He has Faith in the Future of Schools

He has Faith in the Future of Schools

By Sarah Whitman/ Tampa Bay Faith

Pasco County native Joshua Stringfellow grew up witnessing the hard work his mother put into her job as a teacher. He sees the same dedication in his wife, Rebekah, who has taught in Pasco County Schools for more than seven years. Educators go above and beyond, he says.

Joshua Stringfellow, who was born in New Port Richey and now resides in Land O’ Lakes, spent six years himself working in the District’s finance department. He is running for Pasco County School Board District ‘To bring a new voice to the board that makes teachers voices heard,’ he says.

I asked Stringfellow what changes he will work to implement if elected and how his lifelong Christian faith impacts his daily decisions.

What inspired you to become involved in education?

As an economist, I view education as important to so many aspects of society.  Our teachers have such a tremendous, positive effect on the students they teach.  There is no better opportunity to impact society in a positive way than by supporting a stronger and more equitable education system.

What positions have you held within the school district and what did they entail?

During my time in the Pasco School District’s Finance Services office I worked mostly as an Accounting/Senior manager.  I oversaw all aspects of the District’s financial reporting.  As a result of this, I understand well the financial aspects of our school system and can ask the right questions to ensure the board better understands the financial decisions it makes.  I also had the opportunity to lead projects like the Student Fee Management System implementation a few years back.  I enjoyed this project because it gave me the opportunity to visit so many of our great schools and work directly with hundreds of our teachers who do so much for our students.

Why are you running for the school board?

I believe that I can bring much needed knowledge to the school board to make sure we are asking the right questions of our administration and promoting the right concepts moving forward.  Pasco County continues to lag behind our peers in Florida in areas such as learning gains for our lowest performing students and in giving our high school students the opportunity to experience college level coursework before graduation.  My understanding of education, economics and the District’s financial management will allow me to bring fresh ideas that are feasible and that work.

What are your thoughts on reopening plans for schools in the fall?

Schools need to reopen this Fall.  I am glad that the governor has given schools in Florida the directive to do so.  Some parents will choose options that keep their students at home for first semester and that is good.  But many parents want and need schools to be open this fall in a safe and responsible way. 

First off, schools need to focus on any and all opportunities to social distance students.  While much of the traditional school environment, like much of life, is not designed for social distancing, we must change the model for this fall so that we social distance where possible.  Additionally, much discussion has taken place in the last few weeks about whether to require all students and staff to wear masks when returning this fall.  Whether Pasco County Schools strongly suggests masks or officially mandates their use, they need to be prepared to provide masks to all students and staff willing and able to participate.

What role does your faith play in your decision making?

As a Christian who has attended First Baptist Church of New Port Richey since a young child, my faith is very important in my life.  In today’s world for a Christian, decisions sometimes seem to compete between the desire to uphold Christian morals and the need to show love and kindness.  I am always one to press for another option and to look at the issue from a different angle.  While I cannot and will not force my Christian views on others who do not accept them through policy or otherwise, I will not settle for any outcome that does not show the love of Jesus in my decision.  I expect that my faith will lead me to push for outcomes that increase parent choice and involvement and that increase the equity of opportunities especially for high-poverty students to find success in life through a better education.

This is a stressful time to be in education, what keeps you going?

Seeing the good work of our front line teachers is what motivates me.  We have so many teachers that work hard all year long to help make sure the students whom they teach are given any opportunity they can provide.  I am running for this office to help make common sense changes that will make their work less stressful and provide more reasonable working conditions.

What are a few things you think are working great within Pasco County Schools?

Technical Programs – Pasco County Schools has done well at expanding technical course offerings from aeronautics labs to high school career academies to Wendell Krinn Technical High School and Marchman Technical College.

Food and Nutrition Services – Pasco County Schools FNS program does incredible work feeding the children of Pasco County.  They take every opportunity to expand services and show creativity when needed to meet this essential need.

Early Childhood Programs – Pasco County Schools’ ECPs do a great job preparing students for entry into Kindergarten.  The district could benefit greatly from investing more into these programs to help our students start their education on the right foot.

The school district is full of highly skilled leaders and teachers who give their all for our students.  I am running to help them meet their objectives by focusing the district on its core needs.

Where do you see a need for improvement?

There are four focus areas in my campaign, three of which are where I see room for considerable improvement. 

We need to do a better job of supporting our teachers by making it easier for them to take the time off they need and to ensure that they will have proper guest teacher coverage while out. 

We need to streamline student testing by removing testing that does not help teachers assess their students’ performance and allocate more time back to instruction and learning. 

We need to provide students with better access to opportunities to experience the next level of education before they are officially there.  For example, based on the most recent school grades, only 47% of high school graduates had earned a college credit before graduation.  This ranks Pasco County 57th out of 67 school districts in Florida in this area.  With one of the best state colleges in PHSC here in Pasco County, there is no reason not to have more students with college experience while in high school. 

All three of these focus areas for improvement rely on the first and we must find solutions to these issues while maintaining strong financial management.

What advice would you give a parent facing this coming school year?

Do what is right for your family.  Talk to your child about what to expect before August.  If your child is back on campus this fall, encourage your child to follow social distancing wherever possible and to follow all school requirements even if you do not agree with every decision.

For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/Stringfellow4SchoolBoard/?ref=page_internal.