State of Our Schools: Just groovy
School Superintendent James Browder touted graduation rates and academic honors at the 19th annual State of Our Schools Breakfast at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre Friday.
The event, which had a theme of “Peace, Love and Education,” got everyone in the mood of the 1960s, including the superintendent who came dressed in a long curly wig, tie-dye shirt, jeans and clogs.
The event, which was hosted by the Lee County School District and the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, provides Dr. James Browder with an opportunity to share information regarding how Lee County schools are doing, along with the chance to outline his vision and priorities for the district.
The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools is a 501(c) 3 organization that was established in 1986 to enhance and enrich the quality of public education in Lee County for students and educators.
Ken O’Donnell, chairman of the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools kicked off the morning by providing an overview of various highlights the Lee County School District experienced.
He shared that the “Take Stock in Children” program graduated 32 students with scholarships to either a college or university. The classroom grant program received $35,000, which funded 110 projects. Cape Coral High School, which was one of 33 high schools that participated in the A-Team Challenge, won the challenge. The Carson Scholarship program provided 48 $1,000 scholarships to fifth grade students.
Browder then took the stage by first taking the audience through memories of the 60’s, while using such words as “groovy” and “stoked” to share his excitement of where the district has gone since building 17 schools in that decade.
He said the overriding priority for the school district is to ensure that all of the students excel, which was proven with the district’s “A” grade, the first since the state began grading schools and districts.
The district made history for the first time, he said. “We are earning way cool honors.”
Lee County was one of nine districts to experience an academic growth in the last six years, Browder said. When students start attending the Lee County schools, he said they are “well below grade level when they arrive,” but “once the students are in our district their academics soar.”
He went on to share that the high school graduation rate is currently at 77 percent, which is the highest the district has experienced in 10 years. The state average is 76 percent. The dropout rate is lower than the state average by 1 percent.
Browder also addressed free or reduced lunches in Lee County. Seventy percent of students in Lee County now qualify for free or reduced lunch, which Browder said “may only get worse.”
“We send food home for families every Friday,” he said, encouraging the crowd to go home and look in their cupboards and donate whatever they can to the local food bank.
The Lee County School District is the ninth largest in the state of Florida, he said with a population of approximately 80,000 students. Browder said since he became superintendent he has experienced a growth of 17,000 students. Only 146 school district’s in American have 40,000 students.
Lee County currently has 114 schools, 29 of which have been built since 2003 and 19 additions to existing schools to accommodate the large population of students.
Another factor Browder addressed is the school district experiences about a 40 percent mobility rate with the student enrollment, meaning that children move from school to school within the district.
“I don’t want a kid to not have a chance,” he said about the children moving from school to school. It is important to have consistency between schools in the district so the wealth of educational opportunities continue if a move is made, Browder explained.
Before he finished his presentation he discussed the school budget. He said he finds it interesting that the district is “still being funded like we were seven years ago.”
With that said, the district did face a $28 million reduction from the previous year. He said the district also is experiencing the loss of the federal stimulus money.
“How will we deal with another cut,” Browder asked the crowd. “We will make the reductions without hurting students.”
He said he is dedicated to doing whatever it takes so the students can excel.