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Tropic Isles Elementary earns the Governor’s Sterling Award

By Staff | May 6, 2009

Gov. Charlie Crist announced that Tropic Isles Elementary School in North Fort Myers has been chosen as a recipient for a prestigious award — the Governor’s Sterling Award.
The distinction is recognized as Florida’s most prestigious award for performance excellence.
For 17 years, the Governor’s Sterling Award has recognized organizations and businesses in Florida that have successfully achieved performance excellence within their management and operations.
According to the Lee County School District, Tropic Isles is the first organization of any kind in Southwest Florida to earn the Governor’s Sterling Award, and is the first elementary school in the state to earn the award since 2006.
Tropic Isles’ accomplishments that helped earn the award include:
n A+ school five consecutive years.
n Increased School Accountability grade point total seven consecutive years.
n 100 percent of all student subgroups meeting No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress four consecutive years — the only Lee County Title I school to do so.
n Highest percentage of teachers who are nationally board certified of all Lee County public schools.
n Named a Glasser Model Quality school in 2006 — one of only 25 in the world.
n Featured in a presentation at the American Society for Quality’s National Quality Education Conference in 2008.
Besides Tropic Isles, three other organizations were picked for the honor. They include The Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department, St. Johns County Health Department and Sunstar Paramedics in Pinellas County.
All will be honored at the Governor’s Sterling Award Banquet at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes on May 29.
“I am honored to recognize this year’s Sterling Award recipients,” said Crist in a prepared statement. “This year’s winners have demonstrated their commitment to improving the way they do business. The process of competing for the award alone encourages organizations to pursue excellence and improve service.”
“It’s actually been a nine-year process for us,” said Tropic Isles Principal and Cape Coral resident Donald Bryant. “We started working with two different types of quality nine years ago, The Glasser Quality and the Sterling Quality model. We’ve been blending them for those years and keep laying layers on.
“The application process actually started last summer, and the 50-page application was due in October,” he continued. “The preparation for that involved a lot of self-study and evaluation among the staff. The examiners came on site, nine of them for a weeklong visit.
“Each day of the site visit they interviewed the entire staff. It then went to another independent panel of Sterling judges, who made recommendations to Gov. Crist. The governor actually selected the recipients,” Bryant said.
He added that it was truly a team effort.
“Every single person on staff, from administrators, teachers, to service workers and custodians, was involved in the process,” Bryant said. “I’m extremely proud of all of them.
“Our goal of getting involved with quality was never to get an award,” he said. “Our goal was always to improve student achievement. Everybody here plays a key role.”
Bryant said part of the reason for the success is the school’s staff base.
“Everyone stays with us,” he said. “We have zero staff mobility. We hire and maintain staff members.”
The unofficial motto of the school is “Our kids are worth whatever it takes” — a sentiment Bryant takes to heart.
He said the shool would not have been able to achieve the award without the support of the school board.
“They allowed us to forge our own path,” he said.
Bryant called a special meeting to announce to the staff that they had won the award.
Second-grade teacher Dacia Webb talked about the interviews with Sterling examiners.
“We all showed exactly what we knew, for example, how we used data to track student progress,” she said.
Webb said they asked class-specific questions in her interview.
“They asked what I did with my students in the beginning of the year, and how I tracked them throughout the year to track growth, and how I modify what I’m doing on the way to have the growth by the end of the school year,” she said.
“We were really prepared,” Webb added. “We did everything we could to be 100 percent on our game.
“I had tears in my eyes and we were all cheering,” she said, referring to when they heard the news of the award. “It felt like a job well done.”
School counselor Andrew Whitbred III agreed with Bryant that the award was a long time in the making.
They had done a Sterling Challenge several years ago, and he noted that the Glasser Model Quality distinction the school has earned, putting it in the ranks of one of only 25 in the world that has that distinction.
“I cannot tell you how thrilled and proud I am of the work going on at Tropic Isles Elementary,” said Superintendent Dr. James Browder in a prepared statement. “They have really been a model for schools across America to follow, and this honor validates the tremendous strides they have made across the board.”
Being chosen for the award is a lengthy and detailed process. Besides a lengthy review of applications, a team of examiners from the Florida Sterling Council conducts five- to six-day-long site visits, including interviewing staff at all levels within the organization.
Their findings deem recipients as role model organizations.