Positive change for any school district can only be brought about by a dedicated group of school board members who are willing to build a coalition that is focused on creating and implementing an innovative vision.
They must then commit themselves to work collaboratively with a district leadership team to identify measurable goals that will mark success. By all measures, your school district has made vast improvements over the past six years – in academic success, fiscal responsibility, talent management, community engagement, good governance and safety and security. As my final School Board meeting approaches, I want to wholeheartedly thank the voters of district 5 for twice entrusting me with the opportunity to be a part of making those advancements.
When I decided to seek election to the School Board in 2013, I did so only with the support of my wife Erika, who has taught in Osceola schools for 17 years. We knew the sacrifices would be great. Our three children, Nellie, Natalie, and Thomas, have witnessed the demands of public service firsthand. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to my entire family. Thank you all for sharing my passion in making Osceola County even better.
Thank you also to my School Board colleagues. I have a deep appreciation for the time we have spent working together for the citizens of Osceola County, and for the friendships we have built that will last well beyond our time as elected officials. Elected School Board members are the citizens’ connection to their educational system and must remain watchful as they lead, as representatives of the people, our county’s largest employer and most valuable asset. The board members I have served with over the past six years have shown a devotion to making Osceola’s schools even better. Mr. Wheeler, Mr. Weisheyer, Mr. Soto, Mr. Thacker, and Ms. Castillo all have and will continue to be public servants that put kids first.
The most challenging period of my service has come at the end of my term. We have all been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Osceola has been hit especially hard. Finishing last school year with distance learning, and crafting a plan this summer to begin this school year were extraordinarily difficult tasks. District leadership, teachers and support staff rose to the occasion. Our Ready Set Start Smart plan has been modeled around the state, and it is a testament to our School Board’s culture of collaboration, along with Superintendent Debra Pace’s talent, and our teachers’ and support staff’s dedication to the students they serve. In a time of uncertainty, the School District of Osceola County remained committed to delivering the education that we have come to expect and deserve in a safe and effective manner. I am proud of the work we have all done and continue to do to keep this vital institution functioning.
As I move on from the School Board, I reflect back on the achievements we have made for our community with the understanding that it is the efforts of many, not just one, that afford us the chance to realize our vision. For example, our district grade has moved from a C to a B, we have the second highest graduation rate in Central Florida, the rate of our college-bound students has improved significantly, and we have expanded opportunities for students in many vocational fields. The district is in a financially sound position, even as state funding levels continue to fall short of expectations. We again have the lowest administrative cost in the state, signifying our belief that the greatest investment should be made in the classroom. Our communication with Osceola families and stakeholders is at an all-time high as we continue to add digital content and encourage social media engagement at the district and school level. Now with an SRO in every school, our teachers and children are safer than ever before, and we thank the Osceola County Commission, the city of St. Cloud, and the city of Kissimmee for helping to fund that program. These successes and the many more not mentioned can only be delivered by a School Board that is functioning at a high level. My fellow board members and I have always believed that we can only accomplish our goals if we are governing with integrity and we have done just that.
I urge our new School Board members to continue to be part of a guiding coalition as you advance your goals. You have one of the best superintendents in the state in Debra Pace, and she has assembled an incredible leadership team. Trust in their abilities as you also hold them accountable. Serving on a School Board is tough, but never discount the impact our local public education system has on the quality of our community, in the present or in the future. Without excellent schools, we risk decline in all segments where we may quantify greatness in a community. Strive for greatness!
Thank you to everyone who works tirelessly for the School District of Osceola County. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve my constituents in district 5 together with you. Again, thank you to my beautiful family for your support and sacrifice. I am moving on from my service as a School Board member, but I will continue serving my community. Osceola County is a great place with great people, and our future is bright.