Voters have two excellent choices for the District 7 seat on the Polk County School Board in the Aug. 26 election.
Tim Harris, the incumbent, is seeking his third term on the board.
His opponent is Lisa Bone Miller, who has been active in Exceptional Student Education (ESE) programs.
Both have experience as classroom teachers: Harris for 19 years, Miller for three.
Both have well-reasoned approaches to the problem of campus discipline.
The clear difference between them is leadership styles.
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Harris follows the more traditional school board approach of being an oversight organization, much like the boards he has served on for the Salvation Army, Lakeland Regional Medical Center, and Credit Union Directors Association, among others.
He is vice president of the Florida School Boards Association, and a member of Polk Vision Leadership Class VI and the Lakeland Chamber’s Leadership Lakeland Class XXVI.
Following his 19 years in the classroom, he was a contract administrator in the school district’s facilities division from 1995 to 1998, after which he spent eight years designing and coordinating surveys which tracked the activities of graduates of Polk County schools.
He points with pride at the academies program in Polk high schools that gives students an exposure to more than 30 career fields.
He sees the biggest needs of the school system as parental and community involvement in students’ lives, which he believes to be the key to increasing graduation rates.
He urges “continuous conversation” on discipline issues, and consistent discipline policies throughout all schools in the county.
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Miller promises a “hands-on approach” if elected, saying school board members should not be limited to what she calls an advisory role.
She said there is “a disconnect between the district office and the schools.” She says there needs to be better communication between the district and the teachers, and that would be one of her first orders of business as a board member.
She says teachers need increased support, and calls for more community involvement in schools.
She urges “more effective discipline,” including more in-school suspension programs which keep unruly students on the campus while removing them from conventional classrooms and extracurricular activities. (The number of ISS programs in Polk schools was reduced in an economy drive.)
Despite her special interest in the ESE program for special needs students, she says the schools are too quick to label youngsters as ESE.
We suspect her belief in what changes she could bring about in her “hands-on approach” may be unrealistically high, but we cannot fault her for her enthusiasm. Her passion for bringing about improvement is impossible to ignore.
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Harris, the incumbent, brings to the board a wealth of experience in education at both the classroom and district office levels, along with an impressive resumé of community leadership.
Miller promises to apply her passion for change in education with a somewhat unconventional (for board members) commitment to hands-on involvement.
Either is capable of doing an excellent job.
In our judgment, the experience that Tim Harris brings to the table makes him the better choice, and we recommend his re-election to the voters.