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State of the Schools breakfast outlines accomplishments and shares new goals

By Staff | May 22, 2017

After a year of change on the administrative side, area schools are expected to become more stable in regards to leadership. It’s the way the students learn that’s going to have to change.

That’s what Lee County School Superintendent Gregory Adkins said to area business leaders and school administrators early Monday at the 26th annual State of Our Schools Partners in Education Breakfast at the Broadway Palm Theater, sponsored by the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools.

The 7 a.m. breakfast gave the foundation a chance to celebrate and thank its numerous sponsors and community partners and to learn what Lee County schools did over the past year and what to expect in years to come.

Adkins said the year started with a lot of movement among administrators, changes that he said made a big difference in the performance of area schools.

“We made over 90 administrative changes last year. This year, it looks like we’ll make very few except for retirements,” Adkins said. “We have a great school board that’s working well as a team and it makes a big difference.”

Adkins believed that a great school starts with great leaders and putting them in the right schools. Adkins put the best leaders in the schools that needed them the most.

“It’s about getting everybody in the right seat of the bus. People have different talents, and my job is to match their talents with the situation,” Adkins said.

In the future, Adkins said the improvements will be in reading math and science.

The event, as usual, had a theme, which this year was Harry Potter. Foundation President Gary Griffin got to play the young wizard, using Harry’s experiences as a vehicle for how the school system should work.

Marshall T. Bower, the foundation’s executive director, played Severus Snape, donning the long wig that Bower doesn’t have in real life and really hating it, and discussed the many things the foundation, celebrating its 30th year, does for schools and students every day.

“We have some stability now with the superintendent and things are falling in line. Our partners are supporting their initiatives and for all intent and purposes things are good,” Bower said.

Bower, who understands the foundation was founded by the business community, also had the job of giving Jeff Ospina, president of the Gulf Coast district of Wells Fargo Bank, the annual Business partner of the year award.

Adkins, dressed as Dumbledore (for a moment), spoke of those in attendance in Potter terms as well.

“There are no Muggles in here, only powerful witches and wizards who perform magic every day to support public education,” said Adkins, who led the system to a 78 percent graduation rate, the best it has had in years, and 88.4 percent in the traditional high schools.

Adkins said the system has come a long way from last year and that he plans to continue that momentum Adkins said. But it’s going to take nerve – something the system has in abundance.

Adkins said by 2020, he wants the school district to be among the top 5 in the state and the No. 1 megadistrict, and everyone in the district has started the ball rolling on that.

The four pillars of that are student achievement, increasing retention of effective employees, family and community engagement, and becoming a model continuous improvement organization, with student achievement being most important, especially at the earliest stages.

“Dumbledore tells us it’s not how a person is born but what they grow up to be. We help students become the best they can become, and that starts in pre-kindergarten,” Adkins said. “Those with quality early education are 50 percent less likely to be placed in special education, 34 percent less likely to be held back, and less likely to drop out.”

Adkins said that is not easy, as state bureaucrats have not done what is in the best interests of students, forcing them to “teach concepts that are a mile wide and an inch deep, that reward teachers not on performance, but on test scores, and that cut educational funding.”

Adkins said he bases decisions on worst-case scenarios, and the decisions made in Tallahassee made things even worse than that, with a reduction in funding, usurping Title I dollars for the neediest children, money sent to for-profit charter schools, and closed-door decisions made at the last minute.

Adkins has countered this with the largest advertising and naming rights public school campaign in the nation. It paid off, with the district raising nearly triple of the $1 million goal.

“With the leadership of the foundation, we’re going to reach or surpass our goal of raising $10 million for our community’s children by 2020,” Adkins said.

Adkins has already set the standards for language arts and this summer will tackle math and a new curriculum to tackle deficiencies.

“As a business owner, if you know your performance was not up to snuff, you would infuse new ideas and turn it around. That’s what we’re doing,” Adkins said. “We looked all over to see what we can bring back to Lee County to help our students achieve.”

Adkins has also started the “Grow Your Own” program that will look to fill teaching positions with home-grown talent so that Lee County residents take up a career without leaving the area with the help of the local universities.

For those not going to college, Students can learn a trade and earn student certification and enter the workforce right out of high school.

To sum it up, Adkins said amazing things are happening in the school district, and it isn’t being done by magic and he left with a quote from J.K. Dowling, the author of Harry Potter

“We don’t need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better. That’s what we’re doing,” Adkins said.