In looking back on 2018, there's no better place to begin than by thanking the citizens of Hillsborough County for investing in our 215,000 students through support of the education referendum.
Thank you for your partnership and trust. Over the next 10 years, this much needed investment, north of $1.3 billion will go directly into improving our schools and taking care of the large backlog of deferred maintenance projects.
While the referendum brings much needed capital funding to our schools, our sole purpose is student achievement. It's why we show up and do what we do every day.
We're driven to address the achievement gap, perpetually low-performing schools, the perceived lack of equity, institutional/systematic racism, and the educational inequality of minorities.
We fully acknowledge that there is still much work before us, but we are very proud of some notable accomplishments made this year. First, we have once again set an all-time high graduation rate of 85.9 percent, an increase of nearly 1,100 students from the prior year.
Four years ago, our graduation rate was at 73 percent. Last winter we celebrated an 82.9 percent graduation rate. We are on track to achieve our goal of 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.
It gives me pride that we are preparing more students for post-secondary education, the military, or for careers enabling our graduates to provide for their families.
MORE YEAR IN REVIEW: Myriam Silva-Warren says taunts can't diminish Hispanics' growing role
We recently celebrated the groundbreaking of our newest high school. For the first time in nearly 10 years, we are building a new school in Riverview that is slated to open fall of 2020, easing the overcrowding in schools in south county.
I am equally excited that, in a historic majority vote by the school board, Tampa Heights Elementary will get a fresh start. A new name, new branding and a new school building also expected to be competed fall of 2020.
Finally, as new buildings are built and old ones are updated, our primary focus is on quality education.
HCPS is focused on several strategic initiatives to improve literacy, proactively preparing our students for a successful school career. Two of the initiatives are "Bold Beginnings" and "Read. Write. Now."
Bold Beginnings is the umbrella for all of our early learning initiatives. It is critical that students are kindergarten-ready, leading to reading proficiency by third grade, as we know that third-grade reading proficiency has a direct correlation to high school graduation.
As a commitment to the same, the district opened-up nearly 400 seats in our early learning programs and have set an aggressive goal of 80 percent kindergarten readiness by 2023.
Literacy has become our north star. Having 33 schools on the "D" or "F" list and 38 schools on the state's lowest 300 list is unacceptable. Our children deserve better. Our third grade reading initiative, "Read. Write. Now," positions us to keenly focus on third grade literacy rates; forcing us to re-think what we teach, how we teach, and the resources that support effective teaching. Our teaching and learning team has developed a task force of internal and external partners who are engaged in the strategic redesign of our literacy curriculum.
As the recently elected School Board Chair, proudly one of three African-American chairs in local government, it brings me great joy to be able lead such a group of distinguished colleagues. This year we have the opportunity to coalesce around a shared set of ideals that focus on ensuring all students are "prepared for life."
Having significantly closed the $126-million deficit, we are quickly approaching the financial health necessary to ensure long term stability. We are seeing a steady increase in our fund balance, which is one of our top indicators of a financially stable organization.
We will continue to work on improving the big things and the little things; focus on undoing generations of wrong and implementing aggressive equity policies and practices so that all students will succeed.
We are grateful for each of our 26,000 employees, especially our teachers, the backbone of the district. We have a long road left to travel. We invite the community to join us in making Hillsborough County Public Schools the best option for all students and their families.
Tamara Shamburger is chair of the Hillsborough County School Board.