In each of the St. Lucie Public Schools, a Statue of Liberty replica serves as a constant reminder that public schools were created to strengthen democracy, and our public schools remain the main channel through which our country makes good on its fundamental promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As such, St. Lucie Public Schools’ (SLPS) commitment first and foremost is to ensure that all of our students have equal access to a high quality and rigorous education and graduate college and/or career ready, as informed and engaged citizens.
Every child who walks onto any of our campuses deserves the same opportunities to learn and experience success despite the burdens placed upon our educators by misguided political reforms and policies from special interest groups or from those who seek to make a profit off of our children. Our dedicated team of teachers, administrators, and support staff forge forward with a vengeance to figure out where links need to be soldered, fences mended, and bridges built in order to support our students so they may accomplish their goals and dreams. When their goals and dreams become their reality, our communities are strengthened, our nation is bonded, and our democracy is fortified.
Our efforts are paying off. SLPS’s 2015-2016 graduation rate is record-setting at 86.8%, and this has catapulted our county from 45th to 13th in the State. Landmark achievement such as this does not happen by accident, nor does it happen without focusing on the individual needs of each student. The graduation rate for African American students increased 14.1%; that’s 10% above the State average. Hispanic students saw a 9.8% increase, rising above the State average by 8%; and white students realized a 10.5% increase, moving 3.9% beyond the State average. Our ESE students’ graduation rate skyrocketed 17.88%, surpassing the State average by 13.3%.
The gauge is moving in the right direction for early literacy as well. In a year where State trends in reading scores remained somewhat lackluster, our students showed growth. Clearly, this is a priority area for progress and the outpouring of community support is most welcome in our efforts to engage young readers and establish literacy-rich environments.
And while it is a fact that a child’s socioeconomic status can create unique obstacles affecting reading proficiency and vocabulary development, we’re not standing behind them as excuses. On the contrary, we’re tackling them head on. Politicians and policymakers cannot fix these challenges. SLPS educators are in the midst of cultural shift, altering long-held assumptions, beliefs, expectations, and approaches to learning.
We are solution-seekers. For example, to support Internet access, SLPS is leveraging low cost solutions through Comcast for nearly 3,000 of our families with students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Next year, our can-do action broadens access to even more families through our Sprint partnership.
This year alone, there are almost 7,500 high school student course enrollments in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge (AICE), and Dual Enrollment (DE). Middle school students also participate in pre-AP courses as a jump start to success. The AP exam participation rate increased by 30% with AP performance increasing by nearly the same rate.
In addition, SLPS provided every eleventh grade student with the opportunity to take the SAT assessment during the school day at no cost – a great enhancement to equity and accessibility for college and/or career choices.
Also important in determining viable and marketable career choices is the close relationship the District has with the Economic Development Council, CareerSource, and community based organizations. Positive partnerships such as these have led to active participation in the Skills Gap Study which addresses the workforce needs in our community – important information to inform program decisions for our Career and Technical Education Programs (CTE).
And just how are we doing in regard to engaging our students in CTE? Fifty-one percent of our students are exposed to at least one CTE class through 62 Career Academies offered. Industry certifications have increased by 61%. This means students are graduating prepared with industry credentials, ready to enter the world of work, with skills that align to predicted areas of major economic growth.
Allied Health, Culinary, Manufacturing, Aerospace Technologies, Agritechnology, Finance, Cybersecurity, Promotional Enterprise, and Carpentry – these are among the CTE offerings afforded to students. SLPS welcomes our community members to join us for our educational tours and serve as mentors or volunteers.
As a community, we all want what is best for our children. Our teachers model that expectation. To each of them, I say thank you. Research shows that teachers are more passionate and mission driven than those in other professions; they teach because they want to make a difference in the world one child at a time. A child’s first and best teacher should be their parent. Unfortunately, that is not the case for far too many of our children. Educators are not only asked to teach children but raise many of them as well. Teachers don’t seek fame and recognition but are driven by a moral purpose, and they come to work day after day prepared and determined to make a difference.
That difference will not come about by policymakers mandating change. Change will only happen through local will and capacity. There must be an end to the culture of blame; we must have a community culture that values risk-taking, recognition, and shared accountability. Through our work together, we need to identify key challenges, verify them with data, and unite to explore strategies leading to a remedy we all can rally to support.
In SLPS, business as usual is not acceptable. We are in the business of continuous improvement. Therefore, I am looking forward to what tomorrow holds in store, because I know our best days are ahead of us.