O'Neill: Honor Hillsborough teachers at each level
True Teacher Salute As a former teacher, I'm all for what's best for good teachers — from salary, benefits and working conditions to recognition. And I really like the fact that each year Hillsborough County honors one of its own as its "Teacher of the Year." In an age when teaching is less than lionized as a profession, there's never been more of a societal need for occasions and forums to recognize our best. And to remind our communities about what we value besides financial success and pop-culture icons. But with 15,000 teachers in the district, the process of selecting the "best of the best" is certainly daunting. But it could be less so. Note those seven recently named "Teacher of the Year" finalists: three from elementaries, Claywell, Lanier and Mitchell; two from middle schools, Williams and Young; and two from high schools, King and Spoto. Why not at least try, however imperfectly, to compare comparables? Why not three distinct TOTY awards that acknowledge the uniquely inherent differences of each level? Most notably secondary and elementary.Why not grant that one is much more subject-driven? Why not concede the different skill sets necessary to effectively motivate young children, tweens and teens? Why not concede that it's not fair to compare a really good second-grade teacher with a really good 12th-grade physics instructor? Any more than it's reasonable to compare a really good seventh-grade math teacher with a really good high school band and orchestra director. Of course, superior teachers at any level have certain constants in common. Discipline, dedication, creativity, spontaneity and sense of humor come readily to mind. They also earn respect and get results. That's a given. It's also a given that schools never have enough. But those they do have, they want to hang on to and honor. As publicly and hopefully as fairly as possible. Gun policy and Newtown That high-profile quote by Marco Rubio's spokesman, Alex Conant, continues to get play as the national discussion on gun policy ratchets up from Newtown. Conant noted that "Connecticut's gun laws, some of the strictest in the nation, were not able to prevent this atrocity." Two points. First, "strictest" in this context is an unconscionably relative term. Nancy Lanza wasn't restricted from having a small arsenal at home. One that notably included the Bushmaster assault rifle her reclusive, violent video games-obsessed son used to kill her and slaughter 26 others. Arguably, she enabled the mass murders. What would a less "strict" gun law have resulted in? A scene out of "The Untouchables?" Second, laws reflect culture. Mrs. Lanza, to be sure, was a strict believer in that region's zero-sum, "Live Free or Die" existential mantra. The one that's now being revisited by some locals. And let's not forget that the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an uber-influential lobbying group for gun retailers, has its headquarters right across the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School. The juxtaposition from hell. Law school a gem What's not to like about the new Cooley Law School in Riverview? The country's largest law school now has a prominent presence in our region, specifically the repurposed Progressive Insurance call center near I-75 and U.S. 301. It's the first campus outside Cooley's home state of Michigan. They chose here. But more to the point, the ABA-accredited school is known for its atypical inclusiveness — in a (legal) community typically equated with elitism. It markets itself as the flexible alternative to unduly restrictive admission policies. It symbolizes opportunity. More than a quarter of its total enrollment are minorities. But however inclusive, Cooley does prompt one begged question. Does the world's most litigious society really need any more lawyers? New bridge welcome A bridge to somewhere: Amid all the price-tag publicity, and attendant controversy, over the ultimate fate of the Friendship Trail Bridge, the Gandy companion that closed in 2008, there is the steady, relatively under-the-radar work proceeding apace on another bridge spanning Tampa Bay. It's the 3.9-mile one that runs by the Courtney Campbell Causeway. It's for cyclists, joggers and pedestrians and will be completed next year. The $14.6 million project is being covered by the feds in a grant that underwrites certain kinds of enhancements, in this case a new recreational trail along a designated scenic corridor. It's surely pork to some, but an investment in quality of life to those of us who live here — in this tax-donor state. Legal extortion That's the de facto condition faced annually by many homeowners and condo associations along the Bayshore Boulevard Gasparilla Parade route in South Tampa. Think four figures for Smith Fencing property from spectators, not all of them sober, not all of them averse to climbing. That these residents can afford it doesn't change anything.