Candidate: School District Needs More Accountability
Terry Kemple is challenging longtime school board member Carol Kurdell.
He's a grandfather, a Christian and an American.
As such, Terry Kemple said he's very much concerned about the future of children, especially when it comes to their education.
And watching the Hillsborough County School Board at work over the years has only heightened his concern, prompting him to run for election to the school board.
This is Kemple's second bid to fill a school board seat. Two years ago, he ran for the District 6 seat and was defeated by April Griffin. This year he's taking on longtime school board member Carol Kurdell for the countywide District 7 seat. The two are in a runoff for the seat, which will be decided in the General Election Nov. 6.
Growing up in the central New Jersey area, Kemple attended the U.S. Naval Academy and Newark College of Engineering. He moved to Brandon in 1982 after accepting a sales job. Shortly after, he launched his own computer business.
In the meantime, something happened to transform Kemple's life and focus him in a new direction.
"In 1986, I attended a revival at a church in Jacksonville," said Kemple. "It changed my life. I established a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and I've now been an active member of Bell Shoals Baptist Church for 26 years."
He began working in Christian services full time in 2000, serving as executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, executive director of Right to Life and, most recently, he and his wife, Shirley, founded the Community Issues Council.
Kemple said his grandchildren are the impetus for his run for school board. Three of his grandchildren graduated from Hillsborough County schools and four are currently students in Hillsborough County schools.
"All of my children and grandchildren have been in or will go through public schools," said Kemple.
And Kemple hasn't been pleased with everything he's seen taking place in the Hillsborough County School District.
"I see our school system failing an awful lot of our students," he said. "Students are the future of our country. I want to do what I can to initiate changes that will, over time, correct some of the problems."
Foremost on his agenda is the county's graduation rate.
"Thirty-two percent of students who enter Hillsborough County schools don't graduate," he said. "That's evidence of a problem."
Of those who do graduate, 30 percent need remedial help in math, science or English to do college-level work, he said.
"And those who aren't college bound, which is a big chunk, don't do well in school and we don't offer the programs needed to prepare them for the workforce," he said. "We should be serving all of our students, not just some. The mission of the school district is to prepare all students for a successful future."
Kemple believes the district should offer more technical training for students who do not plan to attend college so they can enter the workforce immediately after graduation.
"There needs to be a more robust focus on career and technical education in which the district collaborates with local industry to plan curriculum," he said.
The school board candidate said he's equally concerned about the status of teachers in the school district.
He said the school district's Empowering Effective Teachers program, funded through a grant from the Gates Foundation, "has been an abysmal failure."
The Gates Foundation committed $100 million over seven years to the school district for the initiative.
The district is using the funds for a new-teacher induction program that includes mentoring; to improve the teacher and principal evaluation systems; to enhance the professional development system; to provide effective incentives for teachers who work with the students with the greatest needs; and to improve the school district's compensation plan.
While they sound like noble goals, Kemple said the teachers he's interviewed aren't happy.
He said they're concerned because they have peers evaluating them who don't understand the subject matter and the system requires extra paperwork and time.
"One teacher with 25 years of experience told me she was being rated by a teacher with just two years of experience," said Kemple. "Talk to any teacher and ask about morale, and they will tell you the peer evaluation part of the program has dampened enthusiasm. The exception is new teachers who seem to like the mentoring component. Most teachers want to be accountable but they're demoralized by the system they work in."
In the meantime, Kemple said the school district has created a $30 million bureaucracy to administer the Empowering Effective Teachers program.
"We've got $15 million a year from the Gates Foundation and we're spending $30 million a year to administer it," said Kemple. "Where is the other $15 million coming from? The entire budget process is clouded with obscurity."
Kemple also is dismayed by the lack of parental involvement in the schools. However, he points the finger at the school system, not the parents.
"I've knocked on a lot of doors," he said. "And not one parent said they don't want to be involved in their child's education. But, when they try to get involved, they are rebuffed by the schools. It's not brain surgery. Just provide steps for parents who don't know how to get involved."
Out of frustration, parents are turning to alternative education choices, he said.
"I think this is the reason there's been such growth in homeschooling, private schools and charter schools," he said. "We need to do what we can to revitalize the public school system and regain our position as a world leader."
Kemple has been a familiar fixture at school board meetings for several years, questioning the board's decisions on controverial matters including making Good Friday a public school holiday, prohibiting the Council on American-Islamic Relations from speaking to students in the classroom and informing parents when students join activities such as the Gay-Straight Alliances at public high schools.
While he says those topics have garnered a lot of media attention, it's the more mundane school board duties, such as making sound budget decisions, that deserve the board's attention.
"The budget deserves more scrutiny, and that requires an understanding of business," said Kemple. "The school board needs to be accountable. We have to have some expectations so results can be measured."
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