In early 1990, Manatee County's technical school was very problematical and was on the verge of being shut down. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Dan Nolan was given the task of dealing with the issue. He assembled a group of businessmen to discuss what should be done.
It was unanimous that we did not want to lose our technical school. All agreed to work with the school district through an advisory board of governors. We focused on workforce development and made recommendations to the administrators as to what we wanted taught so that we would have a local source for our community workforce.
This has grown to where we now have more than 200 businessmen who unselfishly give of their time and skills and often their resources. By the mid 1990s it was obvious we needed expanded administrative leadership to take our program to the next level.
In 1966 a unique educator was hired by the school district to be the executive director of our technical school: Dr. Mary Cantrell. She was selected because: (1) she had a clear vision of what a student-centric technical school should be; (2) she was a strong personality who could restructure the staff and programs; and (3) she committed to work with the board of governors.
Likewise, the board of governors committed to working with her so that her vision could be accomplished. The central administrative leadership was dedicated to supporting, without intervention, the board's and Mary's joint efforts.
The program flourished. Dr. Cantrell initiated her strong beliefs, and over a period of time, without compromising those beliefs, she helped create an outstanding technical school.
Manatee Technical Institute is now an institution that is recognized both locally and nationally as one of the finest in America.
In June 2014, after 18 years of being the administrative leader of MTI, Mary retired. She made the decision to run to be a board member for the School District of Manatee County and has been elected.
Thus, Dr. Cantrell will now be making decisions at the governance level of the school district, which is a different type of decision-making from the administration of a specific school.
There are those in the community who have concerns regarding her motivation to run. As one who founded and served for 14 years as the chairman of the board of governors and president of the MTI Foundation, I have worked closely with and know Dr. Mary Cantrell well.
I predict that as long as Mary can make the transition from administration to governance, and is truly motivated to do what is in the best interest of the students, she will be one of our most productive and effective school board members.
Let's all support her efforts and wish her well as we closely observe her transition.