time in New Port Richey. 
The pair became stranded in May and the mother was found wounded. They needed to be rehabilitated before they could be released into open waters. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  4. Gov. candidate Chris King: Climate change is biggest threat to Florida's economy

    Blogs

    Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King today made his case for how economic growth and fighting climate change go hand in hand. His rivals for the Democratic nomination, Gwen Graham, …

    Winter Park businessman Chris King and his family
  5. Editorial: Buckhorn's proposed tax increase is too high for Tampa

    Editorials

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed city budget for 2018 confronts some hard realities of the times. With debt payments looming and another fire station opening in fast-growing north Tampa, the City Council needs to consider raising property taxes, especially with the prospect of another homestead exemption around the …

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s proposed city budget for 2018 confronts some hard realities of the times. But it seems overly ambitious, and the City Council should be cautious about raising taxes too much in a single swoop.