‘These are our schools, yours and mine’

‘These are our schools, yours and mine’

State of Our Schools: Lee students rising to the challenges faced today

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze May 29, 2015 issue

Superintendent Nancy Graham

Superintendent Nancy Graham

Although students today are faced with rigorous expectations to prepare them for a competitive workforce, School District Superintendent Dr. Nancy Graham told those in attendance at the State of Our Schools – Partners in Education breakfast Friday morning that students are rising to the challenge with great success.

With this year’s State of Our Schools theme of “Star Wars” The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower dressed as Yoda and Graham dressed as Princess Leia.

Superintendent Nancy Graham and The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower.

Superintendent Nancy Graham and The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower.

“The summation of what I know . . . Star Wars goes like this – there are good guys and one really bad guy dressed in black. So, I had to ask myself how in the world do I relate all that to education,” she said. “Yoda has very few words to say. And when he says them, they are received as profound and lasting.”

Graham’s speech was broken down into seven lessons shared through Yoda.

Her first lesson, “you must unlearn what you have learned,” touched upon the difficult tasks with which educators are faced. Graham said most people have gone to school and many want to serve as local experts in running a school.

“Though it is comfortable for us to relate current life to our own experiences, it would be really helpful in the case of public education for individuals to unlearn or at least suspend personal experiences and see education for what it is today,” she said. “Heavily legislative, often politicized and insufficiently funded.”

Public education has changed in terms of requirements for high school graduation. Graham said years ago students completed their high school math requirements after finishing algebra one.

“You all know those same folks never had to pass a standardized test or end of course exam in math, history or science,” she said. “It’s likely in most cases those same people are reaping the benefits of a well-lived professional life. But today, none of those same people would be able to earn a high school diploma based on the current requirements facing our freshman class, the class of 2018.”

This year’s senior class had to earn at least a half credit of online courses to receive a high school diploma.

When adding rigorous, challenging and prescriptive academic expectations to life experiences of students that are already faced without a stable family unit, homelessness, poverty, English as a second language, neighborhood violence, mental illness and physical or emotional abuse the chance to become a kid may never come, she said.

Through all of those difficulties, Graham said there is a positive note. In 2014, Lee County achieved the highest reading learning gains in its history; performed above the state average in points earned for the state grading system; improved the district grade and this year’s high school graduates earned a combined $50 million in scholarships.

Her second lesson was titled “difficult to see, always in motion is the future, which focused on predicting what students might need to be prepared beyond their kindergarten through 12th grade education.

“As today’s educators, we are charged with preparing our students for the workforce. A workforce full of jobs yet to be defined,” Graham said. “This is the new way of work . . . preparing the future for the unknown. This is why we must focus on teaching our students how to think and problem solve. To look at math and science and literature from angles and many lenses.”

The future for the students is why the district focuses on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – as well as STEAM, because Lee County also includes the arts in its schools. Comprehensive high schools, which allow students to earn diplomas and industry certifications, are also offered to prepare students for the workforce.

Graham said the district also invests in such student leadership programs as JROTC, where Lee County ranks as the second largest in the country.

Another lesson, “truly wonderful the mind of a child” spoke to the district’s responsibility of acknowledging the minds they reach through relationships and programs to nurture students.

“You think Yoda stops teaching just because a student does not want to hear – a teacher Yoda Is” shared information about the teachers of Lee County.

Graham said next year the school district will employ just under 6,000 teachers, 2,000 of whom have a master’s degree or higher. She said it is no easy task to hire and retain the best talent because the School District of Lee County is the biggest employer from Tampa to Miami.

“We are back to a growth pattern of an additional 1,500 to 2,000 students a year,” Graham said. “We are projected to be in that mode for the next 10 years.”

The lesson also shared information about the newest career opportunities for teachers. A teacher leader spends part of their day teaching and the other half coaching other teachers, which Graham said has been successful.

Grants through the National Education Association have also helped in closing the learning gap in Lee County. What started as assistance for 10 schools, will have reached 30 schools in 2016 with the grant.

“When 900 years old you reach, look as good as you will not,” highlighted the capital budget funds decrease. Graham said the combination of lower property taxes, reduced impact fees and reduced funding from the state in the past five years resulted in $656 million loss to the district’s capital budget.

“As a district and a community, we can no longer pretend the losses have no impact as we face a growing number of students,” she said. “These are our schools, yours and mine. Our schools need to be maintained while new schools will ultimately have to be built to house the children that we know are coming.”

Another lesson titled “Try no. Do or do not. There is no try,” shared the importance of partnerships and their involvement.

“All in means more than just writing a check . . . though we are grateful for your financial support. In this partnership all in is about being an advocate of our schools, correcting misperceptions when you hear them or sharing the positives when others may want to be negative,” Graham said. “All in means we make promises to one another and we keep them.”

Some of those promises include a balance budget without using reserved funds; measurable three year strategic plan; nationally credited school district ; increase learning gains among all groups of students; at least one school counselor at every school; 325 fewer required tests; forward movement with technology including the start of one-on-one devices for students; C to a B district and on the way to becoming an A district, as well as continuing to work with the community to keep its vision.

She closed her speech by asking the audience to “pass on always what you have learned.”

“The more who know more the better and stronger the partnership becomes among us,” Graham said. “Our doors are open to you as we move forward and I encourage you to visit our schools. I will personally take you.

“Gallery Hopping”

Gallery Hopping

Take a Trip through the local art world

Published in Cape Coral Community Lifestlyes November/December 2014

Gallery Hopping1Southwest Florida offers a variety of art galleries representing works of art from the 20th century to present day. Make a day – or evening – out of it, and gallery-hop to several fantasticlocal exhibits and displays throughout the area.

There are many opportunities to indulge into the art world through monthly exhibits, independent films and a casual stroll through galleries highlighting talented artists from around the country – and the world.

Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center: Downtown Fort Myers

A building that used to house the U.S. Post Office in the early 1930s was eventually turned into an art center that offers a great deal for residents of Southwest Florida throughout the year.

Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center Assistant Director Devon Parker said the building that houses the center was built in 1933. From then until 1965 the building served as the U.S. Post Office before serving for the federal system as a courthouse until 1998.

The building was eventually purchased by the City of Fort Myers and leased to the nonprofit organization, Sidney & Berne Davis Center, under the conditions that it would be restored and used as a multi disciplinary art center.

“The art center has been opened since 2008,” Parker said.

IMG_4061_stitch-2The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center offers everything from monthly fine art gallery shows to cutting edge theater and independent film, to classical and popular musical concerts, fashion shows and culinary arts, as well as playing host to several networking events throughout the month.

Parker said the center opens a new gallery show on the first Friday of the month during Friday Art Walk.

Last month’s art show featured Stage 16 by Arturo Correa and November will feature Art by Veterans. The last show of the year will be comprised of Abstract 9, a show by students of Florida Southwestern College visual art students.

The center is featuring a new event this season, First Taste Dinner at the Davis, on the first Thursday of the month through June before Art Walk. Individuals will have the opportunity to view a new art exhibition that is paired with a dinner prepared by the center’s new Executive Chef Mike Gavala.

The Ghostbird Theater will feature an original piece “Wooden Mouth” in November, the last one of this year. Independent films are shown on the first Monday of the month and the 5th annual Fort Myers Film Festival gets rolling in March. The concert series, which is always popular among attendees, showcases an array of renowned musicians.

“We have a strong classical concert theater,” Parker mentioned.

The center also hosts an annual fashion show every winter that has grown since its inception.

“We will be entering the third year of the fashion show,” Parker said.

This year it will be held the last weekend of January, Jan. 30 and 31.”

A fundraiser, Cooking for the Arts, was another special event held earlier this month. Parker said it is an interactive cooking fundraiser where attendees helped cook their own dinner with Gavala.

The Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center is at 2301 1st St., downtown Fort Myers, and available for rentals for special events for individuals or groups. For more information, visit SBDAC.com, or call 239-333-1933.

Reverie & Rock Art Gallery: Downtown Fort Myers

Owners of KMK Publishing, Inc., which publishes Happenings A&E Magazine and Lee Family News Magazine, opened an art gallery downtown in October 2012.

Reverie & Rock Art Gallery Owner Jamie Kuser was among one of the creators of ArtWalk in downtown Fort Myers and was the co-chair for nearly six years. After his wife began doing digitalsurrealism artwork, the idea of opening up a gallery blossomed.

“In the past two years she has sold 75 pieces,” he said.

The gallery is split into two sides, the Reverie showcasing Kathy’s work, and the Rock highlighting Jamie’s photography.

gallery hopping2A magazine graphic designer of 10 years, Kathy puts together fantasy and mystical worlds through placing up to 500 images together to create a specific scene of more than 600 layers. Jamie said his wife will use techniques like lighting and shadows, so the image looks like someone took a picture of a fantasy world.

The prints are done on canvas and often include photographs she has taken at various locations. Jamie said one of her pieces included a picture of a manmade lake and a brick.

“She likes to hide things in the photos,” he said. Jamie, who has photographed live concerts for national performers for almost 20 years, has his work displayed in the gallery, as well. Some of his photography has appeared on tour T-shirts, VHI’s Behind the Music, the Associated Press Archives, as well as Happenings Magazine.

“People look at them and say ‘I have seen them in concert,’” he said. “It provokes memories.”

Before moving to Southwest Florida, Jamie photographed many concerts in Ohio and Michigan.

“I have a preference to 80 rockers,” he said, of who he enjoys photographing.

The genre of music has changed to country music performers since moving to Southwest Florida.

Reverie & Rock Gallery is open one night a month, during ArtWalk. It is also open by appointment. For more information, call 239-278-5236. The gallery is located at 1528 Jackson St., Fort Myers.

Watson MacRae Gallery: A Sanctuary of Art: Sanibel Island

After Maureen Watson had a business in New York City for many years, she left and studied painting.

“I learned a lot about painting and about art, what it takes and what a good painting looks like,” she said. “I learned a lot by doing it. I painted for about three years and I realized I wasn’t going to be good enough to make myself happy.”

gallery hopping3Watson eventually started an art school with artist Hollis Jeffcoat, which remained opened for three years. She said she learned a lot about business and found that her real love was owning a business.

A New York City native, who had lived in Naples for a number of years, had visited Sanibel from time to time before moving back to New York City. She said after hearing that Southwest Florida needed a fine arts gallery, she thought about Sanibel.

“Everything just worked out perfectly,” Watson said of opening Watson MacRae Gallery: A Sanctuary of Art. “It’s a wonderful community.”

The gallery started its seventh season this year on Sanibel, at 2340 Periwinkle Way, Suite B3. Watson said the gallery has been redesigned, providing an opportunity to show additional artists.

Watson MacRae Gallery is a fine art and contemporary craft gallery that features 30 to 50 artists from around the country. Each month during season, October through the end of August, a new themed exhibit graces the gallery.

“I mainly look for people that do things that are very well done,” she said of artists located all over the United States. “That has soul and is visually and emotionally engaging and that can be work in wood or glass.”

Watson said it is like an adventure finding new artists.

“Many are represented in museums, which is a criteria you look for when you look for good artists,” she said. “Sometimes they are in other galleries.”

The first two exhibits of the season will open on Nov. 11. Entitled “Jewelry: More than Adornment,” it will feature seven award winning artists. The exhibit will showcase contemporary handmade jewelry.

“It is an introduction to the expanded jewelry that I am going to show,” she said.

The second show, “Multiples,” will feature an artist’s series or sets of pieces of artwork with nine to 12 pieces.

“Each artist that I am going to show will have at least nine pieces of their work,” Watson said.

The gallery is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 239-472-3386, or visit WatsonMacRaeGallery.com.