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Schools chief tunes in to parents' concerns

Clayton Wilcox kicks off the first of his four planned informational sessions with parents.

Published May 1, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - A small but lively group turned out Wednesday night for the first of four "listening tours' hosted by Pinellas school superintendent Clayton Wilcox.

The town hall-style meeting at the Pinellas Park City Auditorium occasionally strayed off course. It bogged down at times when some parents monopolized the conversation. But overall, participants seemed pleased with the opportunity to air their concerns and with the superintendent's apparent willingness to listen to them.

Billed as a chance for parents to learn more about the school system and to help them better understand the district's expectations for students, the meetings also are meant to provide district officials with an opportunity to hear participants' views on Pinellas schools and to seek suggestions for community involvement.

Wilcox began the meeting by introducing the approximately 30 audience members to "strategic listening" technology that would allow them to use small keypads to record answers to various questions. The devices swiftly collected demographic information that was displayed on a screen at the front of the room.

Ninety percent of the participants were women. The majority were between 30 and 40 years old. Most lived nearby, and most considered themselves active in their community. Among the things parents had on their minds were safety, high school start times and communication between schools and families. They bemoaned a lack of physical education classes, too few arts classes and a lack of money being spent to support teachers.

One parent asked for more "hands-on" programs. Another requested behavior specialists in all classrooms. A common complaint was the choice plan and the transportation system.

Wilcox promised change but asked the parents for their patience.

"This is a $1.2-billion business with 15,000 employees," he said. "It's harder to change than one might realize. You've got to give us some time."

As the meeting neared the 90-minute mark, Wilcox returned to the strategic listening key pads and asked another series of questions. He learned that 76 percent of the parents strongly agreed the achievement gap between black and white students is a serious issue.


The superintendent's next "listening tour" will be from 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S.

[Last modified April 30, 2005, 23:59:18]

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