School Board member gets a third opponent for seat

By Thomas C. Tobin
Published March 1, 2008

The race for the District 1 seat on the Pinellas School Board is getting crowded early.

Incumbent Janet Clark has announced she is running for a second term, and Grant Smith, president of a St. Petersburg consulting business, this week joined two other challengers.

The others in the field are Jennifer Crockett, a legal assistant who ran for the School Board in 2006, and Max Loden, a longtime Pinellas school administrator who retired from the district last year.

Clark, 54, taught disabled students at Meadowlawn Middle School before she entered the School Board race in 2004, eventually scoring an upset against longtime board member Lee Benjamin.

She said she had to think hard about running again because she misses teaching. But she decided to enter the race, she said, because the board is preparing to deal with several issues that are important to her. Among them: middle school reform.

"Somewhere between fifth grade and ninth grade something's happening that we're losing kids," Clark said. She also has pushed for a board committee to audit the district's finances, and that effort is starting to gain momentum, she said.

Smith, 47, is president and founder of Valid Results Inc., a company that provides statistics and data analysis primarily to medical device companies. A St. Petersburg native, he graduated from Boca Ciega High in 1979. He has a doctorate in measurement and statistics from Florida State University. He has two children, ages 7 and 10, at Pasadena Fundamental Elementary School and two college-age children who graduated from Pinellas schools.

"Fundamentally, my biggest interest is I see a disparity in schools," Smith said. He said the district seems to be focused on avoiding litigation and ensuring students meet minimum standards, "areas that really don't have anything to do with excellence."

The district's biggest challenge is to engage more parents, he said. The district should offer more help to students whose parents do not get involved in schools, he said.

He lauded efforts by superintendent Clayton Wilcox to build career academies and "centers of excellence," which are designed to help students enter the workforce immediately after high school.

School Board candidates have until June 20 to qualify for the Aug. 26 primary election. However, in countywide campaigns like the District 1 race, candidates often start early to get a jump on organizing and fundraising.

If no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the primary election, the two candidates with the highest number of votes square off in the Nov. 4 general election.

Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at tobin@sptimes.com or 727 893-8923.