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 [email protected] 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. Rick and Tom podcast: Bucs' Gerald McCoy frustrated with disrepectful fans

    Bucs

    Rick Stroud and Tom Jones discuss Gerald McCoy's latest comments on disrespectful fans who attack his teammates, Donald Trump, protests by Desean Jackson and Mike Evans, and his respect for the military.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) warms up before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017.
  2. Tampa heading into several tough budget years

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Less pain now, more pain later.

    The Tampa City Council will hold a final public hearing on the proposed 2018 city budget and property tax rate at 5 p.m. Thursday on the third floor of Old City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd.
  3. The Daystarter: Rick vs. Rick 2.0 tonight; Bucs' McCoy says some fans cross line; Trump associate to testify; helicopter crashes onto Odessa roof

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

     

    Rescuers respond to a crash of a small helicopter on the roof of a home in the Odessa area on Monday. [Hillsborough County Fire Rescue]
  4. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  5. Trump associate Roger Stone to talk to House panel in Russia probe

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — The House intelligence panel will interview two of President Donald Trump's associates behind closed doors this week as congressional committees step up their investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

    Roger Stone talks to reporters outside a courtroom in New York this past March. The House intelligence panel will interview Stone behind closed doors Tuesday as congressional committees step up their investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Fformer Trump staffer Boris Epshteyn also will talk to the House panel. [Associated Press]