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State of the Schools: Go for the Gold and push for success

By Staff | May 26, 2012

The 21st annual State of Our Schools Address breakfast was held Friday morning to share the challenges and success the Lee County School District has had this past year with the business community.

Before Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke spoke, The Foundation for Lee County Public School’s president Robbie Roepstorff shared some highlights about the foundation.

She said this past year they implemented STEM at Work, which is a partnership among the foundation, district and local businesses to promote knowledge and career opportunities to the students.

“The program began with a $2,000 grant from AT&T,” Roepstorff said.

As a result, seven schools were impacted, along with more than 400 students because 17 local businesses stepped up and contributed.

She also told the crowd that a $60,000 grant helped them begin a strategic anti-bullying campaign to address the serious problem, which is a two-year project.

Roepstorff also shared a new program that will begin during the 2012-2013 school year for the students and community.

The first program, S.T.A.M.P. (Student Advocacy and Mentoring Program) is a new program that has a similar concept of Take Stock in Children, which helps at-risk and low-income students. The program will provide mentors, resources and monitoring of progress for the students.

Roepstorff said S.T.A.M.P. will ensure that the students who are not accepted for the Take Stock in Children program, due to limited funding, will still have the opportunity to graduate from high school through the resources offered through the new program.

A Principal of the Day program also will be introduced to business leaders, to give them the opportunity to be in the classroom for a day.

The theme of this year’s breakfast was “Go for the Gold,” due to the summer Olympics taking place this year. Burke walked on stage with an Olympic torch that students from the district helped create.

“It is a great honor for me to address all of you today and share the many things that are happening in the school district,” Burke said after he thanked the crowd for attending.

He told the crowd that although he has been in the district for 11 months, he knew within the first 11 minutes how dedicated the staff of the Lee County School District is in helping its students.

“They are very committed to our mission and understand the Olympic spirit for pushing for success,” Burke said.

His presentation addressed how the landscape of public education is changing drastically.

“We are in the midst of this rapidly changing landscape,” Burke said, adding that the principals are leading the effort in every school in Lee County every day to meet those challenges. “They are doing a wonderful job, and we are extremely proud of them.”

With the challenging landscape, Burke said a change that will be brought before the board to be voted on in July would change the required grade level for the math course, algebra one, from ninth grade to eighth grade.

“We need to push the envelop and raise the bar to have them prepared for the common core standards,” Burke said.

Right now the students are tested with FCAT 2.0.

“The FCAT 2.0 is an academic bridge to the common core standards that are coming in the next three years,” he said.

The common core standards will test students at a higher level.

Burke said the standards will test the students on their ability of reading informational text and how well they understand it, interpret it and how they are able to talk about what they read.

“Reading informational text is going to be the new challenge,” he said.

The crowd was also informed on the results the district has received for the FCAT 2.0, which Burke said is a more challenging test for reading, math and science.

“In the middle of the year the State Board of Education voted to change the cut scores, so the level to pass was raised to a new height,” he said. “Level 3 moved the most and that, of course, is the threshold for the passing level on the FCAT test.”

Burke said although changing the rules in the middle of the game becomes very difficult, he understands that increasing academic rigor is a good and necessary thing for the students when competing in a global marketplace. He said that they are competing in a global economy, which includes a variety of countries that are paying serious attention to the education of their students.

Lee’s third grade students out performed the students in the state of Florida, Burke told the crowd. He said the reading scores for the district was 3 percent higher than the state and 5 percent higher in the state for math.

Burke went on to say that the district tied first place among the nine largest school districts in Florida for math and second among those nine largest districts for reading.

Burke said 2012 is a new benchmark year for all testing in the state of Florida because of the new cut scores and tests. He said the scores will be the new foundation of performance to measure the way looking forward.

The budget was also addressed during Burke’s presentation.

He said they have to reduce the budget by $15 million, which is far less that what the district had to cut last year. He said the funding levels have fallen back to the 2008 level, which does not accommodate more students and employees, two new schools and unfunded mandates for next year’s school year.

Burke said when building their budget they will look at fundamental obligations – is it necessary and if so, can it be done in a different way to reduce costs.

“We do know that we are facing some real challenges to keep each service at the same level as in the past,” he said.

Teacher quality and retention was also addressed Friday morning.

Burke said over the last five years they have lost 47 percent of their new teachers, which is a loss of talent, stability, resources and money.

“To lose 47 percent of the new people we bring in over a five-year period is a compelling issue that we have to pay close attention to,” he said. “We have to have a system that encourages our best and brightest teachers to stay in the classroom.”