Kimberly Works makes pitch to parents in bid for Pinellas School Board 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.

Kimberly Works is running for Pinellas County School Board District 6.

Here is our conversation with Works:

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?

Kimberly Works: I’m sure a lot of people can say this, but I am a mother of three graduates. And now, I’m a bonus grandmother of four current students within the Pinellas County schools.

I have been involved since I moved here from Ohio in 2007, but in many different facets. I was a PTA mom at multiple schools within the district, and I also got involved in the school advisory council. So not only did I volunteer as a PTA mom, but I also served on the school advisory council, which handled the fiduciary issues.

So I understand how the financial allotments come down from the county and to each individual school, which I thought was something that was important to understand to be a Board member.

I also became involved in the Exceptional Student Education Committee, which was at the county level, working with the actual department heads of the Exceptional Student Education Department, as both of my sons have autism.

So I was an autism parent representative for four years, and on that committee, we worked with community partners, school principals and behavioral specialists learning about children’s disabilities that pertain to our community and working with curricula. We learned how best to communicate with our community and parents.

How do we reach out to them? How do we discuss what’s going on in the schools? This was a huge part of our role since 15% of our population in our schools are involved in exceptional student education or SC.

I’m also a former trade instructor of almost 30 years, so I’m a big proponent of trade and career as an alternative to college. I think that it’s an excellent idea for our students to understand that they do have alternative school options besides a four-year, eight-year college. And I think it would be a wonderful idea for us to actually expand those trade and career programs and add more.

I’ve been attending the School Board meetings and workshops. Since my candidacy, I’ve been taking time off of my job to go to the workshops and understand the commitment that I would be taking as a School Board member, because I want to understand exactly what the processes are.

In meeting with them, I increased my understanding of what exactly the job is that I’m applying for and how things are done within the School Board. I have really been boots on the ground within the district for years, and I’ve built great relationships within this community.

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

Works: I love our schools. Being involved with the community, joining with the families, has been important to me. And I want to be a part of something bigger than myself. I’m at a place now in my life where my children are all adults. Even my sons, we worked with vocational rehab with the state of Florida, and they’re successfully employed with Sunstar paramedics and Pinellas County schools.

Having the experience of all three of my children being successful in their own lives and now with my grandchildren being involved in the schools, I want to be able to help other children and other families tap into their potential as they are excelling and learning, seeing them reach new heights.

I want all families to know what programs are out there to help students reach their goals and overcome difficulties. As an ESE mom, I would love to be able to communicate with children and families how they can be successful in their own way.

Pinellas County School (employees) say they want 100% student success. And I want that for whatever that means for each of them. But to be able to be on the School Board and communicate that on a higher level than I ever have before would be an extreme honor for me.

It’s not a political agenda for me. It’s not about the money because I would actually be taking a pay cut to take this job. I would resign from my position at my current employer to devote my full-time attention to the Board. So this is not about money or politics. It’s about the love of the schools for me.

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?

Works: One is our teacher shortage, of course. We’re starting the school year with an average of about 250 teacher vacancies. This is how we’re starting the school year,  which is alarming to me.

There has been a lot of talk about why, but I want to make something very clear. It’s not because they don’t want to teach in Pinellas or … some of it is behavioral issues, yes. I attribute a lot of that to COVID and not being able to acclimate socially. That is an issue. However, a lot of it is retirement. A lot of it is teachers moving out of the area. A lot of it is pay structures as we have two different pay structures for teachers. The teacher shortage is a huge, alarming issue for me.

Next, our literacy rates and our school grades, they just came out a couple of weeks ago, and we have six schools that are in grade “D” and one that is failing. We need to get that higher. We did have a lot of schools that increased their grades, but we need to get those literacy rates higher.

We have some schools that are in the 70th percentile of not even being able to read to grade level by grades three and four; that’s just not acceptable. I mean, we need to start teaching our children to read. We need to use our community outreach. We need to work with our parents.

That is something that when I think about that, it blows my mind that our children at the elementary level can’t read. If they’re not learning in the elementary level, that follows them to middle school and into high school, and then they just struggle from there on out. We want them to be successful, so starting younger, even in the VPK ages to see if we can raise those literacy rates, that would be a huge thing for me.

We also need to have better communication with our families, because what happens is when our community and our families don’t feel like they’re receiving communication back, especially from the School Board, it causes frustration and causes stress. They feel like there are nefarious things going on in the background, and that’s not good for anybody. So we need to work on our communication.

I know back when my children were in school, especially in middle school, we would get texts, we would get calls. But now, my daughter and my son-in-law will say, “Hey, this happened to our kid at school. They didn’t even call me.” And that’s a problem.

As a Board member, I would like to do town halls like Mr. Hendricks is doing right now. I think that is absolutely phenomenal. I’m so proud of him for doing that. I would like to do them in school as a Board member. I would like to open up that line of communication with the community. And good, bad or ugly, you know, I may not have all the answers. I can try to get them, but I would still like to open that line of communication where we can talk back and forth.

The School Board meetings, you can go up for 3 minutes, say your piece and leave, but there’s no back and forth where they can actually communicate one-on-one and have that conversation. We need more opportunities for parents and the community to have conversations with the Board.

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

Works: A relationship with the union is important. I have a very good relationship with a lot of the educators. In all honesty, because I have a Facebook group with them, and I do try to communicate with them the best I can, I do know what they care about. I do know what they want.

I want to push for sponsorships where people or companies could sponsor a classroom for $50, $100. I want to implement that to try to get them classroom supplies.

I think that we need to get people to go to Tallahassee and start pushing the Legislature for more money for our teachers. I do know that we have a referendum that just passed on our School Board’s budget. We are working to try to get more money.

A lot of people are saying we should cut back on our budget and other areas to get our teachers paid. We need to run that through our Florida Department of Education. But we really need to push in Tallahassee and say this is what our teachers need because as our inflation goes up in this area, teacher pay is not matching that. And that’s a problem.

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

Works: Because I want what’s best for them. And I know that sounds like I’m their parent, but it’s like, look, I want you to make it. I’m fighting for you. I want what’s best for you. I want you to be happy. I want you to get what you want out of life. And I’m going to fight for you.

And that’s what I tell my kids all the time — I want you to be happy. And if it’s not college, that’s fine. If you want to fix cars, that’s great. If you want to be a vet, fantastic. How do we make it happen? Let’s go get it. And that’s why I’m running for the School Board.

You have to have the passion and drive to serve our students. You have to know something about the schools. I have the experience in many different facets, but helping the students is my focus. What can I do to help you? What do you need? What are your goals? How can I get you there? Who can I call? What programs are available? What forms do you need to complete? What’s the process?

These are the important questions to ask the students — it’s what I ask my own kids. And in my opinion, that’s what these kids are to me. They’re my kids. So the first thing I want to know is: What can I do to help the students get what they want?

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?

Works: I would be one of those busybody School Board people. I would be in the schools, literally in the classrooms. Not because I’m nosy or checking up on a teacher, but I would be present to not just ask but see what teachers and students need.

As part of my commitment as a School Board member, if elected, I’d resign from my job. I wouldn’t care if I was at a different school every week asking, “What do you need?” Because that would just be part of my commitment.

If I want every student to succeed, I’m going to do whatever I must do. Connect with community and business resources, get free vision and eye exams for students, get parental consent and keep the parents involved, cultivate the support the teachers and students need for success by asking the community to get involved.

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 the strategies to keep students safe at school?

Works: As long as we have a student in our schools, there’s a safety issue. Period. And to say otherwise makes you negligent.

Now, I know that when I’m asked about priorities, I may list literacy or communication or teacher retention. And I don’t mean to omit school safety. Because in all honesty, school safety to me is just a given as a critical priority. So when I list other things, it’s to draw a focus on separate issues. I was given these questions you’re asking in advance, so I knew I was going to spend time dedicated to this critical topic.

It’s almost as though, in a way, we are surrogate parents to the students. As a district to a child when they come on our property, we take on a significant amount of responsibility for the students. And we care about them. We don’t want them to get sick. We don’t want them to get hurt. You want to protect them and make them feel safe. But I’m hitting it from a parental voice on the Board.

Parents get upset about the active shooter drills because they say that they don’t want that trauma for my child. So I’m going to ask, “What if we didn’t do it? What’s the alternative if we don’t do it?” That’s how I try to look at a dilemma. To say, “Okay, well, flip that. How would you feel if that was the situation the other way?”

So, if we didn’t do an active shooter drill and something happened at a school while the kids weren’t prepared? Well, we wanted to prepare them. But you didn’t want them to go through the active shooter drill because you didn’t want them traumatized, even though they went home and played the most violent video game that was ever created. You didn’t want them traumatized at school. I’m not trying to be rude. I’m just calling it what it is.

Now, bullying is not new. I mean, kids have been bullying each other since the dawn of time. So bullying is not a new situation. One of my children was bullied in high school, and I was one of the officers of the PTA. Teachers knew me there. I texted one of the teachers, and I said, “This is going on right now in the quad.” And she called me, then went to him. Those relationships can mean a lot.

We have 110 guardians that are in place right now in Pinellas County schools. Guardians are armed. They wear a different colored shirt. They are only at elementary schools and charter schools, which is a program through the Sheriff’s Department.

We do not have them at middle schools and high schools. I think we should. And a lot of the reason why we don’t is because we have school resource officers there. But the thing is, middle schools and high schools, those kids are bigger and more strategic. And it’s usually the students or another young person who are the perpetrators in these situations. The more people trained to protect the schools in the schools, the better. The average response time of police is 5 to 7 minutes, and usually the most damage is done within that time.

And now with the disease thing, this is something that’s been absolutely new for us with COVID. And a lot of people criticize the School Board for how they handled it. But, you know, they didn’t know a better way to handle this pandemic.

I really think the School Board got a bad rap on how they handled a lot of that because they went through School Board meetings that usually take 45 minutes and sat there and listened to people screaming at them on two sides of the coin saying, “We pay your salary. You do what we want. You’re wrong. No, you’re wrong.”

They had protesters showing up at their houses, and they’re all petrified because they’re just trying to do the right thing and follow the law. No one wanted those children sick. No one wanted those teachers sick. Who would want that? Nobody would want that. They all just wanted to do the right thing. But now that the Board has gone through that process, I think that they have a better mentality on how to handle it going forward.

Also on the topic of keeping kids safe at school, I recently found myself in a bit of controversy over being quoted in the Tampa Bay Times on the subject of transgender students using the restroom of their choice at school. I said that I am opposed to it because of the potential for bullying in an area of the school that is least monitored, and my only reason for being opposed is for student safety. I would never want to put a child in a situation where I felt they weren’t safe.

That’s why I said no. It had nothing to do with me denying students who are transgender of their rights, that I didn’t care about how they felt or I wasn’t standing up for students that need a voice. 

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