Caprice Edmond makes re-election pitch for Pinellas School Board District 7 seat

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This is part of a series of profiles of candidates for Pinellas County School Board in 2022.

Florida Politics invited each contender in the race to take part in a seven-question interview — giving them an opportunity to talk about qualifications, platforms and priorities.

Caprice Edmond is running for Pinellas County School Board District 7.

Here is our conversation with Edmond:

Florida Politics: What are three important qualities and or qualifications you have that will make you an effective asset on the Pinellas County School Board?

Caprice Edmond: I think it’s important that people realize that I have a stake in public education. I’m a parent. I have children who have attended or are currently attending Pinellas County schools. I was a former educator and a former guardian ad litem, and now I am a certified School Board member by the Florida School Board Association. Those are just three things that set me apart.

I care deeply about all children and education, and I know that with a high-quality education students have a trajectory for success. They can thrive in life and have infinite potential. This is why I decided to run in 2024 for School Board District 7. I saw that there was a gap. I know some of the questions later on will address this, but when we have reading proficiency rates below what it should be, I think we need to look at that.

Also, when it comes to recruitment and retention of staff, we have a critical problem to address, but I’ll stop here because your questions will lead to deeper conversations on these issues.

FP: Why do you want to serve on the Pinellas County School Board?

Edmond: I want to continue serving on the Pinellas County School Board because what I’ve learned over the past two years is that my voice, my experience and my willingness to get in the weeds, ask questions and provide solutions are important. Some of the policies that I’ve advocated for have made changes in processes and it even got the community more involved.

For example, the interagency agreement between the School Board and law enforcement created an important dialogue. When we look at our student code of conduct and bring in those voices of parental groups and community organizations, we have students and parents that may not always be at the table communicating and bringing their concerns to the Board.

It’s extremely important when I look at the job descriptions that are brought forward to us and notice different details in comparison to another job description, we need to pay attention to these details. Even if we’re just raising awareness that something isn’t appropriate.

Our employees are valued, and how they are referred to in the job description along with their pay — it doesn’t always communicate that message. We need to really show that we value our employees in every context.

So that’s just some of what comes up within our workshops when we’re talking about the job descriptions, when we’re looking at curriculum. Specifically with the reading curriculum, how are we ensuring that the reading curriculum we provide is optimal for helping us increase reading proficiency rates?

I brought this up when the district was hearing that we have a consultant working with our district staff to create the reading curriculum. However, in talking with teachers who are teaching our students and in speaking with parents, there’s still a gap in proficiency. So, how are we teaching phonics? How are we teaching phonemic awareness?

We also need more transparency. I believe that public comments to the School Board should be available to the public to hear. We are elected by the people, so having them hear what concerns are brought up by other people is extremely important.

Then, how are we as a Board addressing that? I think it’s important to also note that I’m elected by voters in District 7, and although I’m elected by only the voters that live in that certain area of Pinellas County, my vote and my comments impact the entire district.

So, when I am standing up for equity, mentioning or in addressing disparities or advocating for changes in the Bridging the Gap plan within the guidelines of the agreement that was established between the district, it’s important to note that I am standing up for all students.

My experience is my education and the work that I have achieved and continue to do. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in elementary education, a master’s in educational leadership and a certification in infant and family mental health. I currently serve on the board of directors for the Florida School Board Association, and as previously mentioned, I am a certified School Board member. We need people who are committed to all children, who are knowledgeable about education and who are going to be serious advocates.

FP: What are the top three priority issues you feel the Pinellas County School Board needs to address, and how do you believe they should be addressed?

Edmond: The first would be academic success. We arrive at 100% academic success by having highly qualified and trained staff in front of our students.

This leads us to the second: recruitment and retention of all staff, especially teachers and support professionals. We know that there is a teacher shortage, a bus driver shortage and there’s a shortage all the way around from operations, etc. So, ensuring that we have teachers in place to teach our students and that we have the support staff available to get them to and from school and provide the support services that they need — this is critical for student success.

Third would be the family and community engagement aspect. As we’ve seen more people get involved with the schools, it has improved outcomes. It’s not that they have not been allowed to get involved previously; it’s just they didn’t feel comfortable enough to get involved.

That’s something else that I bring to the table by being a part of many organizations and going to neighborhood associations, attending PTA and NAACP meetings and being active in other civic organizations lending an ear and asking them to bring those concerns to the Board, whether through an email or showing up in person.

It really does take a village to raise a child, and I strongly believe that to ensure we are reaching our goal of 100% student success, it’s going to take all of us.

We know that the district doesn’t operate in a silo. We provide food on campus, we provide mental health services and recommendations to an extent. But outside of school, those services must continue. So, we need organizations outside of the schools to fill in the gaps addressing food insecurity or food needs, housing needs of families and possibly even staff.

People are having a hard time right now, and if you think about the needs of our students and their families from being homeless and lack of food and lack of employment and other challenges that families face throughout Pinellas County, those have a negative impact on our students’ ability to learn. It’s the community’s problem to address together.

We need community organizations, nonprofits and everyone to help with providing for our children outside of the school and to partner with the district. This is why family and community engagement is important. Those strategic partnerships from the United Way. Ibarra Health, Feeding Tampa Bay. … Plus, many of our schools have clinics in partnership with the health department that provide some medical care.

Those partnerships have been life-changing for many families having access to critical resources that they may not have ever heard about or had access to if it wasn’t through the school.

Many people tend to believe that schools are solely for education, but schools have been so much more. And when we begin to address the needs of the whole child, that’s how we achieve academic success in partnership with highly qualified educators and support professionals and through family and community engagement.

FP: What will you do to advocate for teachers if elected again to the Pinellas County School Board?

Edmond: It’s important to talk about what I’ve done so far. So, I’m going to share with you what’s available on public record that I’ve done.

At a School Board meeting, I mentioned that I hope the district considers looking into negotiating veteran pay within the confines of the law as an extremely important step. Many veteran teachers have expressed concerns about pay as the starting salaries of teachers is increasing. However, veteran teachers aren’t seeing an increase in their pay.

Also, when it comes to working conditions, I am a huge advocate of ensuring safe working and learning conditions for all students and personnel. This should be first and foremost to anyone. That’s something that I continue to speak out and continue to ask for as it relates to our staff.

We know that COVID-19 challenged us to be innovative in developing strategies to keep students and staff safe. Some things that we did, I agree with, and there were some things that I wish were different.

We also know that the COVID-19 sick leave has ended. So, something that I asked the district to consider is looking at what other districts are doing and see if we will consider implementing something similar or if we will negotiate options. For instance, having a COVID-19 sick leave bank would be very important for our teachers and support professionals, letting them know that they are valued.

Some of the things that we have done as a Board is we created steps, or a career ladder, within certain departments, including bus drivers, allowing them to advance. There are areas where they can earn a different pay grade based on whichever job description or job they take.

What I would like to do moving forward is to continue to advocate for better working conditions and to be a voice of reason, understanding that I was a teacher, I was in our schools and I have children in our schools. So, I’m very connected and engaged.

FP: Most Pinellas County school students are too young to vote, but if they could vote, why should they vote for you?

Edmond: Well, I would say that if they could vote, they should vote for me because I was a kid just like them. And I was in our school system from elementary, middle and high school graduating from Gibbs High School.

Plus, I’m connected to children. I served as a guardian ad litem, protecting the voice of children and serving as their advocate. I was a guardian ad litem for over ten years, working within our schools for about seven years. And here I am today, a School Board member that continues to advocate for policies and practices that will lead to a better school system and educational outcomes for all children.

FP: What role does or can the School Board play to address performance gaps among students in the classroom, particularly those who have specific needs?

Edmond: I think it’s important to talk about the policies that we have in place.

The School Board reviews our Bridging the Gap plan quarterly and other policies annually if not more frequently. I think it’s important that we have intentional efforts as well as goals that are measurable and are not solely an opportunity to check a box marked as “completed.” And those are some of the things that I have questioned as a current School Board member.

We can do more by looking at the science of reading. Are we using best practices? And we know that each child learns differently; we know that every child is unique. So, how are we differentiating instruction to meet the needs of the children?

All of that comes into play when we talk about students with special needs and looking at the Final Four and IEP accommodations. Are we allowing the educator enough time to plan and to meet the needs of that child? Are there more resources needed at that school, depending on the amount of students who are in need of services? Because we can’t stretch our teachers too far and then expect them to provide the high-quality services that our children deserve.

Those are things that we can look at. What is the ratio for our resource teachers, looking at the amount of professional development required? We must ask them what they need to ensure they’re able to meet the needs of the children on their caseloads while following our state statutes implementing IEPs and monitoring those practices then changing them as needed based on the outcomes of the IEP team meetings and other analyses.

FP: School safety is a topic on many people’s minds from school shootings and violence or bullying on campus to general disruptive behavior and even the need to keep kids safe from infectious diseases. At best, these issues can be a major distraction to learning. At worst, they can be deadly. What are your thoughts on the needs and strategies to keep students safe at school?

Edmond: Communication is key. I think some of the programs, initiatives and steps that we currently have in place are right on target. You may be aware that Sheriff (Bob) Gualtieri serves on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Commission, and several laws have passed that we must implement as a School Board and as a school district, and we are doing that.

We most recently held a workshop regarding things that we can’t talk about publicly as it relates to the safety measures in place. And again, I think it’s important that people understand that there are laws that the district has to follow to ensure safety. And there are other steps that we’ve taken just to take the initiative to increase our safety efforts.

Most recently, we improved the communication system within our schools, police and first responders. We also purchased Safer Watch, which is an app that people can download to their phones as a resource if there ever becomes a need to use it.

Students and staff are practicing drills quite frequently to make sure that they know what to do in case there is an active assailant on campus. And most recently, there was an assailant drill at High Point Elementary where they had multiple law enforcement agencies, school personnel, etc., to practice what they would do if there was an armed person on campus.

Some good information came out of that, including identifying strengths and some things that they would like to improve. I think that’s important. If you don’t practice the drills to see what gaps you have and how you can improve, there’s no way to address gaps or to identify how well you might handle a crisis or a situation like that.

I also think it’s important to acknowledge the great job that students have been doing when they see something or hear something, they’re saying something. They’re able to report it anonymously on the website. They’re also able to call 911 and share their concerns so that law enforcement agencies and school district personnel are able to assess the situation. There are school-based threat assessment teams, also.

And something else that the Board approved within the past two months is approved for the district, they will apply for a grant that will increase the amount of threat assessment staff that we have on campuses. Those are all things heading in the right direction.

Of course, when something happens in another state or right here in Florida, that causes people to rightfully be concerned. And I think it’s important for them to ask questions. That’s how you hold people accountable.

Our children are precious, precious jewels, and our teachers and support professionals are important. Making sure that they are safe is one of my top priorities. It’s important that if people have questions regarding the safety measures in place, that they email the school district where they will be provided information that can be publicly shared.

I would like for people to understand what’s at stake in this election cycle. We can have a Board of informed individuals who care about all children, who are connected to children in education and have the heart to serve. Or we cannot. I think that our school district being deemed a “B” district by the Florida Department of Education, knowing the challenges we face throughout it, says a lot.

As we continue to keep our eye on our goal of ensuring 100% success for all students, we can do that, but we have to have committed, experienced people that care about children to lead the way. I have the experience, I have the knowledge and the passion to continue to serve. So on or before Aug. 23 vote, Caprice Edmond for Pinellas County School Board District 7.

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