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00000174-121d-d47e-a1f7-523d2c950000 WUSF News regularly collaborates with University of South Florida journalism classes in Tampa and St. Petersburg, providing students an opportunity to share their work with the greater Tampa Bay area.Some of the projects have included:“Past Plates” - a podcast and written stories produced in Spring 2017 that look into people’s memories and traditions related to food, food culture and food business in south St. Petersburg. In fall 2016, students profiled candidates running for Tampa Bay area elected offices. They were produced as part of the USF Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications' Advanced Reporting or Public Affairs classes; and as part of the Media and Elections class at USF St. Petersburg’s Journalism and Mass Communications Department.In 2015, WUSF journalists joined the USFSP Neighborhood News Bureau in creating oral histories of residents of St. Petersburg's historic Midtown neighborhood. That work was featured on WUSF's Florida Matters public affairs show.

Elections 2016: Florida Senate District 22 Candidate Debra Wright

Debra Wright

Former principal and Lakeland native Debra S. Wright is focusing the bulk of her campaign in Senate District 22 on fixing Florida’s education system, from kindergarten to college.

“We are not doing anything to bring in new teachers, nor are we doing anything to keep them,” Wright says. “Something has to change or society will have to pay for it.”

Age: 63 Education:(B.A.) Florida Memorial University, (M.S.) Rollins College Occupation:Retired teacher and school principal Political experience:Member, Polk County School Board, District 6 (2013)

Wright, a Democrat, is running for the District 22 seat, a newly drawn district that now includes Lakeland, Winter Haven, Eagle Lake, Dundee, Lake Hamilton, Davenport, Lake Alfred, Polk City and Haines City. It also extends into the southern end of Lake County. She faces Republican incumbent Sen. Kelli Stargel.

For 40 years, Wright has been immersed in the public school system, starting as a teacher, then becoming an assistant principal for three years. She was being promoted to principal at Winston Elementary School in Lakeland, where she worked for 11 years. In 2005, Wright moved to Broward County, where she worked as a principal on special assignment (K-12) for two years. In Broward County, Wright says she focused on helping change failing schools, teaching them to take control of their education and earn better grades. After that, she moved into politics, becoming the vice chairman of the Polk County School Board, for District 6, from 2010 to 2014.

Wright says her campaign focuses on extending early childhood education, affordable college education, recruiting and retaining qualified teachers, restoring the special education diploma, more local control of education, an increase in wireless hubs, responsible development, and retaining skilled and technological jobs.

Being from a generation that isn’t used to the growing speed of technology Wright says she wants to help older workers adjust in the all online transition. In the instance of workers’ compensation, she admits the transition to all online forms was “too quick” for those who are untrained to the new system.

“Many of the people that are looking for jobs or looking for aid, are people who are not from the millennial age,” Wright says. “They are not as tech savvy as they need to be.”

Wright has 10 endorsements from groups such as Florida Education Association, and says she believes that endorsements need to be carefully sought out. She says her endorsers are aligned with the ideals of her campaign because they can have an influence on the campaign. 

Resident Thomas Lentz says he was excited to hear that Wright was running for a senate seat. Lentz worked in Polk County public schools while Wright was on the school board.

“She is pro-education and always a friend of students, educators and organized labor when she was on the school board,” Lentz says. “I know she isn’t afraid to speak her mind and ask the hard questions. She will be an advocate for her constituents.”

Courtney Ferrante is a student journalist attending the University of South Florida Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications. This story was produced as part of the school’s Advanced Reporting or Public Affairs class this semester, under the leadership of instructors Wayne Garcia and Wendy Whitt.

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