PALMETTO -- The Manatee County School District is poised to "skyrocket," according to Superintendent Rick Mills, who spoke of the district's turnaround and future expectations on Monday.
"I'm very high on the district right now," he said, adding that he thinks in the next two or three years, the district will be one of the state's top 15 performing districts.
About 20 community members and school officials attended Mills' first "Soup with the Supe" event of the 2014-15 academic year in the Eagles Nest banquet room at the Riverhouse Reef and Grill. The event, featuring Mills and school board members Bob Gause and Karen Carpenter serving a light lunch to attendees, was designed to update the community on the district and issues, while allowing community members to ask questions.
While eating tomato basil soup or lobster bisque, complemented with salad and dinner rolls, attendees listened to Mills and Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instruction, discuss some of the district's accomplishments and challenges.
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Mills talked about the financial turnaround the district underwent in the last year and a half. He said the district is poised to have $16.5 million in the fund balance in October 2015, well over the state-mandated minimum. Mills also talked about academic gains made in the past year, and predicted a continued rise.
"We will skyrocket as a school district," he said. "I've
done it twice already and it's in the forecast here."
Greene talked to the crowd about some of the challenges the district still faces, including changes in state assessments and requirements. The district is working diligently to implement the changes, Greene said. She said she knows the changes are stressful to teachers and the district is working to help.
"We are doing our best to provide them the resources," she said.
She also talked about some of the positive changes, including adding part-time guidance clerks to the schools, to help lessen the load of guidance counselors and make sure the district wasn't missing out on money available for English for Speakers of Other Languages or Exceptional Student Education. Greene said she hopes money will be available in the future to make the part-time clerks full-time employees.
After speaking for more than 30 minutes and running over the allotted time for the event, Greene and Mills answered community questions for about 20 minutes, including whether the district had to follow state mandates for graduation, whether the district will evaluate the legal team and how the district coordinates and provides relief for all the different changes implemented at once.
"One of the things that concerns me is that amount of change," said Judy Bayer, a former principal. "These are huge, huge changes."
In response, Mills cited his personal experience in Chicago and Minneapolis, saying new initiatives and change were necessary to help the district. He also said there wouldn't be any more new initiatives this year, because the district is juggling so much at once.
"Just know, we're going in the right direction," he said. "We're on the path toward greatness."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.