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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Teamwork training up in smoke
One School Board member storms away after a fiery clash.
By LETITIA STEIN
Published August 29, 2007
TAMPA - Team building and visioning were on the agenda for the Hillsborough School Board on Tuesday.
Before the first hour ended, though, there was blood on the playground.
School Board member Jennifer Faliero told colleague April Griffin to change her style and "learn to swallow your medicine." If not, Faliero said, she'll become a maverick on the losing end of votes.
As other board members chimed in concerns about her defensiveness, Griffin retorted, "I'm not buying what you're saying."
"Then you need to resign," Faliero shot back.
Amid cries for a "time out," Griffin stormed out of the training exercise.
The outburst came as a fresh sign of the festering animosity on a School Board known for its collegiality. Griffin and Susan Valdes, both newer members and close personal friends, are chafing at the traditional ways of doing things within the school system.
Increasingly, divisions are surfacing at board meetings, from a recent split over superintendent MaryEllen Elia's evaluation - Griffin and Valdes gave her low marks, in contrast to the majority opinion - to public remarks about insensitivity and distrust.
The six out of seven elected officials who remained at Tuesday's training, held at a middle school, agreed to ground rules like "respect" and "be heard" and "do not take personally."
"These are just the basic things we learn in kindergarten, you guys," Valdes said.
She was the first to criticize Faliero for her remarks to Griffin. "That was below the belt, Jennifer," Valdes said, as Griffin walked out, the door slamming behind her.
"That was really harsh," board member Candy Olson agreed.
Other board members later said they didn't hear the full exchange between Faliero and Griffin, who were sitting across from each other at the end of a conference room table.
Afterwards, neither had nice things to say about the other.
"When Jennifer Faliero said that I should resign, my first thought was, 'How do you of all people ask for my resignation?' " Griffin said.
She mused that she could give Faliero a pass this time, due to the stress that her colleague has been under.
Faliero made headlines recently for moving outside of her east Hillsborough district, a potential violation of state rules.
"I'm glad she finally showed up at a meeting to attack me," Griffin added, another dig at published reports about Faliero's absences at several summer meetings.
Faliero, who says her living situation is temporary following a divorce and financial difficulties, said Griffin needed to hear her candid thoughts.
"You've got to earn your respect and you've got to learn how to work in the system, and that takes time and willingness," she said, noting that similar issues have come up at past board training sessions.
"Part of leadership," Faliero added, "is knowing when to cut your losses and move on."
Her outburst and Griffin's departure overshadowed the four-hour training exercise, where each elected official was separately asked to identify goals for the school system for the year.
Three of them - Faliero, Olson and School Board Chairman Jack Lamb - wanted to work on the board's leadership team.
"Obviously, the elephant in the room is the person who's not here," Olson said, during the following discussion.
Olson, a 13-year veteran of the board, and other long-serving members stressed that they have improved upon the days when votes were unanimous and meetings all but a formality.
"This could come across as a pity party," said Olson, who does not think the board is dysfunctional, just less harmonious than in the past. "We want to get ahead of it, so we can continue to be highly effective."
While the training ended with praise about progress made, tensions may not fade so quickly.
Griffin says she will continue to be professional at board meetings, but has no concerns about becoming a vocal minority.
"I'm not going to go along to get along," she said. "We need to have debate, and the public needs to have debate."
She noted that she did not consider Tuesday's "touchy-feely" training a business meeting and does not plan to continue with a followup in October. The series is part of a School Board certification program through a statewide association.
"It's hard to build a team when one member's not there," said Lamb.
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.