Lee Sierra says he's ready to fully engage as Hillsborough County School Board race approaches

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There's been more focus than ever on fundraising regarding the three Hillsborough County School Board races that will be decided on August 26. Perhaps too much focus, where the best-known candidate in the crowded District 6 race, April Griffin, has raised just $3,000, compared to Dipa Shaw's prodigious tally of $94,942 so far.

But Griffin has by far the best name recognition of the eight candidates in the race. Certainly much more than Lee Sierra, a 32-year-old Tampa native who currently is employed as a commercial real estate agent, and has raised just a hair more than Griffin at $3,540. But he says he's not worried about that disparity.

"We want to focus our resources on this last big push," Sierra told CL last week, saying he's got a "number" of fundraising events scheduled in the next few weeks when (theoretically) interest in the school board races will be at their highest — though, it being the middle of summer, that theory could be questionable.

Sierra disagrees, saying that his travels to meetings in Valrico, Brandon, Plant City, and Sun City Center have shown him that there is great interest in who will be serving the school board, the eighth largest in the country. "I'm impressed to see how many care about the school system and the school board," the South Tampa resident says. "It's good that people are interested."

After reading CL's recent profile of fellow District 6 candidate Stacy Hahn, Sierra wants to emphasize that he too, has experience in the classroom, working as a substitute teacher in 2007 and 2008 in schools throughout the district, including Plant High and Wilson Middle Schools (he's a Plant High grad). That was happening concurrently with his taking night classes at the University of Tampa to obtain his Masters Degree in Business Management. 

Sierra says he's been around education his whole young life, as his mother taught at Coleman Middle and Plant High School before she took a job with the Mendez Foundation working on drug prevention programs. "I'm ready to try to take a stance on recruiting, retaining and then rewarding the teachers," he says. "I think we're losing a lot of great teachers to other industries, but also to private schools."

Regarding the highly publicized friction that has taken place between some board members and superintendent MaryEllen Elia, Sierra specifically cited the case of Griffin giving Elia an  "unsatisfactory” grade in all nine categories on her annual evaluation last fall. "I don't think anyone deserves a zero," he said. "I mean, even teachers need improvement. I don't think teachers get a zero. I think we need more cohesiveness, and I think a couple of school board members would probably agree with that." But he adds that he thinks that leadership from the top could be improved as well. 

Regarding Common Core standards, he believes there's going to be "major obstacles" in grading and assessing test results. "I think there's going to be some major speed bumps with it," he fears, adding, "I'm all for accountability from the students all the way up to the teachers, administration, downtown, bus drivers, everyone, and rewarding successful teachers and faculty and staff and students at every level." 

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