State of Education touts district successes

Superintendent Debra Pace, center, is flanked by Osceola County School Board members at the State of Education event on Tuesday. From left are: School Board Members Kelvin Soto, Terry Castillo, Superindent Pace and Board Members Clarence Thacker, Tim Weisheyer and Ricky Booth.

Roughly 400 stakeholders, community leaders and education officials gathered at Osceola School for the Arts on Tuesday for the district’s annual State of Education address.

The event showcased successes and strides made in the Osceola County School District over the last year and provided the superintendent a platform to discuss strategic goals for the future.  

This year’s theme was “Every child, every chance, every day.” The slogan was reiterated by School Board members and Superintendent Debra Pace throughout the breakfast presentation. Pace even encouraged attendees to stand and recite the proverbial saying in unison so that “ our neighbors right across the county line can hear us.”

According to Pace, the words emphasize an important message - the education of each student in Osceola County matters.  

“We know that when every child gets a fair chance at success, Osceola’s families, community and economy will benefit,” she said.

STEM-infused programs across the district were highlighted throughout the morning, including the bio-design program at NeoCity Academy and the international baccalaureate program at Celebration High School.

School Board members discussed elements of district success, including fiscal responsibility and community involvement.

Promising statistics were shared with the crowd, including a nearly 90 percent high school graduation rate - a point of pride for the district since the data was released earlier this year.

Pace also shared that although Osceola County School Districts remains a “B” it is now one point closer to gaining its “A” status.

In an effort to be more inclusive and ensure success for all students, more than 30 schools now offer AVID, a program for students who will be the first in their family to attend college that prepares them for higher education. New English as Second Language (ESL) task forces are also set to be established at each school this calendar year to help students who may struggle to learn English, according to the presentation.

Efforts and incentives are also being explored to retain teachers and support staff members in Osceola County. According to the presentation, the district has about a 90 percent teacher retention rate.

The district maintains a $1.1 billion budget, and this is the fourth year Osceola County has enjoyed a balanced budget. A half penny sales tax increase implemented a couple years ago has helped pay for various improvements across the district, according to the presentation, including more than 50 deferred maintenance projects.

The district said it will continue to explore ways to save money and use it more efficiently at schools, including a proposed scheduling adjustment set to go before the school board this month. The adjustment would stagger school start times so that high schools began first, then elementary and finally middle schools, potentially saving the district over $2.5 million a year.