By Travis Pelleymounter, Tampa Bay Lightning
“Challenge how you think about education.” – Julie Serovich (LT’14), Dean of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, University of South Florida
Education Day for the Leadership Tampa Class of 2017 started early on a Wednesday morning with a simple quote. These six words would echo throughout the day as we experienced the full variety and depth of educational opportunity across Hillsborough County.
Academy Prep of Tampa
Our sponsor for the day, Pat Moser (LT’08), Vice President, Governance and Special Projects with AACSB International, greeted us in the cafeteria at Academy Prep of Tampa to kick off the day. AACSB International is the world’s largest business education network with over 1,500 members in 90 countries. Their vision is ‘Transforming business education for global prosperity.’ They are a fitting partner for the day and Pat was sure to mention how important education at all levels in Tampa is to AACSB International.
Julie Serovich, one of our Chairs for the day, then shared the aforementioned quote in her opening statements before introducing our other Chairs, Mark Colvenbach (LT’12), Director, Office of Career Services, University of Tampa and Jeff Eakins (LT’11), Superintendent, Hillsborough County Schools. Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) provide jobs for over 27k (the largest employer in the county).
Jeff, who has been a part of the school system for 28 years, began by pointing out that education is something “we’ve all been a part of in some way.” Everyone has their own perspective and preconceived notions about how our children should be taught. He asked that we open our eyes and take in the day for what it is.
For those wondering why we started at a private school, Academy Prep, and why we were being hosted by the Superintendent of the public schools, Jeff made a seamless transition by mentioning that collaboration is essential to success. “We all have to hold hands.” He also shared that “Every family has to know that their child has the right seat.” By working together and understanding all the options for our children, we can be most effective as a collective group at educating.
Jeff then introduced Lincoln Tamayo, Head of School, Academy Prep of Tampa. Academy Prep is a private institution serving grades five through eight. Lincoln welcomed us to the school and was quick to point out the banners of secondary schools hanging throughout the cafeteria. The names of several well-known private high schools in Tampa and throughout the country are displayed as a visual goal for the students and faculty. Lincoln shared: “We broaden the horizons of our children.”
An astounding 100% of the students that attend Academy Prep are at or below the poverty line. They all qualify for free or reduced lunch. Just 44% of the residents within a 1 mile radius of the campus have a high school degree.
Amidst these challenges, Academy Prep’s students attend school 11 hours/day, 11 months/year and, often times, 6 days/week. There is no tuition for qualifying students. The school depends on private donors and fundraising to ensure education for all of the students. This is viewed as a college prep education and the students are there on a mission to better themselves.
Lincoln was very proud to let us know that 97% of the students that passed through these doors as graduating 8th graders have completed high school. Equally amazing, 84% of Academy Prep’s students enroll in college.
Lincoln ended his opening remarks by telling us, “We are developing the leaders of the future.”
The group was then split into smaller segments. The writer of this article was sent to 8th grade (all boys) English with Mrs. Guthrie. The five of us from Leadership Tampa were immediately impressed with the outgoing nature of the students. Each one of the young men stood up, greeted us with a welcoming statement, a handshake and their first name. We all work with people in a professional setting who aren’t this good!
Our assignment in the class was to join a ‘pre-reading’ discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird. My partners, David, Joseph and Omar were gracious enough to let me take part and we quickly began a conversation on our neighborhoods. What are the people like? What are their attitudes and fears? What do you think about growing up there? – A very heavy topic indeed.
David, Joseph and Omar could not have been more open and honest about where they live and what their experiences are like. They have fears and concerns about their neighborhoods but they did express quiet, enjoyable times as well. We compiled our answers and shared them with the class.
The other groups mentioned some deep conversations on justice, innocence and growing up as an adult. It was a short but impactful English class that told us many positive things about Academy Prep and about these young men.
We left the classroom for a debrief on our classroom experience and Q&A with our hosts and the faculty. Major takeaways from this session are below.
- All of the other groups had the same experience with student introductions. It is part of their culture…and it is very impressive.
- Academy Prep is built for the students as a “great goal with a plan behind it.”
- The staff and faculty act as wings around the students to replace other parental or adult figures in their life that may be missing or unable to support their children.
- Parents and guardians are required to do 40 hours of service to the school.
- The kids come back. At a recent reunion (Middle School reunion!) 42 out of 250 recent graduates returned.
- Faculty and staff focuses on getting the little things right. They want to create a healthy family dynamic to foster learning.
- The longer schedule is an advantage. Students are committed and want to stay longer to learn each day.
- Could this longer schedule be distilled to public schools? Our group seemed to be in favor of this, but it is too costly to bring to the entire county.
Our time at Academy Prep concluded with remarks from Charles Imbergamo, President of Cristo Rey Tampa High School. They are one of the institutions that Academy Prep students aspire to attend.
Charles shared that Cristo Rey is viewed as “rigorous college prep.” They want to see students “to and through college.” Similar to Academy Prep, their hours are 7am-7pm for many of the 91 students enrolled. Unique to Cristo Rey is that school is just 4 days a week with a 5th day set aside to work. Their students are in the workforce, learning on the job each and every week. The have a true “adult learning community.”
Potter Elementary School
Melanie Hill, Principal, Potter Elementary School was our next host. We were greeted in the Media Center to prepare for an information session on HCPS Head Start Program by Jeff Eakins.
The conversation started with Jeff letting us know that just 42% of U.S. students are kindergarten ready. The achievement gap happens during entry into school. The Head Start program, which prepares 3 and 4 year old children for kindergarten, currently services about 3,800 income eligible students in 92 classrooms with certified teachers at 56 locations. But, there are over 8,000 on the waiting list! The large waiting list is due to federal funding. The County Commissioners decide on distribution of funding. Money is doled out based on several criteria, including quality. It costs $2,700 per year per student for the Head Start Program.
VPK or Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten is another popular option in Hillsborough County, but it is not as widespread. This program covers just 3 hours per day. VPK is funded by state dollars to the Early Learning Coalition.
After this introduction we were given the opportunity to tour Head Start classrooms. The students and teachers were all hard at work with a variety of activities. Painting, counting, play-doh, identifying letters and numbers, amongst other things were all in full swing. We were all impressed with the independence of the children. They all knew what they were supposed to be working on and how long they could be at a particular station.
Of particular interest was the technology station. Several computers with headphones were set up in each classroom. The students were completely dialed into the task at hand, trying to get a ‘high score’ while learning their numbers and letters. The ease with which they use the computers at 3 and 4 years old is remarkable. When it was time to switch, a different student’s photo appeared and the student sitting at the station simply stood up and knew to go alert the student in the photo.
Learning about the Head Start Program and witnessing firsthand what the students are experiencing, made it readily apparent that the children in this program will be kindergarten ready. They are doing very good work and enriching the lives of many children at a young age.
Several Leadership Tampa classmates left thinking about, and discussing, the 8,000+ on the Head Start waiting list. Where are we as a County leaving these children? Do they have the same chance to succeed?
As Jeff Eakins pointed out, “Early childhood is a space where we have to think past immediate rewards.” Making difficult decisions now in terms of funding for the children in need would not pay off in the short term. But, wouldn’t it be valuable to the students, their families and our community in the future?
Chamberlain High School
It was a busy and thought provoking morning…we were all ready for lunch. Little did we know, we were going to Outback Steakhouse at Chamberlain High School. You read that right. An Outback Steakhouse in a High School!
The Culinary Academy at Chamberlain High School, run by Chef Erik Youngs, is comprised of approximately 150 students in all levels, from grade 9-12.
Chamberlain High Principal, Celeste Liccio, introduced us to an eloquent senior named Tatiana Munoz for an overview of the program. Tatiana shared that she began the program as a shy, introverted freshman. Chef Erik Youngs and the program have given her the confidence over her tenure at Chamberlain to do many things, including a presentation to 50 Leadership Tampa professionals. She also stated that, from the beginning, she wanted nothing to do with the kitchen. The program allowed her to learn about many of the other parts of running a restaurant while supporting the work that is done in the kitchen. Their mission is to enhance transferable skills learned in the program and prepare students for the next step in their career, whether that is a post-secondary education or immediate immersion into the work force. Last year, all of the seniors in the culinary program graduated and 50% went on to a post-secondary opportunity.
While Chef Youngs and Tatiana were presenting, we were served an amazing lunch of salmon, risotto carbonara and apple pie won-tons. Students prepped and served our meal. They do everything from start to finish.
If you are looking for a good lunch spot in the Chamberlain area, you have the LT’17 stamp of approval to make a reservation. Be prepared to be impressed!
An important takeaway on the bus ride leaving Chamberlain was the conversation regarding the size of the culinary program. With 1,750 students in total at the school and 150 in the program, less than 10% have the opportunity to experience this unique but effective education option. How could this program, or something similar, cast a wider net?
University of South Florida
The next Education Day stop was the University of South Florida Alumni Center for a panel on higher education. The panel, moderated by Julie Serovich, provided opening statements on their institutions and took questions for the better part of an hour. A few members were quick to point out that they are not in competition. They are “different but complementary.” Listed below is each of the panelists with the major points they made throughout the session.
- Dr. Judy Genshaft, President, University of South Florida
- USF is a top 25 research institution with 50k students on 3 campuses.
- $488.6M in grants are received to further enhance research status.
- USF is proud of its diversity. All ethnicities graduate at the same rate.
- All students are encouraged to have international experiences.
- The school teaches tolerance, understanding and respect.
- A winning football team has helped across the school – attitudes, donors, enrollment, etc.
- STEM is important but at USF the largest major by number of students is psychology (#2 is criminology).
- Dr. David Stern, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, The University of Tampa
- The University of Tampa is a private, secular institution on a singular campus.
- Highly focused on students as individuals and professional programs.
- 8,310 students – 7,000 are undergraduates
- UT is proud of the creation of its Academic Success Center.
- Dr. Eric Weekes, Vice President of Business Affairs, Saint Leo University
- Founded in 1898, St. Leo is the 3rd largest Catholic University in the U.S.
- Over 16k students with a large online program
- Education and personal growth are their focus.
- St. Leo is proud of its new state of the art Kirk Hall building which provides 16 new classrooms and academic support service space.
- STEM is important but we can’t leave behind the soft sciences or liberal arts.
- Jeff Eakins, Superintendent, Hillsborough County Schools
- With over 1,000 buses, HCPS represent the largest transportation department in the county.
- In addition to traditional schools, there are 4 technical schools and a classroom at Tampa General in our county.
- Jeff is proud of the open access across institutions to further learning.
- Kids need to have a balance. STEM serves a purpose.
- Dr. Kenneth Atwater, President, Hillsborough Community College
- HCC has 3,500 employees and serves over 48k students on 5 sites.
- 160 programs are offered to the students.
- 60% of their students transfer to another institution after graduating.
- 40% of their students go directly into the workforce.
- 84% of HCC graduates stay in our local community.
- HCC is proud of its ongoing partnership with USF.
- We need to get people qualified to work in the 21st century but we cannot forget about soft skills.
- Encourage the business community to provide internships to keep students and our talent local.
Our class was thankful for the time that each of the panelists took out of their busy schedules to provide information and details regarding their institution for us. We left with a better understanding of how each of these schools act independently and that they collaborate effectively as well.
Hillsborough Community College Workforce Training Center
Leadership Tampa Education Day’s final stop was the HCC Workforce Training Center. Mark Colvenbach provided a brief recap of our day to this point and then introduced Dr. Ginger Clark (LT’15), Vice President, Workforce Development, Hillsborough Community College.
Dr. Clark shared that the training center provides 160 workforce degrees and certifications meant to get graduates right into their careers. They also have upwards of 15 vocational programs. The question posed rhetorically by Dr. Clark was “How do we get underserved people into the workforce?” She said, “We meet people where they are, no matter where they are and we have a pathway for them.”
Members of the HCC Workforce Training Center staff then took us in groups to experience some of the programs on their campus. We were taken through welding, firefighting, mechanical & electric for vehicles.
Of particular interest to our group was the quick infusion of the students at the center into the workforce. Josh, the gentleman who teaches welding, told us that he had representatives from a company last year come with job offers (not applications) to graduation! And, a few of his graduating students couldn’t even attend the ceremony because they had already started their jobs.
The variety of good opportunities at this location were very impressive. An aspiring student can feel confident in their investment of time at the HCC Workforce Training Center that a real job is within reach.
Time to Think
“Challenge how you think about education.” After a full day across our County, the Leadership Tampa Class of ’17 had a much stronger sense of the depth and breadth of learning that is offered to our children. We all have the opportunity to see education through a different lens.
We met some amazing people in leadership positions throughout the schools in Hillsborough County, both public and private. They all want the same thing…the very best chance for all kids to be their best in fantastic environments at the elementary, middle, high school and college levels.
It is up to all of us as local citizens to consider what things are most important when it comes to education and find a way to make a positive impact for all children in both the short and long term.