Mitch Thrower, candidate for Hillsborough County School District 3, was interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times on July 3. Thrower discusses what he thinks are the most pressing issues of the school district, including how to address the upcoming school year and have children safely go back to school with COVID-19, as well as accountability and fiscal management.
Read more of Thrower’s Q&A below or in the Tampa Bay Times.
What are the three most pressing issues for the school district, and how would you address them?
The most pressing issue right now is how our students are going to be taught in the upcoming school year. Are they going to be physically in schools, using e-learning/virtual schools or a combination of the two? The recently completed School Reopening Survey indicated 53 percent of parents were comfortable sending students to school for the upcoming school year. We need to make sure teachers have adequate resources and training to teach virtual classes. My youngest child attends Walker Middle School and I witnessed some of the issues that occur with e-learning. We need to ensure that all students have the technology and training necessary to utilize the e-learning platform.
The second issue, which is also a major concern to all parents that I have talked to, is what are the schools going to do about safety related to COVID-19. Schools need to ensure that they are effectively communicating their safety plans to parents.
The third issue is accountability and fiscal management. With Hillsborough County having a $3.3 billion budget and a half-cent sales tax that is generating $138 million a year, we need to ensure that the district is spending it wisely.
What approach is needed to improve academic performance at the district’s lowest-performing schools? Does that require additional resources? If so, where would you get them?
Strong principals can recruit better teachers to their school, and this dramatically increases the chances of all-around success. There must be open communication with children and parents, and they need to see the connection between academic achievement and future success. We may need to consider redistributing resources to ensure that students and teachers have what they need to be successful. I also believe that partnerships with private companies, retirees and groups such as the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, where mentoring and tutoring can be provided to help improve student learning. Counseling services, free meal programs and other services can address essential needs, which might otherwise interfere with a child’s ability to learn.
How would you improve reading scores, especially in the lower grades?
I am a strong believer in early childhood education and have served on the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County. The Early Learning Coalition, in partnership with Hillsborough County Schools, provides Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK), an early childhood school readiness program, free of charge to families. Studies have shown that children who participate in high-quality early childhood education programs develop better language skills, score higher in school-readiness tests, and have better social skills once they enter school.
In addition to early learning programs, I believe we need to ensure that teachers are trained in literacy development and provided the tools to enhance literacy skills and that schools utilize small group instruction. I also believe in parental involvement and providing volunteer opportunities to read to children in the classroom.
What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Hillsborough?
I am a staunch supporter of the public schools and I am in favor of quality educational options for all students. I believe that charter schools fill a need in our school system and provide our students with more options. I think the Hillsborough County school system should try to partner and work with charter schools, especially when it comes to where they are located. There are areas in our community where our current public schools are over-capacity or other needs exist and charter schools could possibly satisfy those needs.
How would you address the racial and ethnic disparities in student discipline and academic achievement?
We need to ensure that schools are communicating with parents especially when it comes to issues that a school might be having with their child. Teachers and administrators need to be fair and firm when addressing disciplinary issues. Students need to know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Teachers should receive diversity, inclusion, and discipline training.
We also need to ensure that all school resource officers are properly trained, engaged in the school and known by the students. School resource officers should know how to deal with the students so that their handling of disciplinary issues such as minor non-violent infractions do not escalate into violent criminal incidents.
I am also a big fan of partnerships with groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters. They have the Bigs in Schools Program, which I believe is an excellent way to provide mentors to students.
I would want to see the budget detail by school and the amount allocated per student at each school. For those schools that are receiving less than or more than the other schools I want to know why.
Does Hillsborough need to consolidate some campuses and facilities, and if so, where and how would you go about it?
Given the current situation with COVID-19, we need to finalize our plans for how we are going to teach students for the upcoming school year. We need to determine what our schools will look like and make informed decisions based on short-term and long-term needs. Once we know what student learning will look like, we can decide whether the consolidation of campuses and facilities is necessary. After the situation is assessed, we can determine how to effectively deploy resources to ensure student success.