COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — Students won't return to class until next week, but on Thursday, Collier County teachers got together as they do each year, for an assembly of their own to get the school year off on the right foot.
Educators and administrators were greeted at the event by student organizations including the Titan Drumline and Jazz Ensemble.
The annual spirit rally is a chance for school leaders to reflect on successes in the past year while gearing up for the year ahead.
David Ware, nominee for 2023 Florida Teacher of the Year, spoke of campus and district pride, but not without a small amount of self-deprecation.
"For those of you who know me, standing up in front of people and giving speeches is not my thing, but I'm going to give it my best shot," he quipped.
Ware made sure his faculty members know the accomplishment was a team effort, saying he likes the word 'we.'
"We did this and we did that," he said. "All of my accomplishments are from the people here today."
Dennis Crowe has three kids enrolled in Collier County. He says when his family first moved to the area, they were happy to see their kids' success.
"It's easy for me to look back and reflect on the decision we made," said Crowe. "[My daughter] is ranked in the top 10 of her class, ACT scores in the 97th percentile, all while maintaining a healthy social life."
Challenges for the 2022-2023 school year include a shortage of teachers. Like many other counties, the district is looking to fill several hundred positions including education and support roles.
One of the roadblocks to retaining and attracting staff has been affordable housing - something the district hopes to solve with the conversion of school-owned land to housing for teachers.
School board chairperson Jen Mitchell says essential workers would also be able to make use of the housing project if it comes to fruition.
Thursday's event was bittersweet in that it is the final one for outgoing superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton. She recently announced her retirement after eleven years with the district.
"It's been said that families are like branches on a tree," she said. "You grow in different directions, yet we remain as one. It's this constant support that inspires our growth."