Monthly Archives: May 2015

5/26 Meeting Recap

Thank you for taking time to read my blog. I’ve had quite a few people tell me they’ve enjoyed reading it and appreciated the transparency I’m attempting to provide. That makes me very happy! Thank you again.

The Board began the meeting by observing a moment of silence in memory of Louella Howard, a teacher’s aide at Country Oak Elementary for 21 years. Friends and families of LaBelle area retirees packed the board room  to see their loved ones being recognized for their faithful service to the Hendry County School District.

Mary Jo Higginbotham, 21 years, LMS typist

Ginger Kisela, 33 years, LES teacher

Linda O’Ferrell, 31 years, LES clerk/typist

Ester Betancur, 16 years, LMS food service employee

Virginia White, 34 years, UES food service worker and bus driver

The Board was fortunate to get to meet UES student, Isiah Asbed, who could easily be considered an academic prodigy, during the meeting as he was recognized by his teachers for his excellence in character and academics.  We also had the opportunity to meet and recognize members of the LHS AP Government Class for their impressive academic accomplishments as well.

The Board voted unanimously to approve Superintendent Puletti’s personnel and administrative reappointment recommendations. (You can find that list in the meeting packet at ) If you have any questions regarding the Board’s role in regards to personnel appointments, please refer back to an earlier post titled, “The 36K Question.”

The Board got hung up on approving approving new allocations and personnel allocation changes. (You can reference these on pages 16-26 of the board packet.) Superintendent Puletti recommended removing the request for new allocations from the agenda so they he may meet with the Board individually to explain how these new allocations and change in allocations are anticipated to affect student achievement.  As a Board Member, I have no problem spending money if I’m confident that it’s going to have a direct positive impact on student achievement but, as a Board Member, it is my job to intensively question whether every dollar we spend lines up with the goal.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, the most important role of the Board is to manage and control the budget. Our district is entering into a third year of operating in a deficit. While we have a committed fund balance that can currently finance that deficit, my concern is continuing to operate in this manner is fiscally irresponsible and will lead the Board down a road that’s inevitably going to require us to have to make tough decisions to eventually reduce the District’s workforce.

During discussion in regards to the consent agenda, I presented questions regarding the District’s cooperative agreements with daycare providers on our two high school campuses. While I understand that by law these are services our district is obligated to provide, I questioned how much they were costing the district, how many students/children are participating, and what they graduation rates of the student participants have been the past few years. These questions were highlighting the possibly of achieving greater success in reducing the county’s teen pregnancy rate and dependency on this seemingly expensive program by taking a proactive approach and considering addressing risky behaviors.

Under the Board Member Business section of the agenda, I brought to light concerns about parents’ immodest dress (that’s an understatement) and inappropriate behavior (another understatement) while on school campus and during school field trips. Frankly, I’ve been taken aback by the lack of discernment in both areas by a handful of parents who find it acceptable to attend and/or chaperone school-related events in attire that not only creates a distraction, but is frankly more suitable for either sleeping, going to the beach, or going to a nightclub. Personally, I’d like to see District guidelines to address expectations for dress and behavior but wasn’t met with a lot of support as the Board’s attorney cited concerns with trying to legislate an opinion of tastefulness. I’d be willing to compromise tastefulness in an attempt to legislate decency.

While we’re on the subject of legislation, I’m happy to report that the president of NEOLA came to speak to the Board about a draft of a contract to provide professional services to assist the Board in addressing our district policies and bringing them up to date. Updating and keeping policies current has the affect of reducing the District’s liabilities. This would be a time-intensive process but one that strengthens the Board’s policy knowledge, and that’s powerful seeing that the Board has had three new members of the course of the past year.

During the capital outlay report, Asst. Superintendent Larry Worth updated me on my request for bids to install video and audio equipment in both board rooms. The Board should expect quotes within the month. While I’m confident that cameras will “add ten pounds” and I’d like to avoid that, I’m also confident they will provide an unparalleled level of transparency during meetings and a more convenient method for taxpayers and parents to engage in the work of the Board…and that’s incredibly important to me.

I’d like to remind my readers that all opinions expressed within this post are my own and I’d like to invite everyone to attend the next Hendry County School Board meeting on Tuesday, June 9, in Clewiston at the sub-office located at 475 E. Osceola Avenue.  The meeting will begin at 5:30 pm. All School Board meeting are open to the public. Hope to see you there!!

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as YOUR school board member.

~ Stephanie

Weekly Recap 5/18 – 5/22

It was a fun week as your District 4 School Board Member!

I kicked off the week at Central Elementary’s school-wide Tropicana Speech Contest! I was honored to serve as a judge alongside Hendry County education legends Cathy Metz and Paul Samerdyke. We heard a lot of interesting topics and witnessed great public speaking skills from the students.

I was lucky to get to help out the Westside Elementary PTO on Wednesday during the first day of Westside Water Days!  Kindergarten, first, and second grade students enjoyed the water day provided to them through PTO fundraising efforts. A very heartfelt THANK YOU to parents who engage in organizations like PTO and support their schools and students. I’m thankful for the PTO officers at my children’s school who support the students and staff.

I joined the Clewiston High School senior class on their last day at school. City Commissioner Mali Gardner and I attended the last class meeting to talk to them about the importance of completing the FAFSA before walking across Cane Field May 29. I also used to opportunity to share a few words with them that, as an adult, I wish someone had said to me when I sat in their seat in that same auditorium 19 years ago. I told them than in the span of their lifetime, there is no time like the ages between 17-27 to invest in yourself.  If they’ll resist the temptation to “turn up” and justify making poor decisions with “YOLO,” and instead make the investments in pursuing and completing their education in that time frame, they will have a much higher quality of life as an adult.

Thank you for taking time to read my blog! Be on the lookout for a recap of the 5/26 board meeting as well as a recap of a very busy and very eventful week that’s currently underway.

~ Stephanie

Weekly Recap 5/11 – 5/15

It was a great week as your District 4 school board member! This is such a busy time of year and there are so many good things going on in our district.

So, in case I haven’t told everyone at least 100 times already, I’m a member of the Hendry County Education Improvement Task Force. The Task Force is a volunteer think tank comprised of county-wide stakeholders representing various interests and businesses, who share the fundamental belief that high quality public education is the cornerstone of a qualified workforce and a prosperous local economy. We work with the school district and collaborate with school leaders to identify areas we have the capacity, as private citizens, to effectuate positive change.

I. Love. This. Group.

FAFSA Party on May 11 at Clewiston High School.

FAFSA Party on May 11 at Clewiston High School.

One of the areas we wanted to address was the county’s lagging FAFSA completion rates. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The federal government awards over $150 billion each year in financial assistance to attend college and vocational school and close to 70% of this year’s graduating seniors in Hendry County have not completed one. 100% of the 70% of the students who didn’t complete a FAFSA will have limited future education and/or economic opportunities. Our job is to remove as many obstacles as we can for these students to get these applications completed.

We set out to change that number Monday during our FAFSA Party. We had approximately 21 students come out and create their FSA ID. This is the replacement for the Federal Student Aid PIN. (If you have already completed a FAFSA and received a PIN you can link it to your FSA ID. If you have forgotten your current PIN, you can still create a FSA ID.) You will need to go to and click on the FSA ID link at the top of the page to create a new FSA ID.)

Here is the awesome part…we had 14 seniors complete their FAFSA for the first time! We also had Palm Beach State representatives and Florida South Western State representatives on hand to discuss future enrollment. Wait. It gets better! We had a mom of a graduating senior fill out a FAFSA and a young man who had dropped out of high school stopped in to find out about what he needed to do to get his GED and continue his education. (Good gravy! Just typing that makes my allergies flare up!) This was a strong beginning and the Task Force is already brainstorming ideas to increase this initiative to reach more students next year.

Tuesday was Workshop and Board Meeting night. The budget workshop was on overview of the capital outlay budget.

Me, Hector Placencia, WES Principal Tony Busin, and Superintendent Paul Puletti

Me, Hector Placencia, WES Principal Tony Busin, and Superintendent Paul Puletti

I was a great honor to recognize one of my favorite people on campus at my children’s school. After 22 years of dedicated service to Westside Elementary, Hector Placencia will be retiring at the end of the school year. Hector was one of the best unwitting PTO members in the history of the organization. I would have never made it through three years as PTO President without him. I hope he has the most lovely retirement.

Representatives from Sodexo were on hand to give the Board an overview of the transition process for food services. Sodexo will officially take over management on July 1, and Sodexo and district staff have already begun meeting with the district’s food service employees to assist with their individual transitions.

Our district has submitted the Community Eligibility Application to determine if our district qualifies to provide FREE BREAKFAST AND LUNCH TO ALL STUDENTS as 82% of our district’s students currently qualify for free/reduced lunch. All students are eligible to receive free breakfast each morning. If that application is denied, the Florida Dept of Agriculture has set 2105/16 school lunch prices at $2.10 for elementary students which is the same price as last year, and a $0.05 increase to $2.40 for middle and high school students.

The Board unanimously approved $286,592.62 in new allocations for a Network Technician, Behavior Specialist, ESE Specialist, Parent Assist, and a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant. An additional Network Tech is needed to keep up with the increasing tech demands from digital classrooms and online testing. The other new positions were necessary to respond to the tremendous growth of Exceptional Student Education (ESE) populations within the district.

In an earlier post, I stated that we would be voting on a School Board Policy Review at this meeting but I was incorrect. We reviewed it.

When Chairman Brown asked if there was any board member business, I expressed my continued enthusiasm for developing a strategic plan, inquired about the development process for district wellness programs, and inquired about information being current on district and school websites.Grant 1

I left the board meeting with a folder of applications for the Educators Affecting Autism Classroom Grant in Honor of John Mack. This year, I asked teachers to tell me how they would spend $250 in their classrooms to support the sensory and academic needs of students on the autism spectrum. Reading the essays and plans they have submitted has been an enlightening experience as it provides educator’s insight to what they need to help their ASD students be successful academically and socially. Many thanks to people who purchased shirts which funded these grants.

CES Patriotic Program

CES Patriotic Program

I was blown away on Thursday when I attend Central Elementary’s Annual Patriotic Program. Mrs. Denault orchestrated a powerful performance of students singing patriotic songs, and honoring veterans and current members of our country’s military. There is an awesome video by  The Clewiston News  on my facebook page if you want to check it out.

FSPA Officers

FPSA Officers

I ended the week with one of my favorite organizations at Clewiston High School.  The FPSA / Criminal Justice Academy students held their end-of-the year banquet and I was delighted to be their guest. This club brings honor to our district and these students, and their remarkable leader, contribute so much to our communities within Hendry County. As each Senior was recognized tonight, I was confident each one will be great contributors to society. I am grateful for their teacher who invests so much in shaping these leaders of tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s a new week full of fun! I’ll kick it off at Central Elementary on Monday morning to serve as a judge for their school-wide Tropicana Speech Contest.  Looking forward to it!

As always, I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and the opportunity to serve you as your District 4 School Board Member. All opinions stated within are my own.

~ Stephanie

The $36K Answer

“Exactly what do you do, Stephanie?”

It was a question spawned from a moment of frustration felt by a constituent who perceived my role in the school district as one of a “Junior Superintendent” and was wanting me to exercise my “authority” in a matter which lies outside the scope of the board’s work.

“School board members have an extraordinary amount of responsibility and very little authority,” is what I was told at the very first Florida School Board Association conference I attended, and is the best summary I’ve heard thus far in my term to describe the job.

When explaining the roles within the district, I like to compare it to the federal government. The Superintendent is the President. The School Board is the House/Senate and, on rare occasion, may serve in a quasi-judiciary capacity.

The Superintendent is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the district, including appointing and dismissing personnel. The prerogatives of individual school board members are extremely limited in those administrative actions. The law indicates the Board must approve recommendations presented by the Superintendent unless the legality of the recommendation is being questioned.

The two major responsibilities of the Board are governing through policy (legislation) and creating a budget that aligns resources to support the district’s academic achievement and student service objectives. These are areas, in my humble opinion, that appear to have been neglected in the past and rank high on my list of goals in areas I hope to see our board focus on, as they are proven vehicles for the Board to effectuate positive change within the district.

Since taking my oath of office, I’m happy to report to my constituents that the School Board has began conducting monthly budget workshops before the regular business meetings on the first meeting of the month AND we’ll be voting on whether we want to a contract with a company that specializes in helping school districts update and maintain their district policies on Tuesday, May 12.

I hope this helps clarify a School Board Member’s roles and responsibilities within the district and has provided you with a brief update of what I’m doing, within the scope of my responsibility and authority, to serve you as your District 4 School Board Member. Thank you for the privilege.

~ Stephanie

Weekly Recap 5/4 – 5/8

Hi Everyone! Thank you to all the folks who’ve reached out and let me know you’re reading my blog. There’s been mixed feedback recently and I just want people to know I appreciate your candor and value your opinions even if we don’t ultimately agree at times. My goal in writing this blog is to provide information, as well as engage the community and create a platform to start conversations that matter.

I kicked off this week by visiting my favorite radio host at WAFC Classic Hits, Bianca Ross, to get the word out about the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) Party the Hendry County Education Improvement Task Force is hosting on Monday, May 11 beginning at 5:30 pm in the Clewiston High School media center.  The Task Force has collaborated with financial aid experts from local colleges to provide Seniors who haven’t already completed their FAFSA with support to get it completed before they leave high school.

Having a completed FAFSA is an essential tool to increase opportunities for students to receive financial assistance to attend college or vocational school. Public colleges and universities won’t accept a student who hasn’t completed their FAFSA. As of April 10, nearly 70% of our graduating seniors across the county have NOT completed theirs. Knowing the realities associated with that statistic triggered “mom mode” in me so I took advantage of my position as a board member and spent Tuesday in the CHS cafeteria going table to table, asking seniors about their FAFSA status and inviting/begging those who indicated they haven’t completed theirs to please come to the FAFSA party on Monday.

I’d like to thank the Task Force for sponsoring this event and for providing meals for the students and families who will attend, as well as incentives for students to complete their applications. Not only will students who bring all their necessary paperwork receive a gift card to a local restaurant, but every senior who has completed their FAFSA will also be entered into a drawing for $500 cash.

Tuesday night was another amazing night for the Exceptional Equestrians. (Check us out on Facebook at Two of our riders have just had an unbelievable explosion of development and progress. It fans the flames inside my heart to see these children and their families conquering challenges. I’m so very, very proud of them.

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Westside PTO Members

Thursday was another fun day. The awesome PTO officers at my children’s school organized the annual walk-a-thon and teacher appreciation luncheon and invited me to breeze in the day of the event and volunteer. I’m grateful for parents who prioritize time in their personal and professional schedules to support their children’s schools.

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Clewiston FFA Members with 3.5+ grade point averages.

I attend the annual FFA awards banquet Thursday night. The John Boy Auditorium was packed with proud families, teachers, administrators and program supporters celebrating the accomplishments of the students in the program. As a board member, I was extremely proud of the incredible number of members who were recognized for 3.0+ grade point averages.

Friday began with the Hendry County Investor’s Breakfast hosted by the Hendry County Economic Development Council. Superintendent Puletti and I represented the school board at this breakfast. Governor Rick Scott’s Secretary of Commerce, Bill Johnson, was the guest speaker. He spoke about the importance of Enterprise Florida having the funding to offer incentives to out-of-state businesses to relocate to Florida.

I’m already gearing up for another rewarding and busy week as your school board member. Thank you again for the privilege to serve my county and the best students in the state.

~ Stephanie


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A Sample of Next Year’s Menu Selections

Over the past few days, I’ve had quite a few secondary students reach out to me and ask about the anticipated changes in their school’s cafeterias next year. They politely listened to my overview of services provided but what they really wanted to know was what is going to be on the menu next year?

Fair enough. Here are sample menu selections included in Sodexo’s proposal approved at the April 28 board meeting.

Sample Elementary Breakfast & Lunch Menu

Sample Elementary Breakfast & Lunch Menu

Sample Secondary Lunch Menu (1 of 3)

Sample Secondary Lunch Menu (1 of 3)

Sample Secondary Lunch Menu (2 of 3)

Sample Secondary Lunch Menu (2 of 3)

Sample Secondary Lunch Menu (3 of 3)

Sample Secondary Lunch Menu (3 of 3)

Sample Gluten Free Menu

Sample Gluten-Free Menu

Sample Summer Menu

Sample Summer Menu