Superintendent of Schools Joseph P. Burke laid out the achievements of the school system during his second and final "State of our Schools" address at the Partners in Education Annual Breakfast on Friday.
The event was held at the Broadway Palm Theatre in Fort Myers. It was sponsored by the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools.
Burke, after joining foundation members in song, eschewed the puff of smoke he was introduced to last year, and addressed school administrators and business leaders head-on about the significant achievements the system made in and out of the classroom.
Burke praised Tice Elementary and its dual language program, which not only teaches other languages, but also allows children to foster positive cross-cultural attitudes.
"One language gets you into the corridor, but two opens every door. At Tice, students began opening those doors in kindergarten," Burke said.
Burke also praised the career academies, whose enrollment is now more than 10,000, with more than 2,600 receiving career certification, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs, many of which have been funded by business, its IB and Cambridge programs and advanced placement programs.
But Burke warned there is no excellence without equity, and that there's work to be done to lift all students.
"We must do our best to encourage our minority students to take advantage of the educational opportunities available," Burke said. "And insist that access to the most rigorous coursework occurs."
Among the in-school strides the district made were the lowest drop-out and highest graduation rate in the history in the district, and increase to 94 percent of A/B high schools in 2011-12, and an increase in ACT scores, reading gains among the lowest students, and in the number of district career academies.
Individually, Riverdale and Fort Myers high schools were named among the best in the nation by Newsweek, while Cape Coral High was honored among the best by U.S. News and World Report.
"All of this is achieved by excellent teachers and support personnel. We are fortunate to have outstanding employees at every level of the organization," Burke said. "Everyone contributes to the work that is done."
The breakfast also recognized the business partners who donate time and resources to help the school district.
Two, in particular, were Robert Hensley, president of McNulty Management, and Teresa Goodlad, owner of Goodlad Insurance Agency, who earned awards as business partners of the year.
Among the foundation's achievements was help to create STAMP, The Student Advocacy and Mentoring Program, another successful A-Team Challenge, Art Speak Program, the Golden Apple Awards, ballroom dancing classes, and 49 fifth-graders were awarded Carson Scholarships, said Robbie Roepstorff, chairman of the foundation.
"We applaud the business community for getting involved with education. It's not just financial support, but hand-on involvement that allows the foundation to continue enhancing and enriching education," Roepstorff said.
The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools engages the business community on what's happening in the school system through its numerous programs, from holding pizza parties to funding entire programs, said Marshall Bower, foundation CEO.
Over the 26 years the foundation has existed, it has contributed $35 million to the school system, Bower said.
"They recognize our students are the next leaders in our community and the foundation and its business partners make that difference," Bower said.