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Orange County State of the Schools address highlights accomplishments in education

Superintendent touts graduation rate, safety improvements

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Public Schools focused on its accomplishments and reflected on improvements at its 2018 State of the Schools address on Thursday.

One of the biggest turnarounds was high school graduation rates. Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said just over a decade ago, graduation was at 49 percent. It is now at 94 percent. The school district also continues to have extreme enrollment, and has built or renovated 108 schools since 2003, and plans 33 more by 2025.

Another topic was the need for more school security. Jenkins said improvements have been made since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012.

"We undertook a facilities hardening construction program, reduced access to our campuses, improved perimeter security, and increased surveillance," Jenkins said.

Outgoing School Board President Bill Sublette reflected on what he called an eight-year "scandal free" tenure. He said he would like to see a polytechnic high school in the area, and also regretted the fact that they couldn't get more teacher pay and better per-student spending.

"The legislature I believe intentionally is strangling public education, our per student funding is down over $1,700 per student over where it was 11 years ago," Sublette said.

Sublette will be succeeded by Orange County Mayor Theresa Jacobs.

A student also received special recognition. Savohn Thomas was homeless and at times walked 20 miles to school. He tried keeping it secret, until his cover was blown. He graduated in May and at the address was surprised with a $150,000 scholarship.

"I didn't know anything about the scholarship, that's why it actually still brings me to tears, I'm getting emotional now. They don't know me, but they took a chance on me, that's what's still blowing my mind," Thomas said.

Thomas will attend a New York area college.