Superintendent: Osceola will outperform other districts
By Ken Jackson
Osceola County School District Superintendent Melba Luciano said Wednesday it’s her intent that Osceola County will outperform all other districts in the state of Florida during the Osceola County School District’s State of Education address at Osceola School for Performing Arts.
Osceola County School District Superintendent Melba Luciano said Wednesday it’s her intent that Osceola County will outperform all other districts in the state of Florida.
Luciano, giving her second address as district chief during the event said, “It won’t happen overnight, but if we believe and if we work hard, it will happen.”
The superintendent highlighted goals in five critical areas of analysis:
Student achievement – the district looks to increase the number of A grade schools from 13 to 19, and have all schools achieve a C or higher.
Technology – through the district’s Bring Your Own Device initiative, use technology to increase student achievement, communication and overall productivity.
Profession development – use it to enhance student achievement and employees’ professional growth.
Safe and positive environments – students, parents, staff and the community deserve safety and positivity on all campuses.
Financial resources – ensure that the district’s $790 million budget (87 percent going to school instruction and support) is being allocated as efficiently as possible to assure student success in a way to maintain its long-term financial health.
Luciano said that, like anything else, when the bell rings at the end of the day, it’s all about money. But she reported good news: No programs have been cut, in fact, STEM education (science, technology, engineering, math) has expanded, a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and EA Sports to develop a software development program is in the works and plans are moving ahead to set up TECO (Technical Education Center Osceola) campuses in St. Cloud and Poinciana.
“We do a lot with what we’ve got,” Luciano said. “We can’t do all this alone, it costs money. But whenever we share what our needs are, our partners ask me, ‘Where can we help?’”
She also enlisted the help of students, from elementary to high school, to talk about the good things teachers do to keep them engaged.
“We’ve found out kids want teachers who care and won’t let them fail, who engage their learning and thinking and have fun while learning,” Luciano said, noting that the students believe there are many ways to get to an answer, even in a rigorous subject like math, so that train of thought should be cultivated. “We want our children to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. So we’ve starting looking at that as early as kindergarten.”
While Osceola County is ahead of the state average in writing skills assessments, it is slightly behind in math and science.
Last year, the district brought in consultants to help map out strategies, and school officials saw assessment scores increase from August to November.
“Fifth-graders take the science tests,” Luciano said. “We’re working to push third and fourth-grade teachers to prepare them better.”
These studies also have helped district officials identify student behaviors, like absences in elementary school and low amounts of credits among high-school juniors, that help spot students who are at risk of dropping out. All that helped raise Osceola County’s graduation rate from 77.5 percent in 2012 to 78.06 percent in 2013, ahead of Florida’s 75.6 percent rate in 2013.
“And that’s counting all schools, public, charter and alternative schools,” Luciano said.
But, more graduates don’t exactly translate into more college freshmen. Kathleen Plinske, president of Valencia College’s Osceola and Lake Nona campuses, shared Wednesday that only 41 percent of the county’s grads go on to college, behind the state average of 52 percent and the rates of all neighboring counties.
But, she said the college, along with its partners, have worked to make postsecondary education a reality for students, even if it isn’t
“We’re excited about growth you can’t see,”
Dual enrollment classes, which high-schoolers can take for college credit, is helping, although the state has mandated school districts must help colleges with the cost of those classes. Plinske said Valencia is reinvesting those funds into academic coaches and scholarships for incoming students needing developmental work in reading, writing and math. The school also received a $10,000 grant from the Florida College System Foundation in order to work with high school English teachers to make sure graduates are truly ready for the writing demands of college.
The county has provided funding for additional Lynx bus service between
Valencia, Buenaventura Lakes and north Kissimmee. With the state’s help, the construction of a Valencia campus in Poinciana is well on its way.
Valencia has partnered with UCF to put a regional campus at the Osceola location, meaning students can earn a bachelor’s degree without ever leaving the county.
“When this community comes together to reach a goal there’s nothing that can stop it,” Plinske said.