By: Butch Swank
Last summer, Lee County School Board member Gwyn Gittens and I were talking. It seemed to me that we shared similar thoughts on the current state of affairs for our kids, teachers, administrators, and schools. I, and so many others, love Mrs. Gittens because she is the rare elected official who takes action after the talking’s over.
One of her most effective actions to date was to form the East Lee Educational Cooperative. It’s a group made up of parents, business leaders, administrators, and District officials. We began to meet last summer and did so often, sometimes even weekly. I must give Superintendent Dr. Adkins and his executive staff full credit for attending every meeting and being so generous with their time.
The Lee County School District is divided into three Zones – South, West, and East. In my mind, the West and South Zones have done a great job advocating for their areas. Our East Zone, however, has not had a passionate representative for a long time. Mrs. Gittens is here now and making up for that lost time. Our meetings with the District centered on a few areas. 1: The lack of schools – which means too many portables 2: Our schools are hard to staff – making things even harder for both teachers and administrators. 3: There are not enough resources devoted to our Zone.
Collectively, these three areas mean both our students and schools underperform compared to the other Zones. To put things in perspective, when we began meeting last summer, I pulled data from the District and State websites to break down the number of kids we had in portables compared to the other Zones. The South Zone had 22, the West Zone had 88, and the East Zone had 1,991. That was astonishing to me. To be blunt, those numbers made me mad. I’m old enough, however, to know that channeling that emotion can turn it into something positive. Thanks to Mrs. Gittens and her East Lee Co-Op, those portable numbers are coming down fast, and I am confident they will continue to do so.
Here is where Proximity comes into play. Last year the District had a Board meeting and mentioned they were embarking on a plan to rezone all of Lee County. The old plan was badly outdated and needed to be replaced. Mrs. Gittens discovered each Zone had Community Stakeholders represented on the Proximity Plan. Mrs. Gittens then reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to represent our Zone. I run the Goodlad & Swank Insurance agency which means Risk Management is my profession. My approach was to look at this using my risk manager’s lens to assess the District’s conditions. I agreed and attended all meetings. In short, the current plan has kids traveling all over the District, sometimes spending an hour, one way, to school. That adds up to 40 hours per month kids are sitting on a bus. Consider all of the time lost being at home with family, outside playing, or even, dare I say it, studying! With the Proximity Plan in effect, less some exceptions, we’ll have a community-based school system. Kids will again go to their neighborhood schools, and everyone benefits in a multitude of ways. In theory, it’s a grand plan, but only if ALL of our schools are of the same high quality.
As a Community Stakeholder in the Proximity Plan, my intent from day one was to focus on achieving equality of opportunity for our kids. All East Zone schools must have the same opportunities and resources required to perform at the same high level as those in other Zones.
We are headed in the right direction, and that is great news for all our kids in the East Zone, but there is still a lot of work to do, and we need your support. I encourage you to contact Gwyn Gittens with any thoughts you have regarding the rezoning plan or anything else you think is of value. She wants to hear from you and has a track record of getting things done for us in the East Zone. The District plans on having meetings for community feedback, and it is critical that we have a big crowd in attendance. We need to show the District that the East Zone is back, fully engaged, and once again has a strong voice!
Mrs. Gwyn Gittens email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The District’s calendar: https://www.leeschools.net/calendars/district_events