Posted by: Holly Atkins on Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Cars rolled onto the country roads of Cristo Rey High School, headlights on, with passengers ready for Leadership Tampa ’22 Education Day. Led by our day chairs, Van Ayers (LT ’19), Chief Innovation Officer – Instruction, Hillsborough County Schools, and Suzy Holley (LT ’00), Executive Staff Aide to the President, Hillsborough Community College, we were on our way!

The welcome from Student Government President, Christian Achecar, sent the message repeated throughout the day. At the heart of education in the Tampa Bay Area are the students. President of Cristo Rey Tampa, Scott Morreale, provided the group with an overview of this unique high school. Interim Principal John Davidson, shared the academic features. Davidson shared the school’s belief that all students should have access to Advanced Placement curriculum “to see what they’re capable of.” Adding to our perspectives on private schools with a focus on providing support for traditionally underserved student populations in the area was L’Tanya Evans, Head of School, Academy Prep, whose mission is based on “inspiring and empowering middle grades students for college and beyond.” Both Cristo Rey and Academy Prep emphasize school-workplace connections. Evans described her school as high school/college preparation, with both strong academics and enrichment work with community partners including Stageworks, Patel Dance, Berkeley Prep debate group and more. An extended school day and academic year allows students the opportunity to engage in these enrichment activities and others including gardening, cooking, robotics, and karate. According to Evans, “the hours are long, the days are long, but both are necessary to get our students where they should be.”

We were then up and on the move, with LT groups rotating between a campus tour and a conference room session focusing on the Corporate Work Study program at Cristo Rey whose goal is to provide students with the opportunity to explore and to be exposed to opportunities they might not otherwise be aware of and to develop workplace skills while in high school.

On Commitment Day, each senior rings this bell and shares which college they’re accepting. Cristo Rey boasts an impressive statistic that 100% of their seniors are accepted into at least one college.

The principal’s words no doubt resonated with many in the LT class when he shared, he is “most proud of the depth and strength of the leaders in each department.”

After a tour of the beautiful outdoor space of Cristo Rey, we were on the bus…

Sligh Middle School

Greetings and welcome to Hillsborough County Schools extended by Superintendent of Schools, Addison Davis. Six days into the job of leading the 8th largest school district in the United States – the pandemic shutdown. How do you support over 220,000 students and their families as well as over 25,000 employees through a global pandemic? Davis discussed the many challenges of doing this, including the technology challenges of pivoting to fully online learning, and the need to address the 450-million-dollar budget deficit. Davis then shared the powerful work being done throughout the district, most notably schools in the Transformation Network. “We are focused not on what we can do to develop the whole child, but the whole family,” Davis stated. He went on to say that mental health is the pandemic of today – for students and employees.

Shaylia McRae, who leads the Transformation Network, encouraged LT members to become community partners “to help build a better tomorrow.” Thaddeus Michael Bullard Sr. aka Titus O’Neil, former arena football player and WWE professional wrestler, and community partner for Sligh Middle School shared what simple, yet powerful belief drives his work and the work of the Sligh community, “There’s no such thing as a bad kid.” As we toured Sligh, we were inspired at every turn with how O’Neil has put that philosophy into practice by the creation of on-site services for families, and state-of-the-art facilities. While O’Neil will take your check, what he really wants is you – true and meaningful community involvement.

After our tour of Sligh Middle School, we were on the bus…

Chamberlin High School

Lunch at the Outback Café right on the campus of Chamberlin High School was delightful and delicious. Once again, students were the focus, preparing and serving the LT class lunch. Kay Bonti, Supervisor of Recruitment for Hillsborough County Schools, led the group on a debriefing session on the teacher shadowing experience. Bonti’s slideshow featured inspiring photos and quotes from LT members. Bonti fielded excellent questions from the members, who consistently expressed the desire to participate more with the school district. No doubt Bonti heard that request, folks!

We grabbed our to-go containers of guava empanadas, and we were on the bus…

Hillsborough Community College (Ybor Campus)

After opening remarks by Sarah Ham (LT ’18), Director of Marketing and Communications for our education day sponsor, AACSB, it was time for a panel of higher education presidents and leaders. Dr. Kenneth Atwater, President, Hillsborough Community College; Dr. Tim Beard, President, Pasco-Hernando State College; Dr. Jeffrey Senese, President, Saint Leo University; Rhea Law, President, University of South Florida; and Dr. David Stern, Provost/Vice-President of Academic Affairs, University of Tampa addressed a range of questions posed by Ms. Ham. One particularly lively conversation among the leaders focused on the question of the future of higher education and today’s challenges. Law responded that “without challenges, you have no change.” Atwater stated, “Change happens overnight.” Senese connected the role of his institution to that of a business. “Students are our customers.” Beard reflected on the impact of the pandemic. “Our students are more fragile.”

Once again, underscoring the importance of students as central to education, LT ’22 Education Day wrapped-up with a student panel. Wondering what’s right with education in the Tampa Bay area? Listen to these students!

We left HCC with knowledge, connections, and inspiration, and we were on the bus…