A partnership expands

Gulf District Schools and Gulf Coast State College have already forged an effective partnership.

Some 90 students in public schools are currently taking dual-enrolled classes through the college, many well on their way to Associate’s degrees before grabbing a high school diploma.

The partnership has reached into the middle school grades this school year, with mentoring and underwater robotics classes.

As of Tuesday’s meeting of the Gulf County School Board, that partnership is soon to take a quantum leap.

Loretta Costin with the Gulf/Franklin Campus, presented a proposal for an agreement to jointly apply for a grant from Triumph Gulf Coast to fund a $4.9 million “Advanced Learning Center” on the Gulf/Franklin campus.

“We are very excited about this,” said Superintendent of Gulf County Schools Jim Norton. “We see this as a valued partnership.”

The 15,000-square foot facility, on land already owned by the college, would be the headquarters for programs aimed tailored to locals in elementary school to adulthood, Costin said.

Costin said an emphasis on math and the sciences would be inherent in the center.

The grant request would include construction of the building, including sufficient wiring and plumbing to be a technology hub, a smaller version of what the college’s main campus in Panama City possesses, Costin said.

Further, grant funding would be sought for equipment as well as buses, which would be owned by the district, to facilitate transportation to and from the center from the public schools.

Costin outlined a proposed focus, with one component geared toward K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction, with a host of teamwork and problem-solving curriculae.

Instruction and activities would be geared toward science and math instruction from elementary to middle to high schools.

A second component would be geared toward career and technical education, bolstering dual-enrollment options as well as vocational instruction, aiming to earn students post-high school certificates and degrees.

A third component would be geared toward meeting employer needs with general and specialized training.

That last component evolved from issues pertaining to the proposed expansion of Eastern Shipbuilding to Gulf County several years ago and the lack of a broad qualified workforce.

The center would be “open and ready for business” throughout the week.

Costin envisioned frequent trips from local elementary schools during morning hours, high school students during afternoon hours and evenings and weekends for adult education.

STEM labs, Costin said, would lure bring students over on a “regular basis” bringing the need for a transportation element to the grant request.

“Every person in Gulf County who has a need or desire to learn, to increase their skills, this would be the place to go,” Costin said.

“This is a vision.”

That vision, Costin said, is reflected in a saying attributed to Confucius.

“If your plan is for one year, plant rice; if your plan is for 10 years, plant trees; if your plan is for 100 years, educate children.”

“That is what this (the center) is all about,” Costin said.

A timeline is unknown for the project, Costin noted.

With a School Board letter of support, Costin said she would begin immediately on an application.

The Triumph Gulf Coast board, charged with disbursing more than $1 billion in BP fine dollars over the next 15 years, as established a pre-application process with more details to come regarding how applications will be processed.

The Triumph Board has stated a desire to have “transformational” projects that enhance economic development and education options in the Northwest Florida region.

PSJHS principal

The board on Tuesday approved the promotion of Josh Dailey to Principal at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

Debbie Baxley, who served in the role for the first semester, is returning to Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School as testing coordinator.

In addition to the promotion of Dailey, the board also approved creating an assistant principal position for advertisement.

For nearly a decade, the district has not had assistant principals at any school, the only district in Florida that lacks the position, Norton said.

However, the workload at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, the largest in the district, with 170 more student than Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, has become such that Norton said the school can not rely on a principal designee, which is a teacher without administrative powers.

For example, the school has experienced 15 suicide threats this year alone.

“This is the school with the greatest need,” Norton said.