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‘A Bridge to the Future’ School officials share successes, outline goals

By Staff | Jun 4, 2011

The goal of the new school superintendent of Lee County is to make every child successful.
Dr. Joseph Burke’s comments were among those shared Friday at the annual State of Our Schools Partners in Education breakfast, sponsored by the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools.
The affair attracted many business leaders, principals and district staff Friday morning to hear about this year’s theme “A Bridge to the Future.”
The lights were dimmed as smoke and music played as the new superintendent took the stage Friday morning. His contract was approved at a meeting the school district had Thursday.
Burke told the crowd that he wanted to thank Dr. Lawrence Tihen for the marvelous job the interim superintendent had done in the last six months.
“It is really a unique pleasure for me to become a part of the leadership team in Lee County … they are at the front edge of their work,” Burke said.
He said the foundation that has been established in the Lee County School District is also remarkable.
“You just don’t know what a marvelous opportunity it is for me to have a foundation of those bridges already well in place,” Burke said about the wonderful circumstances he is entering into as a superintendent.
He asked the parents, support groups, sponsors, business community leaders, teachers and administrators to think of bridges of success for every student.
“I want to continue to close that gap that has already been closed significantly,” Burke said of the district’s accomplishments concerning minority students. “To make sure that every student is successful. It is a thought we should have in our minds, so we can have all of our students where we want them to be.”
Before Tihen gave a presentation about the district’s success, two business recognition awards were presented by Marshall Bower, the president and CEO of the Foundation for Lee County Public School for the support they have given to the foundation.
The first recognition was provided to Margaret Antonier, the president of Miromar Development, due to her involvement of bringing Dancing Classrooms to the Lee County School District in 2008. The program helped 531 fifth grade students in 21 classrooms this year.
Bower said because of the students’ involvement in the program, their behavior and grades have improved.
“As much as I initially embraced dancing classrooms, it has gone way beyond what I expected,” Antonier said. “I am just so touched.”
She said the most touching thing about the program is to see the faces of the students and parents.
The second business recognition award went to Robbie Roepstorff, president of Edison National Bank and Bank of the Islands, due to her monetary support of $50,000 for Take Stock in Children.
“I am so humbled,” Roepstorff said.
Tihen began his presentation by telling the audience that it was an honor to be able to share what the school district has accomplished.
“I think we are something special,” he said.
The growth of the school district is slowly increasing again, Tihen said, due to the construction of an elementary and middle school in the East Zone next year. He said some years the district has grown by up to 6,000 students, which required the construction of two to three new schools a year.
“We have 98 languages from 106 countries,” he said about the population of more than 82,000 students. “We have a very culturally diverse population.”
With the many languages, Tihen said the school district also has diverse educational needs.
“What we have tried to do is build a flexible and powerful program,” he said, which includes the district designing the schools around the students’ needs.
Tihen also said that the Lee County School District has 86 percent of its schools ranked as either an A or B school. He said they are the only large district in the state of Florida that does not have D or F schools.
“I am very proud of our schools and what we have accomplished,” Tihen said. “We will continue to improve.”
The district also has the highest performance rate for the reading and math FCAT scores as well in the state of Florida.
The graduation rate of 80.3 percent, Tihen said is the highest rate in the history of the district.
Other student achievement stories Tihen shared with the audience included how many high school students take advanced classes. He said the district has a 44 percent participation rate of high school students, which has doubled in two years.
“I am very pleased about our direction for our school district,” Tihen said.
The school district’s gap between minority and non-minority achievement has experienced a decrease, another accomplishment Tihen was pleased with sharing. He said eight years ago 53 percent of minority students in the district were performing on their grade level. Now, that number jumped to 86 percent of minority students performing at their grade level by first grade.
Tihen said they have provided an equal opportunity for all students to succeed.
“We are darn proud of that,” he said.
Next year’s budget was also addressed Friday morning, which Tihen was pleased to announce that the largest reduction in the schools’ history of $48 million will not affect the students in the classroom.
Although the teacher performance pay is a concern of the district, Tihen assured the audience that the staff is not afraid of accountability.
“We are not afraid of accountability, we have that regardless of what you put into place,” he said. “I am very confident we can handle this.”
The breakfast ended as the Ida Baker High School’s marching band flowed into the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre to perform a few songs.