I have been using the phrase “Isn’t it Wonderful” to kick off the statements I have shared at farewell ceremonies and at the recent Class of 2020 Parade and Drive-Through Diploma Distribution.
As I began what I believe may be my 600th Ebytes article, I reflected on many of the wonderful people I have met and events that have occurred at Shorecrest over the past 15 years.
I estimate that 14,580 students have attended Shorecrest over those years. 1,061 have commenced and are now Shorecrest Alumni. Colleagues, parents and I helped, and at times even pulled out of cars, many of those reluctant students who are now graduates when they were in Experiential School and Lower School. It is truly wonderful to see them now!
Admittedly, morning drop off was regularly the highlight of my day. One memory from a year ago involves a little girl who would not get out of the car if I were the one letting her out. I learned how to distance myself when her mother drove up. On a few, rare occasions when I was the only available adult to get her out, her older sister and I would do a ballet to get the girls out without me ever getting too near the younger sister. Then in May of that year, her mother drove up, the car door opened, and the little girl leapt into my arms. The other adults were as stunned as I. Isn’t it wonderful how children grow up?! Often, all we need to do is give them time and space.
Some of my favorite memories of Shorecrest students are from Homecoming Spirit Week as well as seeing students perform in the theatre and in athletic competitions. The energy that our Chargers bring to school powers the campus. We have terrific students at Shorecrest. They bring great joy to our community and certainly have to my life. I was teased a little for having tears in my eyes when the Girls Varsity Volleyball Team won the State Championship in 2018. Five years earlier, every adult around me had tears in their eyes when Upper School Performing Arts presented “Anything Goes” on the Main Stage at Morsani Hall in front of 3000 “out of their mind” thespians from around the state. Isn't it wonderful when we can experience tears of joy because of the great work of our teachers, coaches and directors!
There is no question about how appreciative I am of the parents and friends of the school who have donated approximately $35,500,000 to add our newest facilities. Our donors provided technology and training so that we earned the designation of an Apple Distinguished School. (The technology did not hurt during this recent stint with distance learning.) Their generosity funded programs that have made Shorecrest distinctive, a Top 10 School in Florida.
Professional development of the faculty, The Learning Center, the Center for Medical Sciences, the AP curriculum and expanded, in-depth courses offered in Upper School, Advisory Programs, increased financial aid, focus on innovation in teaching and learning, emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion and our Service Learning Program would not be possible without support from the community that goes way above and beyond tuition. Isn’t it wonderful that people who have the resources chose to invest in Shorecrest, the students and the teachers.
One of the highlights of every year has been the SCA Holiday Gift Drive. The volunteer efforts of SCA leaders combined with the generosity of our families fills the gym with special gifts for children in the Guardian ad Litem program. During the final special hours of the Gift Drive, the Crisp Gym is filled with love and compassion for others. While we tried to have students become more involved with the Gift Drive, our student leaders did what great leaders do. They created Service Week for all Upper School students and teachers. That led to the creation of a change in the Mission of the School. The words, “...and the development of a commitment to social responsibility” were added. Soon after the position for the Director of Service Learning was created. Isn’t it wonderful that service is so important to our community that teachers and children now have a staff member to assist them with their service-learning endeavors.
During the past 15 years, a boatload of rock-star faculty have retired. Our current, outstanding faculty keeps education increasingly relevant for a generation that is part of a more global, technology-based and interconnected world than ever before. Teaching remains a profession that requires individuals to be great with a subject area and great with interpersonal skills. But teaching is far more demanding today than back when a principal handed a rookie a stack of books and a key in September and said, “See you in June.” The modern teacher, like people in most careers, is expected to be a collaborator, a counselor, a strategic planner, proficient with technology, available to parents and families, and, of course, still great with their subject area and great with interpersonal skills with their students. At Shorecrest I have been so fortunate to have a cargo ship filled with incredible professionals to support our students, their families and each other. I love that school is more experiential, more project- based, and more interdisciplinary than ever before. That our school has attracted such marvelous professionals who care so much about children is truly wonderful. I wish school had been like Shorecrest back when I was a child.
During the past three months the leadership skills of the 14 administrators who met with me at least three times a week on Zoom have been illuminating. Frankly, I never took them for granted before March 13, but since then, like their faculty, they have kept their minds on the students, faculty and our Mission to ensure the present and future of Shorecrest will shine brightly. The Administrators have been magnificent.
We are taught in leadership classes that if we hire up, meaning we hire people who elevate the organization, the organization will thrive. We are taught to hire people with diverse backgrounds and skill sets so when brought together a synergy is created that is unstoppable. We are taught to hire people who have integrity. Character trumps skills. I have been blessed with great administrators during my time at Shorecrest. I doubt if I would have lasted 15 years without them. Isn’t it wonderful that in my final year as Headmaster I go out with an All-Star Team? Lucky ole Shorecrest and lucky ole me!
Of course, I have spent much of my time at Shorecrest with trustees, SCA leaders and other parent volunteers who added greatly to the vibrancy and health of our school. Eight Board Chairs became reliable partners and provided a feedback loop that any CEO/Headmaster would envy. 74 trustees have served the school. For as much as they do and for as much as they give to the community very little has been done to thank our trustees for their work. Many are philanthropic, involved with the Athletic Council, Parent Liaisons, and every organization that enhances the lives of teachers, students, and their families. Our trustees have had the vision and courage to build the campus and fund the programs that have made Shorecrest a school of distinction. Unless one is fulfilled by seeing their work make the school a better place for current and future generations, the work can be thankless. Yes, there are great relationships that develop. Yet, trustees pay a price of time, talent, and resources. It is wonderful that our community has leaders who have stepped up to make Shorecrest a shining light in our community, not just for today but for generations to come.
Isn’t it wonderful that 16 years ago when my wife Robin said to me, “Anywhere but Florida,” that the people she met let us give Shorecrest, St. Petersburg, and Florida a chance. I have appreciated the people and opportunities that being the Headmaster at Shorecrest has afforded us. I am appreciative and indebted to the Haskell family, Jack Ordeman, Mary Booker Wall, and all the faculty and staff and trustees for building a strong foundation for our school. I retire from our school and this phase of my career believing that wonderful times are ahead for Shorecrest, our new Head of School, Nancy Spencer, and all the students, families, teachers, staff, and trustees.
As my colleagues Lee Ahlin and Bill Leavengood ‘78 have written, “It has been a good ride.”
I realize there is important work to do in the coming months as we prepare to have students and teachers safely return to campus. We know we need to provide options to meet the conditions that may exist in August. We know we will need to have both on-campus and distance learning options that we can deliver at the same time. We will be sharing plans soon. But Shorecrest, like every other school and business, realizes that conditions can change quickly. We realize the plans we present could change - but rest assured there are plans and steps being taken to bring everyone back to campus safely and with advanced technology to support on-campus and distance learning if it is needed. You will receive an important letter from the Board of Trustees and Administration early next week with detailed Health and Safety information, approved by our Health & Safety Task Force. We will continue to communicate on the 1st and 15th of every month this summer with more details, or any changes. I am optimistic about the future of the education that will be offered to all of our students.
I not only wish you an enjoyable summer but also enjoyable lives.