Business partnerships with Manatee school district honored at Manatee Chamber event

A collaborative effort to breathe new life into a mentorship program at Wakeland Elementary School brought top honors to both the Pittsburgh Pirates/Bradenton Marauders organization and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Suncoast.

The 26th annual Business and Education Partnership Awards, run by an arm of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, doled out 10 different awards Friday morning at Freedom Village Retirement Community. The program shines a light on local businesses getting involved with the Manatee County School District.

“We are so very proud to have now nearly over 150 fantastic partnerships,” said Trudy Moon, chair of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce board. “What a community to be able to pull that all together.”

The Race Around the World program at Wakeland pairs students with mentors, pulling from both organizations to train, find and retain the appropriate mentors for students, starting with students in the third grade, the year in which students may be in danger of being retained for failing state exams. The work with the school earned the Pirates and Big Brothers Big Sisters the highest award given out each year, the Partner in Excellence.

Other awards included organizations new to partnering with the district, organizations with fewer than 20 employees, non-profit organizations that get involved, large organizations and special one-time partnerships, among others.

“It is really immeasurable,” said Nick Choat, the owner of Sport Clips Bradenton and a member of the education and workforce partnership committee at the chamber.

In most cases, entire businesses were honored for their efforts, but two awards honored individuals for their involvement. Laura Roberts, the college and career adviser at Bayshore High School, was named the school coordinator of the year for her efforts to work collaboratively with businesses at Bayshore.

“Laura is proof that if you want anything done well, you ask a very busy person. And Laura is a very busy person,” school board chairwoman Karen Carpenter said as she introduced Roberts for the award.

On the flip side, two business representatives were honored for their involvement with a beautification project at Bayshore. Whiting Preston, of Manatee Fruit Co., and Adam Rickert, of Big Earth Supply, were both given the honor of business coordinators of the year.

Numerous presenters and speakers spoke about the strong relationship between the school district and businesess and how both can work together to continue to make Manatee County a great place to live.

John Horne, of Anna Maria Oyster Bar, and Bob Gause, a school board member, both also spoke about the upcoming half-cent sales tax referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The school district is looking for voters to approve extending an already existing half-cent sales tax — which brings in about $30 million — a year to help the district build and maintain schools and provide new technology in classrooms.

Horne is a founding member of the political action committee, Forward Manatee, which is advocating for both the school district’s extension and the county’s new proposed half-cent tax to be passed.

“It is crucial, absolutely crucial that we have this funding for our schools,” Horne said.

“The district can’t do it without the support of the business community,” Gause said. “I don’t think people understand the magnitude.”

When Superintendent Diana Greene spoke, she talked about the children sitting in the classrooms who benefit from the business partnerships and chamber programs, including a program where professionals visit fourth-grade classrooms to talk to students about what they do.

“You help them see life beyond the classroom,” Greene said. “If you don’t see the passion in what I’m saying, see the passion in the students.”

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney

Award winners

Here’s a full list of winners from the 26th annual Business and Education Partnership Awards

Rookie of the year, given to a partner with one year of participation — Culver’s - Ranch Lake

Civic Partner of the Year, given to a civic, church or non-profit organization that shows the highest level of participation — Harvest United Methodist Church - Bayshore

Good Things Come in Small Packages, given to a partner business with fewer than 20 employees that shows a high level of participation — Kona Ice

Good Things Come in Big Packages Too, given to a partner business with more than 20 employees that shows a high level of participation — Labinal Power Systems / Safran

It's a Two Way Street, presented to a school and their partner for giving back to each other through publicity, recognition and support of the partnership — The Center of Anna Maria Island & Anna Maria Elementary School

Special One-Time Project, given to a partner that gives a one-time, focused effort that displays creativity, teamwork, and resource utilization — Little Ceasar’s - Bradenton

District Wide Partner, given to the business that supports multiple schools throughout the district — Good Life Healing Center

School Coordinator of the Year, recognizes the school representative who provides leadership, dedication and communication, affecting the overall involvement of Business Partners — Laura Roberts, college and career adviser at Bayshore High School

Business Coordinator of the year, recognizes the business representative who provides leadership, dedication and communication, affecting the overall involvement of Business Partners — Whiting Preston of Manatee Fruit Co. and Adam Rickert of Big Earth Supply

Partner in Excellence, described as the "pinnacle" of the awards breakfast. According to the awards summary from the Chamber Foundation: "This honor is bestowed upon the partner that has typified the mission of the Manatee Partnership Program through active and exemplary accomplishment of the various 'levels' of participation. The recipient of this award was chosen by the Selection Committee from all of the nominations submitted this year — Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Suncoast and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Bradenton Marauders were honored for their joint effort to breathe new life into a mentor program at Wakeland Elementary School.