“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to the think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – MLK, Jr.
“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” – Albert Einstein
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats
We saw fire! Yeats was right. It was a lighting of fires! It’s quite possible that our own fires regarding the power of education were (re)lit as well. In fact, our own fires ignited an appreciation for those who serve in the education sector, often at a high cost of personal sacrifice and delayed return on investment. To see the fire in their eyes – both the teacher and the student, passion in their hearts, and conviction in their communication was enough to convince us that maybe the sacrifice wasn’t as much as a sacrifice as it appears and the thirst for a return on investment was quenched enough to keep them going back for more. The day’s evidence was a confirmation of what many of us experienced individually during our Teacher Shadowing days that had been completed on the weeks prior to Education Day.
For ten intense hours, the Leadership Tampa Class of 2019 was immersed in the power of education, the local opportunities that are available for many, the challenges that our region has regarding education, and the very honest dialogue about the solutions that make improvement possible.
The timing and subject matter could not have been timed more perfectly for Hillsborough County (and this region) since it was the day after mid-term elections and the historic vote for a school referendum, which passed convincingly. The passing of this referendum sent a clear message to all onlookers that education is a priority for our area and everyone has bought into the vision to improve our public educational system.
With a limited schedule, LT’19 was privileged to experience multiple area educational options: private educational options (Academy Prep of Tampa and Cristo Rey Tampa High School), public high school options (with emphasis on magnet opportunities at Blake High School’s Theatre and Arts Program and Chamberlain High School’s Culinary Arts Program), and finally, post-secondary options at Hillsborough Community College. While touring Academy Prep, the passion and drive of Mr. Lincoln Tamayo, Principal of Academy Prep, was undeniable. His fire fuels his staff which impacts his students in a significant way. The professionalism and brilliance of the students was unmistakable. It was clear that he is not just interested in providing a quality academic education, but a broadened intellectual lifestyle opportunity. This became clearer throughout the day as we engaged with more educational professionals. They all recognized the importance of a quality, holistic development of each student.
While we did not have an opportunity on this day to tour University of South Florida and University of Tampa, previous days and opportunities have allowed these nationally recognized colleges’ impact to be felt. Time would not allow us an opportunity for a dive into approaches and options for pre-K, kindergarten and middle school for public schools. Not visiting any of these schools did not mean that we did not have an opportunity to hear about the options surrounding them. Our superintendent spoke very adeptly about their impact, potential, and challenges.
It was really our treat to personally engage with speakers and presenters with emphasis on both our school Superintendent, Jeff Eakins, and a group of Blake High School students who provided amazing musical and theatre presentations. The principals and magnet administrative teams of both Blake High School and Chamberlain High School took time to share about their programs, schools, school history, and future opportunities. Their fire was unquestionable. As a part of the day, we were treated to an amazing lunch by the culinary program students at Chamberlain in their Outback sponsored facility – on campus! The students did an amazing job! If they were on Yelp or OpenTable, I’m sure they would have earned a 5-star review.
Superintendent Eakins talked about all levels of our public schools, the recently passed referendum, current statistics on graduation rates, literacy rates, achievement zone schools, teacher salaries and retention, and so much more. It was also very insightful to have him frame the progress of the school system from a historical context, which at times has not had a positive history for all individuals within our community. It was not difficult to engage in this dialogue and these educational options while seeing some of the glaring challenges that our educational system faces. A very pointed statement from the superintendent that provided fruitful dialogue was, “Although our schools have glaring achievement gaps, achievement gaps aren’t created in our schools. There are so many ‘outside’ issues that affect what happens in our schools.”
As we concluded our time learning about the public school system one of the last statements made was, “Education is clearly an economic driver in our community.” This statement, in my mind, should have cleared up why a group like Leadership Tampa should be concerned about education and all of the challenges that our current educational system faces. When all students are empowered with a great education, the entire community wins.
This statement was a great transition for us moving into the last component of the day where we were introduced to the strong academic partnerships between our academic institutions and our economic development organizations. Ms. Bea Bare of Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation led us in a mock presentation of gaining (recruiting) new companies to the area. Representatives from USAA, University of South Florida, University of Tampa, and Hillsborough Community College were a part of this panel mock presentation. It was an incredibly informative demonstration to see the layers of collaboration necessary to see our community win.
HCC staff then gave us presentations and a tour of several amazing departments who are on the front lines of quickly training our workforce to meet the demands of area businesses and the needs of our community. Those departments included Auto/Mechanic, Diesel Repair, Fire Academy, Paint and Body/Collision, and Welding (it was interesting to note the emphasis on transportation among these programs). The fire and engagement of each instructor was not only clear, but inspiring. A fire academy instructor who served 35 years active duty as a fire fighter, a diesel repair instructor who drove trucks for decades, a paint and body instructor who served in the industry for over thirty years, a welding instructor who had an award-winning show in Japan. You could also sense the appreciation and respect of the students towards their instructors. These students, who are adults, were treated with dignity and honor for their unique stories, but most importantly, who they were becoming. Mr. John Meeks, Dean of HCC Workforce Training Center aptly shared, “college is for everybody, we just need to find out which track and program.” After some question and answer, he concluded his presentation with this idea, “You either skill your workforce or you grow them. We believe we can do both.”
Every person on the planet has been impacted by a teacher. In some way, our unique educational experiences have deeply shaped who we are and how we think. It has played a role in developing our personal convictions, individual self-concept and confidence, as well as, our created space for incredible relationships and indescribable life moments. The quote of the day summarizes our day, “Our schools are incubators of the next generation of leaders.” The activity, research and history prove this statement true. I hope that the horizon of the future is lit by the fires of Tampa’s educational influence and power.
Author: Christopher J. Harris