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State of Our Schools Breakfast: It's been a very good year

Highest graduation rate in district history

May 29, 2018
By CJ HADDAD ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang gathered at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre this past Friday morning for the 27th annual Partners in Education State of Our Schools Breakfast.

The Charles Schultz classic comic strip came to life as The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, in partnership with The School District of Lee County, put together an entertaining and educational breakfast for school district principals and a business partner who has made an impact on their school.

"We put this event on every year to honor all of the business partners in the school district and to inform the very same engaged business leaders about what's going on in the school district right from the mouth of the superintendent," said Marshall Bower, president and CEO of The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools.

The Mariner High Color Guard led the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a Peanuts-style short skit that brought laughs and gave background information on the coming presentation.

Paired as Charlie Brown and Linus van Pelt, Gary Griffin, Board Chairman for The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools and Bower spoke of the work the foundation has done with their business partners over the year and how it has positively effected students of Lee County schools.

"We are blessed to have a great business community and a great board of directors to help public education," Griffin said while holding his "dirty blanket".

The pair took turns listing off the many programs the foundation has put in place to help students and teachers become more successful.

"We try to accentuate the positive, often you hear the negative, but there's so much more going on that's good, and that's what we want to highlight," said Bower.

One of those programs is the student advocacy and mentoring partnership, or STAMP.

Sixty percent of students enrolled in STAMP saw their GPA grow this past year, with mentoring programs in general having 190 volunteers and more than 2,000 hours put in for students.

Numerous other resources for students include a college and career center, offering nine workshops for young minds getting ready to take that next step; how to run a successful business, with students spending the day at a golf course seeing the business side of things; arts and education, with dancing classrooms that see youngsters taking dance lessons; and the STEM (science,technology,engineering and math) at work program, with 350 students and 18 different businesses involved.

Providing scholarship money to students is big part of what The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools does in partnership with local businesses.

Their "Take Stock in Children" initiative saw $530,000 in scholarship money this year.

The seventh annual "Strides for Education 5K" raised $41,000 in scholarship funds.

A multitude of scholarship opportunities are brought to light across Lee County Schools for all age groups.

"In a variety on ways," is how Bower responded when asked how businesses play a role in the foundation.

"Obviously you need funding to do the many things we do, it allows us to put on the various programs we do with our students. And secondly, their sweat-equity and talents. They are the business leaders, they know what we need in our end product and what they need as business leaders."

The two then announced the business partner of the year: Waterman Broadcasting Corporation (NBC 2).

Waterman Broadcasting has had a hand in the Golden Apple Award, STEM programs, A-Team challenge and participated in job fairs.

They have even sent a meteorologist to teach weather at some Lee County schools.

Also recognized was Culver's, which has donated $7,000 in uniforms, passed out free ice cream certificates to students and held "Share Night" that helped raise money for schools as well.

"We're doing some great things, but those great things could not happen without the engagement of the business community and, for that matter the community at large, we thank them," Bower added.

"There is no heavier burden than unfilled potential," said Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins, who was appropriately quoting Schultz.

Those words were his theme for the program as he addressed those in attendance on the progress, accomplishments and vision of The School District of Lee County.

"The education bar is higher than ever," Adkins said.

"We just saw the highest graduation rate in district history at 78.7 percent."

Adkins gave high praise to many different Lee County students and student-organization which exceeded expectations this past year.

Among those recognized was a student from Fort Myers who placed fourth in The State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida, who caught the eye of NASA for her work.

North Fort Myers' JROTC program repeated as National Champions, an "amazing feat" described by Adkins.

Also in the works is a partnership with FGCU to create the first lab school in Florida, a "center for innovative education."

Dr. Jesse Bryson, JROTC leader at Fort Myers High School led his team to a world robotics competition, after only existing for four months.

Bryson was also named the 2018 JROTC Army Instructor of the year for the entire nation.

Ken Savage was recognized by Adkins for being the state of Florida's Principal of the year.

Savage, principal at James Stephens International Academy in Fort Myers, brought the school grade from an F to a B in just one year.

Assistant principal of James Stephens, Kelly Stedman, won for her role last year.

The highlight of the morning was a spotlight on a teacher-student relationship that touched the hearts of everyone in the room and far beyond.

When Eric Demeri, a teacher at Sunshine Elementary in Lehigh Acres, met Dulce Jaimes, no one could foresee the impact each would have on one another's life.

Jaimes, a third grader, was born with only half an arm.

Demeri used the school's 3-D printing lab, in which he was in charge, to make a prosthetic arm for Jaimes, taking more than 40 hours to produce including trials and tribulations.

There was not a dry eye was in the house when a video played of Demeri giving Jaimes with her new arm, watching her face glow with excitement as she held something in her left hand for the first time.

Demeri, Jaimes and her family were in attendance and received a standing ovation.

"Every student who graduates onto college or the workforce, be prepared," said Adkins.

Using the Charlie Brown football analogy, where Lucy constantly removes the ball before Charlie can kick it, leaving him flat on his back, Adkins says to take hold of the ball.

Taking hold of the ball is what The School District of Lee County plans to do with their "bold, historic step with the half-cent sales tax."

"If we don't implement this sales tax, we will find ourselves with portable classrooms, overcrowding and large class sizes. Borrowing more money increases our debt and we should not leave more debt to today's generation," Adkins said.

"If we don't take this issue to voters, we are left with unfilled potential," Adkins continued on his theme.

He closed with talking about ways Lee County is taking steps to implement new systems for safer schools.

"With a voice, comes power," he said when talking about our younger generation and the March for our Lives Lee County rally, which saw almost 2,000 students attend.

The Brotherhood of College Ready Leaders is a group of students who are prepared to go to college, but may not live in the best environment outside of school.

Lehigh Senior High School student, and captain of the brotherhood, Devon Rojas overcame rough surroundings and potential gang membership before donning the black and gold Greek symbols of his group.

Members of the fraternity-like brotherhood were recognized for overcoming whatever obstacles they had to face to put themselves in a position to succeed.

"One of the best things about this job is that I get to see all of the great successes out there. In a former life I was a prosecutor for 18 years and I saw what happened when students made bad decisions. Now we know that there are so many good decisions being made out there. It's because of their families. It's because of their teachers. And it's because of the community getting behind them," Bower ended.

The Mariner High Silver Marching Band flooded the aisles while playing "Linus and Lucy", the recognizable melody from the Peanuts to conclude the event.



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