Lisa Cane emphasizes ‘transformative power of arts and humanities’ in Pinellas School Board bid

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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.

Lisa Cane is running for Pinellas County School Board District 2 at large.

Here is our conversation with Cane:

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?

Lisa Cane: Thank you so much. I’m really glad that you asked that. I think I bring to the Pinellas County School Board a very different perspective.

I am a business owner in our community, so I understand things from a business perspective, from a community perspective. I’m a community art teacher. That is what I do with my business. I own the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Academy, where I am also a teacher. So I’m a teacher in the community. I’m a business owner. I’m also a mom of four kids, and I’ve been teaching in the community for over 15 years.

I’ve taught over 800 students in Pinellas County in my time with my own performing arts academy, where I teach musical theater to students ages 5 to 18.

I think that this perspective brings with it a lot of dimensions, because I am speaking with students of all ages from different grade levels and from different areas of our county on a constant basis, not only them but their parents as well, to know how things are shaking out in the classroom, how are things shaking out with our students specifically and being on the ground that way. It helps me to see and hear and understand what’s going well and what we can work on.

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

Cane: I ran originally in 2018 wanting to increase our services, education and also our arts education. And for me, arts education is still my No. 1 platform as an arts teacher.

I’ve seen with my own eyes the transformative power of arts and humanities education. And what I see in Pinellas schools is we have incredible high school programs. I really want to see us work on expanding those down to the middle school and elementary school levels as we’re working on closing achievement gaps and we’re working on trying to increase student achievement.

It’s been proven by organizations throughout the county with statistics that show how arts education improves our brain function and improves student performance in every academic area. So, while math and science may not seem related, they are in the sense that arts education helps students to do better in those subjects as well.

So increasing the availability of those subjects in middle school and elementary is absolutely vital to our success as a district and our success within our school system.

I also want to see the expansion of our career technical programs, because while we do want to see an increase in our academic performance, there are a lot of students who, post-high school, would like to go into the career field right away.

Exposing them to different careers that are available to them locally, helping them to attain certifications or go through program training before they exit high school is a wonderful opportunity for them. We want them to go out into the world and be productive citizens, and whether they choose to go to college or they don’t choose to go to college and they want to just enter a career field or possibly even do both, they should have clear pathways to do that.

I think that we can continue to expand those programs within Pinellas County and different areas of our district.

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?

Cane: I think the No. 1 issue that we’re looking at currently is the educational gap that we’re seeing largely as a result of the pandemic. There is a 2% learning loss countywide, and that’s not specific per grade.

Some grades were disproportionately affected more than others — in particular, the younger grades were impacted. When we went to digital learning, they lost a piece of learning that they just didn’t get not being in the classroom.

So, we have to really put our focus on those grades that went through that specifically, and that might have an even larger educational gap when we examine it individually. That’s the first thing that needs to be addressed going in.

This year was a recovery year, but as we go into next year, I know our standards are experiencing more normalcy. We need to look at how we can help those students increase literacy and increase math and science scores, and that’s doubly true in the younger grades.

So another top priority for Pinellas County schools needs to be early education and early literacy, K through third grades particularly, and going into the next couple of years this should be a particular focus.

Additionally, I think there is a huge call in the community to take a deeper look at school security and safety as well. There’s a lot going on in our nation. There are a lot of fears. And I think that Pinellas schools are doing much to curtail that locally.

We have a lot of preventative procedures in place. Much has been done over the last couple of years due to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act in the state of Florida, and our partnership with our local Sheriff’s Department is very, very strong. So, when it comes to outward threats, we have a lot of procedures in place to address security issues.

Moving forward, we’re going to be looking at health procedures as well. The pandemic taught us a lot about our health safety for students. That’s a multifaceted issue that we need to look at from different angles.

One thing I would like to see us address in regards to public school safety is making sure that our schools are hardened and really making sure we have the right equipment in all the schools and not just the larger schools, but even in the small schools, even your small neighborhood elementary school.

We need to really take a look at all the safety procedures in place for the students because that’s a top priority. I believe that all parents feel the same when you drop your kid off at school. You don’t want to have to worry about things like safety and security.

I know that as a mom, when I’ve watched the news lately, there’s been some times when it still scares me even though they are happening in a different state. We need to make sure parents are involved and that they understand what our procedures are and how we’re going about that in our schools and with our drills with students.

Being transparent about the information that should be public will help instill a sense of calm for parents knowing that the schools are doing all they can to keep their children safe.

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

Cane: That’s a great question. I think teachers are the heart of our school. They make up the front line with the parents to help students succeed. We need to incentivize our teachers and make them feel the dedicated work we’re doing to improve the culture of schools in valuing its educators.

Something our new Superintendent said in his interview was that, in regard to the teacher shortage, our teachers leaving the profession, he said, and I’m paraphrasing: Teachers don’t leave a job teaching just because of money, although that matters, because most teachers went into teaching because they love their kids and love students. They left because of a situation. And that’s a cultural issue within the school system.

We need to remember that teachers are being asked to do a lot, and the more we ask of them, what we’re putting on their plates, the harder their job becomes.

When it comes to all of the safety procedures, plus the educational standards and asking them to reach out to the community — they’re doing so much every day and giving so much already. We need to make sure we’re taking care of them and we’re taking care of their culture, whether that is through looking at competitive pay rates and being careful with their time, that’s our responsibility.

As a business owner, I know that’s a big part of hiring — making sure that you are being competitive with what you’re offering, but also providing a culture where your people know that they are needed, and they feel how important they are in the lives of every child that they teach. They need to know that their employers understand this and support them in it.

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

Cane: If students could vote, I hope they would know that I have their successful future in mind with every single vote. Students are the reason why we do this. Students are the reason why I’m here. I want to make sure their future is a success no matter what path they decide to take. That is what I think about every day.

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

Cane: One of the roles the School Board can add, and does to a certain degree address, is our hiring model in regards to the student-teacher ratio. I think that’s a way to affect students who have specific needs because oftentimes there are students who might need additional attention and support in the classroom.

And that’s something that the School Board can make a great impact on: identifying where those needs are in our district and making sure that we have ample support in place for those students along with enough resources to support the teachers in that classroom.

Those needs change year to year. It changes season to season sometimes. So that’s something that we have to keep on top of all the time. As students move throughout the county or move in and out of the county and classrooms adjust and change each year, we should stay on top of the needs in different schools and classrooms in real-time.

So performance gaps, I think, happen often when students who need additional time with the teacher, additional tutoring or help, may or may not be getting the individual help that they need in the classroom when we lack the resources to give the students and teachers the specific support they require.

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?

Cane: That is a big question. It’s a very big question. But I think there is a lot that we can do and that we can be doing in the future in order to keep the students safe.

I know I touched a little bit on school safety previously from a violence perspective. I do think that our Sheriff’s Department and our local police departments, they are keeping up with absolutely everything going on in the nation.

As a matter of fact, they did a drill recently for all of our schools and many administrators took part in that throughout the county to learn how to deal with an outward threat should something occur on their campus. This drill demonstrated how they might deal with that. So, we do have training in place for that, and we have drills in place for students for things like that as well.

A completely separate issue is the bullying and disruptive behavior in the classroom. We’re seeing an uptick in Pinellas of some of this disruptive behavior, and we’re also seeing a simultaneous uptick in the mental health crisis in our community. In large part, we’re seeing the fallout of some of the effects of the pandemic with our students through this lens, too.

We need to keep that in mind as adults making sure we are providing the help that they need in these situations because with disruptive behavior, usually there’s a reason behind the acting out. We need to look for the root causes as the adults in the classroom and make sure that we’re getting these students the help that they need.

Sometimes a remedy is removing them from their normal classroom and taking them to a smaller environment so they can focus and learn easier. If there is a disruptive thing going on in the classroom, because I know we’ve all had students in there and there might be another student who’s going through a lot, we need to be sensitive to that versus jumping to punitive interventions with no other support given.

These students have been through a lot and could be going through a lot at home, and we need to make sure that we are providing mental health services to them not just serving consequences, although that is also needed at times.

We have a mental health initiative in Pinellas that is pretty extensive as we’re going into the new year, because this is something that Pinellas Schools has recognized as an increasingly critical issue right now. There is a plan unfolding to have these services in place, and I think we need to continue to look for ways to handle those negative behaviors.

I really do think that bullying oftentimes comes when we are not upholding our culture of respect for teachers and students alike. That’s a big one, making sure our schools’ culture from administrators all the way down to the classroom, teachers and individual students, we are upholding our own standard of respect by demonstrating our respect for others in every aspect of the schools.

For most students, I find that if you upheld the standard in their environment, they meet that standard. So, we need to make sure that from the School Board down to all staff and teachers, we operate with a high standard of respect. Likewise, we need to ensure that teachers understand how to keep that standard high in the classroom when they interact with students and see students interacting with one another.   

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