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School Board member brandishes national bullhorn

Now that she is president of the national association, Jane Gallucci strays from her party's line, telling politicians: "We've had enough."

Published April 9, 2006


Pinellas County voters first elected Jane Gallucci to their School Board in 1996 as a Republican. And, while School Board races are no longer partisan, she remains a member of the party in good standing.

But Gallucci will veer sharply from the party line this week when she rises to a much bigger stage as president of the National School Boards Association. The theme of her inaugural speech Tuesday in Chicago is "Snapshots of Success: The Real Story of Public Education."

The speech, accented with photos of students, is a call to U.S. educators to extol the virtues of public schools whenever they get the chance. It also is a lament that the sweeping, Republican-led education initiatives of recent years have gone too far. The result, Gallucci complains, is a message - promoted by "detached politicians" and fueled by news reports of low test scores - that public education is a bastion of failure.

"Sometimes I feel like a pinata with everyone taking a whack at us," she will say, according to a copy of the speech she provided last week. "It hurts, it's not accurate and most of all it hurts our children, our teachers, our schools. Education is the cornerstone of our democracy, and it's time we give it some praise."

Gallucci, 57, will punctuate the point with a line taken from the classic movie Network: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

The veteran Pinellas School Board member will spend the next year traveling an estimated 150 days in her new position, sometimes meeting in Washington with the nation's top education bureaucrats and members of Congress, at other times leading conferences and visiting schools.

She said the job, which offers a $30,000 stipend, will not detract from her Pinellas duties because most of her travels will be on or around weekends.

Over the last year, as president-elect of the organization, she has traveled from Alaska to Iowa to New England, visiting districts large and small.

The presidency, she said, "is the culmination of over 30 years of being in public education. This is the pinnacle."

Besides access to the nation's policymaking elite, the position gives Gallucci a bullhorn. She will use the group's newspaper, magazine and e-mail list to communicate directly to 95,000 school board members across the United States.

"They're going to be sick of hearing me," she said.

Joining her in Chicago are her family, including her 86-year-old mother, four members of the Pinellas School Board and the board's administrative assistant, plus school superintendent Clayton Wilcox and deputy superintendent Nancy Zambito. Wilcox also will participate in a panel discussion on blogging by education leaders.

Gallucci was formally installed as president Friday and a reception was held in her honor Saturday night at the Palmer House Hilton.

Board members Janet Clark and Mary Russell skipped the trip. Clark called the presidency "a big deal for Jane" but said she couldn't justify spending the money for the trip after the board cut $19-million from the district budget last week. "When people are losing their jobs, it just really bothers me," Clark said.

At its height over the weekend and today, the national conference was expected to swell to as many as 14,000 participants at McCormick Place, Chicago's sprawling lakeside convention center. Among the bigger draws were speeches by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, historian and author David McCullough, primate expert Jane Goodall and fitness guru Richard Simmons.

Gallucci began her education career in 1971 as a teacher at St. Titus School in Norristown, Pa. From 1979 to 1983, she was a member of the Rockaway, N.J., School Board, serving the last year as president. She was an elementary school guidance counselor in Pinellas from 1988 to 1996, when she ran for School Board.

She quickly became involved in the Florida School Boards Association, drawn, she said, by the chance to advocate for schools at the state level. By 2000, she was president of the state group.

When a friend from the Sarasota County School Board tried to join the National School Boards Association board of directors and was shut out, Gallucci said she became angry. After failing to find other Floridians willing to run for the national board, Gallucci said she decided to run to give Florida "a place at the table."

She was elected to the board in 2001. A friend familiar with the group's internal politics told her to "sit back, shut up and don't say anything" the first year, so Gallucci said she listened a lot.

Later, she said, "I opened my mouth." By 2004, she was elected over two fellow board members as secretary-treasurer. The following year, with no opposition, she was chosen as president-elect.

Gallucci is serving her third term on the Pinellas School Board. She was re-elected in 2004 without opposition.

Her Chicago speech will include an anecdote from a Pinellas awards ceremony for minority students, during which a choir from Gibbs High School performed gospel songs. The singers, she said, were all black except for a white boy from Bulgaria named Boris, who was chosen by the choir to sing a solo.

"I'll never forget that morning," Gallucci said in an interview. "To me, that's the picture of public education today. We have a kid in a class learning about '50s gospel music that, had he still been in Bulgaria, he wouldn't know a whole lot about. But we have an environment where he was able to do that.

"The kids accepted him, they voted for him to sing. If that's not a picture, what is? That's a miracle to me. You talk about integration. They're learning about each other."

She complained about the "cookie cutter" approach of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and Florida's school accountability program, which relies on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Schools need accountability, she said, but it needs to be more flexible.

"You don't have to have a formula for everything," Gallucci said. "Kids aren't a formula."

So Gallucci, the Republican, said she hopes to be a force that puts the brakes on her party's effort to turn public education on its head. Asked about the disconnect, she said her efforts on behalf of kids are separate from party politics.

"The silent majority is starting to rise and say, "You know, we've had enough of this FCAT stuff. We've had enough of this NCLB stuff. You tried it. All of it didn't work."'

[Last modified April 9, 2006, 05:51:48]

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