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Eakins on the day before Hillsborough schools start: 'It's way more than just academics'

TAMPA — Jeff Eakins had good reasons for choosing Leto High School for Monday's back-to-school news conference — an annual tradition for the Hillsborough County district but his first ever as superintendent.

The school has a child development center, Little Leto. It has an award winning culinary arts program and an adult automotive school on campus.

And it's part of a group of schools that have come together for a community Parent Teacher Association.

He said Leto has a caring climate, setting a standard as the district prepares to welcome more than 200,000 students back to school on Tuesday.

"All of our employees are ready to go, our buses are ready to go, our teachers are ready to go," Eakins said, "and all our employees are ready to support the needs of our students."

Eakins introduced culinary students from Leto, an automotive student from the Bowers-Whitley Career Center and a college-bound International Baccalaureate student from Robinson High School in keeping with his theme of preparing students for life.

"It's way more than just academics," Eakins said.

He also restated his commitment to helping more students get through school successfully.

"We are going to increase graduation rates," he said. "We are going to do that in Hillsborough County — absolutely."

That effort begins in preschool, he said, listing checkpoints along the way in which students sometimes fall off track.

Eakins also answered questions about the district's dwindling reserve fund, saying he still intends to bring the School Board a full report about the situation at its Sept. 29 meeting.

"The fact that the entire community is looking at that," he said, "that is the epitome of transparency."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or Follow @marlenesokol.