Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Opinion

Hooper: Pasco School District set me up, and I'm thrilled

Brian Prescott set me up.

The program coordinator for the Pasco School District asked me to address a group of students, teachers and administrators at a Together We Stand summit earlier this month.

The district's student services staff started Together We Stand in 2013 to bring together all of the stakeholders concerned about the impact of bullying: students, teachers, administrators and community partners. Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning made it a priority, and since its inception it has expanded to include a focus on a culture of caring.

It's quite admirable, and I was honored Prescott thought enough to ask me to keynote the event.

But he set me up. And Browning might have been in on it, too. I'm not sure.

To be clear, Prescott comes across as a genuinely nice guy, and you can argue I should have asked how many people I could expect in the audience. But with the event occurring after the school year, in the middle of summer vacation, I guessed 40 to 50 people would attend. Maybe 100.

Try 500. Every principal in the district, plus a variety of student leaders from high schools, middle schools and elementary schools came together at Rushe Middle School on June 5. Yep, I unassumingly walked in and quickly realized I needed to address a standing-room-only audience.

Thanks for the heads up, Mr. Prescott.

Oh, but to really understand how Prescott set me up, consider this. Before I spoke, he brought out a dynamic group of singers and dancers to entertain the group.

The Longleaf Elementary Freedom Review Show Choir took the floor and completely blew the audience away with a series of showstopping tunes.

The showcase included tailored renditions of some of my personal favorites: Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, the Jackson 5's I'll Be There and Clean Bandit's Rather Be, a spirited 2014 pop tune I absolutely love. The kids nailed it and had everybody clapping along.

Fifth-grader Jonathan Ortiz proved to be a terrific front man, handling lead vocals on I'll Be There. If he continues to shine, stardom may very well be in his future.

The group of fourth- and fifth-graders, led by music educators Jennifer St. Charles and James Wanker, clapped, danced and sang with perfection. It's a reflection of how much they practice — rehearsals three days a week plus added practices for big shows.

St. Charles and Wanker culled performances out of these kids that would rival any high school choir. In fact, they performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the America Sings festival in March, and a group of adjudicators made up of professional musicians named them the best elementary show choir in the nation.

And after the crowd in the auditorium gave the Longleaf kids a long standing ovation, I had to stand up and give up a speech.

Yep, Prescott set me up.

He set me up to see that the Pasco School District is addressing one of the biggest challenges in education in a thoughtful manner.

He set me up to see that talk of creating a caring culture is backed by people on all levels.

He set me up to realize that despite the stream of criticism so often spewed by our legislative leaders, the earnest but imperfect efforts of running one of the state's largest school districts still yields dedicated teachers, forthright administrators and students willing to give up summer beach days.

Prescott set me up to see why Longleaf Elementary became a Florida Arts Model School in 2016. He set me up to witness a talented group of kids who can't help but inspire anyone who cares about education.

He set me up to realize that when given the tools, time and support, teachers can produce greatness.

Yep, Prescott set me up, and I'm not mad at him at all.

Maybe next time he can set up Florida Speaker of the House and Pasco state Rep. Richard Corcoran. That's a man who definitely needs to witness the best the Pasco School District has to offer.

That's all I'm saying.

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