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December  2017 
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In this edition of ConnectED:
  • Amazon gives $15,000 in equipment, supplies to Wimauma Elementary

  • Meet the 2018 Excellence in Education Awards finalists

  • A message from the Superintendent

  • HEF Spotlight: Steve Sessums
  • Change a student's life, become a mentor
  • Florida Prepaid scholarship opportunity 
Amazon, HEF partner to make surprise delivery

As part of Amazon's #DeliveringSmiles campaign, the company reached out to the Hillsborough Education Foundation to choose a school that would benefit from a gift of supplies and electronic equipment. On Dec. 12, HEF got to be part of a wonderful holiday surprise at Wimauma Elementary School, where Amazon delivered $15,000 worth of smiles to the teachers and students. The donation included  Kindle Fires for teachers and students, as well as various classroom and curriculum enrichment resources. 

This holiday season, Amazon has been on a mission to support families in need - the company made $500,000 in special deliveries across the country throughout December.

Thank you, Amazon, for your incredible generosity!
Meet the 2018 Excellence in Education finalists
On Dec. 5, the Hillsborough Education Foundation  trav eled to schools around the county to surprise 13  top-notc h educators as finalists f or this year's Ida S. Baker Diversity Ed uc ator of the Year, Instructional Support Employee of the Year and Teacher of the Year awards. A winner in each cat egory will be named at the 2018 Excellence in Education Awards, a Winter Wonderland-themed celebration at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts,  presented by Suncoast Credit Un ion on Jan. 16. This event is open to the public, and tickets can be purchased here by Jan. 5.

Click here to read about the 13 finalists.

A message from HCPS Superintendent Jeff Eakins:
As a member of the Tampa Bay community and advocate for children, you understand the value of connecting history with present day issues. Similarly, as a teacher, I taught my students the value of learning all sides of our past to improve what happens to us in the future. And I carry this same commitment to you as your Superintendent.
By now, you probably heard about the financial struggles plaguing Hillsborough County Public Schools. But, how did we get here? The best way to answer that question starts with some background and facts.
- HCPS owes $1 Billion in debt service
- HCPS needs $1 Billion for deferred maintenance on buildings
- HCPS needs $1 Billion to accommodate future growth
Even though each Billion deals with different parts of the budget, all three connect to our past in a very unique way.
In the 1990's, Florida experienced historic growth. Between 1995 and 2009, HCPS built 68 schools to keep up with the massive increases in student enrollment. Like most families and businesses, HCPS borrowed the money to build schools. Neither the state of Florida nor the federal government provided funds to support growth. In other words, the citizens of Hillsborough County shouldered the burden of this debt.
Then in 2002, the citizens of Florida passed the Class Size Reduction Amendment. I was a principal in South County when class size reduction passed. My school's capacity dramatically decreased overnight from 1,000 students down to only 700. Suddenly, HCPS needed more teachers, more classrooms, and more schools. Again, the burden fell locally on our community to meet these mandates.
But how did we accumulate $1 billion in deferred maintenance? We built incredible schools during that 15-year growth period. But, just like our homes, schools age over time. Our air conditioners and roofs lasted 15 to 20 years and now many of them must be replaced. Did you know that just one high school HVAC unit costs at least $12 million to replace? Remember, we built 68 schools in a short period of time, and although they have aged remarkably well, things do break after 20 years and must be fixed or replaced. Unfortunately, during this same period, the state of Florida decreased the capital funding it provided traditional public schools.
The last "B" is obvious to anyone who lives in our community. Hillsborough County is growing again at record pace, and HCPS needs to build more schools to keep up with this growth. Once again, our community will bear the burden of these costs as we address these issues locally.
So, when you put these "3 B's" together, it brings clarity to a very difficult financial situation. But, I believe we can work together to find real solutions. For example, in the past local school boards could levy, by simple majority vote, a greater millage amount for capital purposes. Additionally, school boards had the authority to determine how to use local capital outlay millage revenue. But recent legislation removed our school board's autonomy and decreased millage. This type of legislation stressed your local school budget. What's the solution? Restore the authority back to our local community.
Other solutions include right-sizing our organization while harnessing the power of local businesses and stakeholders. That means offering students more professional industry certifications. It also means paying for students to take college level coursework in partnership with local community colleges and universities. We're doing all of these things and I believe paying for these certifications and courses is a smart investment by our community so students graduate from school debt-free and ready to launch a career right here in the Tampa Bay community.
Despite some financial setbacks, I remain extremely optimistic about our school district's future. I believe we can work together to turn the tide in order to make the very best decisions for our children.
Jeff Eakins, Superintendent
Hillsborough County Public Schools

Steve Sessums | Mentor, Mentoring Committee Member & Teaching Tools Store Volunteer
How did you become involved in mentoring with HEF?
I first became involved with HEF by being invited to a donor breakfast by my good friend, Luis Garcia. I went and was so impressed with the organization and what it is attempting to do, that I made a modest continuing financial contribution. This led to receiving emails and mailings about the work of the Foundation. As a result I heard about the need for mentors. I was reducing my work load as a lawyer and had more free time. I came and took mentoring training and got my first match . And now, 7 years later, I am still mentoring.

What  has been the most rewarding part of mentoring?
The most rewarding part of mentoring is watching the maturing of a student over time as they progress in their studies and in their social awareness. Being a part of a young person's life and trying to stimulate their ideas and broaden their horizon's to reach their full potential is exciting.  I see so much in them that I lived through at their challenging age. I love the openness and sharing that comes with a closeness with someone several generations younger than me.

What do you believe is the key to being a quality mentor?
To be a quality mentor comes in many different shapes, ages and forms. But an essential part of achieving this is a caring and openness to another person in spite of differences of age and background and to learn from them as they learn from you. Sharing a love of life and the many different paths a meaningful and successful life can be achieved makes this so worthwhile.
What do you hope your mentee will learn from you?
I hope my mentee learns to love life to the fullest and to see the many opportunities that are open to him both professionally and in his personal life. I hope he learns to embrace determination and grit to work hard to achieve his dreams. And I hope he is aware that happiness comes not just from worldly success but more importantly from the relationships that he has with others along the way in giving and receiving love and friendship. I hope I can play a role in helping him get there. 

Change a student's life, become a mentor
If you are looking for a meaningful way to give back, consider becoming a mentor to an HCPS middle- or high-school student. As a mentor, you will meet with your mentee at their school weekly throughout the academic year.  Click here  to learn more or to fill out an application.

Schools with the most need: 
Durant High  | Strawberry Crest High  | Tampa Bay Tech High  | 
Turkey Creek Middle | Alonso High | Armwood High

To get matched with a student this school year, contact Brandi Melton at or (813)574-0275.

Families: It's never too early to save for college
We want to share an amazing opportunity for  Hillsborough County families: Help your grade-schoolers be tomorrow's college-finishers by starting a Florida Prepaid College Plan. Open Enrollment is underway, and families can use the promo code HILLS1718 for half off the application fee. 

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you and your family the very best this holiday season.