School Board to host town hall meeting Oct. 30

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County School Board is preparing to host a town hall meeting on Oct. 30 in the Okeechobee Freshman Campus auditorium.

The town hall meeting will be an opportunity for community members to provide feedback and suggest areas of opportunity for the school district.

The notion of a town hall was first raised during the school board’s master board training provided by the Florida School Boards Association.

“During the master board training, the school board and myself studied how to work together as a team to be of better service to our school and community,” said Superintendent Ken Kenworthy. “We analyzed the 13 dimensions of an effective team. That led us to a few of our goals to listen more, act with transparency and implement new ideas to get better. A town hall seemed to be a way for us to help address all of those dimensions.”

The town hall is scheduled to begin with a “state of the district” presentation from the superintendent. The presentation will help inform both the citizens attending the town hall and current school board members of the district’s past performance, points of pride and areas that should be a focus on moving forward.

Mr. Kenworthy said school board members are looking forward to any ideas or insights the Okeechobee community may have on the future of the school district.

“We hope citizens will bring their ideas to the forum,” explained Mr. Kenworthy. “The more perspectives we have, the more likely we can meet the needs of those we serve.”

The Okeechobee County School Board is coming off a few big votes this year, some even gaining national attention.

Perhaps the biggest vote this year was the school board’s decision to move forward with expanding the guardian program to teachers within the district, which will allow classroom teachers to carry firearms after being vetted and going through training. The vote drew the eye of national media networks such as Fox and CBS, but while teachers carrying firearms remains a divisive issue throughout most of the country, the measure was mostly supported by the Okeechobee community.

Results from a community survey put out by the school district showed respondents were in favor of the expansion.
Of the 879 people who voted in the survey, 62 percent wanted to expand the program to teachers while 38 percent were not in favor.

The majority of respondents to the survey were parents, followed by school district employees and community members. Students contributed the smallest share of responses to the survey, but they were easily the most divided of all the groups.

Forty-seven percent of students said “yes” to allowing teachers to carry firearms while 53% said “no.” In contrast, parents had the highest percentage of any group approving the measure with 68% saying “yes” to allowing teachers in the guardian program.

There has also been renewed hope that a new high school may be in the cards for the school district in the future. With a new governor in Tallahassee and fresh faces at the Florida Department of Education (FDOE), some in the district have expressed hope that the county may finally see financing for a new building approved.

Earlier this year focus groups were held during the district’s process of crafting a new strategic plan. Those focus groups were conducted with juniors and seniors at Okeechobee High School, families, community members, principals, teachers, administrative services staff, support services staff and instructional services staff. The condition of the high school was brought up in those focus groups as an area that needs improvement consistently.

The first building at Okeechobee High School was constructed in 1966. Seven more buildings were added in 1968, two in 1973 and, finally, three in 1993.

Another issue brought out in the focus group was the lack of minorities in leadership positions in the district.

One of the strengths singled out in the focus groups was the sense of family that comes from the small size of Okeechobee. Other strengths mentioned were the caring and dedicated staff, strong academic offerings, safety and security improvements and effective communication between teachers and parents.

The Okeechobee County School Board town hall meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on Oct. 30 in the Okeechobee Freshman Campus auditorium.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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