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State of Our Schools: Instilling brains, heart & courage

By Staff | May 21, 2019

The Broadway Palm Dinner Theater was turned into the Land of Oz last Friday as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion walked down the yellow brick road, touting all the School District of Lee County has done over the calendar year.

The 28th annual “Partners in Education State of our Schools Breakfast,” hosted by The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, saw school district principals attend the program with a business partner they feel has made an impact on their school.

The breakfast also gives an opportunity for Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins to address the businesses community on the progress, accomplishments and vision of the district.

“I think it’s critical,” Adkins said of the relationship between Lee County businesses and schools. “The communities need to be invested in the education of our children. Having our local businesses be a part of that is critically important.”

The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools is a private, 5013 organization whose mission is “to enhance and enrich the quality of public education in Lee County for students and educators through programs, resources, and experiences made possible through corporate, individual, and educational partnerships.”

“Welcome to over the rainbow,” said Marshall Bower, president and CEO of the foundation to attendees.

He, along with Foundation Board Chairman, Gary Griffin, dressed as the Scarecrow and Tin Man respectively, rolled through many of the programs made possible by the foundation over the school year, and what they do to enrich the educational experiences of the 94,000 students in the district.

“A big thank you to our businesses for supporting the district and foundation. We work with businesses like a well oiled machine,” said Griffin, a play on his costume of choice.

Programs and accomplishments touched upon included the Education Resource Center; classroom and school grants — which totaled over $61,000; student focused programs such as “Take Stock in Children,” “Strides for Education 5K” and “STAMP,” — which stands for student advocacy and mentoring program, where more than 2,000 mentoring hours were given to students; “LEAD like a girl,” a female-centric leadership summit to help lead the next generation of empowered women; college and career centers, STEM@Work (science, technology, engineering,math), arts and education and countless others.

“When you’re a student, often you don’t know what’s out there in terms of possibilities for careers and so forth, so some of the things we get here, is we get kids an opportunity to actually shadow, meet, speak to people, so they can really have their eyes open in terms of what the possibilities are,” said Adkins.

“Our STEM@Work program has been really innovative in terms of bringing kids out into the community where our businesses do a hands-on type of program with the students. All of us learn best by doing,” said Bower.

Adkins then delivered his “State of our Schools” speech, where he said that “brains, heart and courage is what we hope to instill in our students every day.”

“I feel really good about the progress we’ve made,” Adkins said about the most recent year in Lee County Schools. “If you look at our academic success over the last three years — our trend data is going up in just about every single area.”

He touted a 82.8 percent district graduation rate, with a 91.2 percent rate in traditional high schools. The class of 2019 graduated 5,300 students, 521 of them — 10 percent — with a weighted GPA of 5.0 or higher.

Adkins, in his speech, quoted Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum, saying, “No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”

Adkins made note of many Lee County students who have acquired that treasure.

YuHan Burgess, a student at Cypress Lake High School, boasts a 5.34 GPA while being a member of athletics, the JROTC program and more.

He recognized three students who were involved in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and detailed how the district was awarded a “highly effective” rating from Advanced Ed, a well-respected non-governmental organization that accredits primary and secondary schools throughout the U.S. and internationally.

“It’s a huge accomplishment. It shows that we are reaching a level of impact and gauging processes that are becoming ingrained in our culture,” said Adkins.

He continued that schools in the district with an A/B average have increased by 9 percent and that the number of D/F schools have shrunk from 23 in 2015, to one in 2019.

Adkins unveiled EnVision 2030, the districts new strategic plan, which defines the district’s single priority as student success, said Adkins. “With the goal of meeting the academic and social needs of each child.”

They will be using the “ABC initiative.” A for attendance, B for behavior and C for classroom success.

Other topics Adkins touched upon were the half-cent sales tax, increasing teacher salaries, School Resource Officers in schools across the district, bus stop safety going forward and career academies for high schoolers.

Varsity Lakes Middle School was featured for its project that brought clean water to a school in Kenya. They are working to bring more resources to other schools that are in need in impoverished areas.

An emotional recognition came in a video of Bella Parrish, a 16 year-old sophomore at Riverdale who has a brain tumor and condition that has inhibited her growth since the age of 3.

Parish has undergone four brain surgeries, lots of radiation and is partially blind in both eyes — but that doesn’t stop her from being one of the most outgoing and cheer-filled kids you’ll see in the hallways of Riverdale High School.

“Her outlook on life is so special,” said Riverdale Football Coach James Delgado. “For someone whose gone through all the things she’s been through, it’d be easy for her to hang her head, or look like she’s tired or exhausted after a long week of treatment — but she’s never that way. She’s always smiling, always jovial, always bouncing around and genuinely happy to see people.”

Parrish often makes bracelets for friends and family, frequently passing them out to her classmates. They have one word, “courage,” attached on a charm.

“I feel that I’m lucky that I have it this easy because I know kids out there have way harder lives — they are going through so much more than I am,” Parrish said.

Amazingly enough, Parrish is one year removed from her last radiation treatment and doctors have told the family her tumor has shrunk more than half in size.

She hopes to one day be a radiation technician, so that she can help children who have gone through things similar to what she has.

“I would say I know it’s going to be hard. I know it’s going to take tedious time and I know it’s going to feel awful, but you can get through it. And I know you can stay positive and just make it through it,” said Parrish.

Adkins once again quoted Baum, saying, “True courage is facing danger when you are afraid.”

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj