BRADENTON -- With 16 months under his belt, Manatee County schools Superintendent Rick Mills told the Manatee Tiger Bay Club the district has "turned the corner" and is on its way to "greatness."
Mills led a panel Thursday at the Pier 22 luncheon that included Don Hall, deputy superintendent of operations, and Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instruction. The three top officials reflected on the challenges the district has faced, expanded on plans for the future and urged local community members to get involved to help the school district succeed.
"We still have many challenges," Greene said. "We need you as a community."
Mills began his speech by saying his job has been to rebuild the plane while it's flying, then showed the audience a short video, featuring talking heads of Mills and other leadership officials superimposed on bodies in a video from a 2000 EDS commercial of a plane being rebuilt in the air. Text on the screen highlighted district initiatives and other accomplishments over the past year, including implementing a pay increase for employees, building a leadership team and buying more than 6,000 new laptop/tablets for students.
"I am very, very pleased with what we accomplished in the past 16 months," Mills said.
The operations side of the
district, Hall said, has worked on three goals: providing exceptional customer service, supporting the delivery of quality instruction and creating a climate of trust and responsibility.
The instruction and curriculum teams, Greene said, have taken on the district's new philosophy, and students have made gains in test scores.
"We know that it's much more than test scores," she said, before discussing some of the other ways the district is supporting students.
Greene made a plea to the public to get more involved and to help the district succeed in educating the 46,000 students in Manatee schools.
The panel also fielded questions from audience members concerning how administrators planned to communicate with the community, to rally citizens in the face of public distrust and about the handling of the Roderick Frazier criminal case and surrounding fallout for Manatee High School leaders.
"We need to come together and unite," Mills said in response to a question about the fallout from the Frazier case. "We have to put aside what happened in the past."
Frazier, an assistant coach and parent liaison who resigned from the district, pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor counts of battery and two misdemeanor counts of interfering with school attendance. He was sentenced to three years of probation, including six months of house arrest.
Former district officials Robert Gagnon, Gregg Faller and Matthew Kane also faced criminal charges of failure to report child abuse in connection to the case. The district suspended the three without pay in October. Kane and Gagnon have been acquitted of all criminal charges. Faller was convicted of a misdemeanor failure to report child abuse and sentenced to one day of probation.
All three former employees appealed the district's suspension. Gagnon's administrative hearing has concluded, and the administrative law judge said Gagnon did not violate any school policies. Mills dismissed the complaint against Gagnon last week. The recommended orders for Kane and Faller have not been issued.
Mills said the district is in the process of bringing a proposal for Gagnon's back pay to the school board and district officials will act once the other administrative hearing orders are issued.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.