Lakewood High School: Reclaiming the glory

‘Change at Lakewood is becoming a reality,’ said Dr. Goliath Davis, III. ‘With it, one should anticipate various levels of discomfort for all involved.’

BY GOLIATH J. DAVIS, III, Ph.D., Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — Over the years, Lakewood High School has been known for its commitment to academics and excellence. Students traveled from far north cities in Pinellas County to attend the coveted Center for Advanced Technologies (CAT) program, and the addition of Journeys in Journalism also emerged as an attractive magnet for scholars throughout the county. Students enrolled in what is commonly known as traditional programs at Lakewood also excelled.

Lakewood has graduated notable elected officials, news anchors, award-winning moviemakers/producers, attorneys, pharmacists, and physicians. In fact, the first Black female OBGYN to practice at Bayfront Medical, formerly known as Mound Park Hospital, is a Lakewood graduate.

Connisheia Garcia

With the courts’ declaration of “unitary status” and the construction of specialized schools in northern Pinellas, the Pinellas County School Board and the district administration’s focus and attention to Lakewood High and other south county schools began to shift, as did school demographics. Consequently, so did the once solid commitment to academics and excellence.

The introduction of school grades and testing also played a significant role. Parents resisted sending their children to “failing schools” and sought alternatives. Scholars grew weary of the continuous testing regime and found ways to opt out.

Facing political pressure and embarrassment for awarding “certificates of attendance” or “certificates of completion” to students who did not score sufficiently on state-mandated exams, students were afforded opportunities to obtain concordance diplomas instead of a standard diploma by virtue of reaching acceptable scores on the ACT or SAT college entrance exams. It must be noted that the scores required on these exams were rarely sufficient for college admission.

At the start of the current academic year, Connisheia Garcia was installed as principal at Lakewood High School. She came with a vision of restoring Lakewood’s commitment to academic excellence.

For the sake of transparency, I must alert readers that I do not know Principal Garcia. I am now familiar with Garcia due to her appointment and the feedback I have gotten from parents. We have only met face to face on two occasions — once at Starbucks and once as I was leaving Walmart and she was entering. As I understand it, she has taken actions that are widely accepted and some that parents and staff question.

Garcia has a new CAT Coordinator, Lukas Hefty, a young man I have known since he attended Bay Point Elementary. He was known then and now throughout the district for his command of mathematics.

Hefty is viewed favorably by those who have contacted me. His appointment comforted me, and I firmly believe he will restore the program’s credibility and produce well-rounded scholars.

Since her appointment, Garcia has implemented a branding initiative and a new cultural paradigm. She began these initiatives before the first day of school and involved Lakewood scholars in the planning and implementation.

Among the initiatives Garcia and staff implemented before the first day of school include Freshmen Frenzy, an information and fun activity for parents and scholars; Summer Senior Seminar, emphasizing credit checks and graduation requirements; a staff meet and greet and a family and community meet and greet.

Lakewood’s counselors recently hosted a Senior Seminar that provided scholars with another opportunity for transcript reviews, grad checks, scholarship information and SAT/ACT exam prep. Garcia and her team are implementing three additional programs to reclaim academic excellence.

The Extended Learning Program (ELP) extends the school day and provides scholars with opportunities for additional support and assistance with coursework. On Oct. 16, the first annual Spartan Conference Expo will convene. Parents will be afforded opportunities to visit teacher stations for informative “quick conferences” and data chats. The Expo is also designed to allow parents to fellowship with Spartan staff in a relaxed, fun environment.

On Oct. 14, Spartan juniors and seniors will have yet another opportunity for ACT prep for the upcoming ACT assessment. Informational flyers have been developed and disseminated along with other advertising methods to ensure maximum participation. The CAT administrators have coordinated a three-year Artificial Intelligence course with the University of Florida for CAT students. Eighty students are currently enrolled.

Change at Lakewood is becoming a reality. With it, one should anticipate various levels of discomfort for all involved. Surprisingly, according to reports, scholars appear to be adapting well, but as should be expected, some staff members and parents need more time to acclimate to Garcia’s leadership style.

From all reports, no one is questioning Garcia’s commitment to scholars, Lakewood, and excellence. In fact, I am told she is visible, engaged, and intense. Her intensity is reportedly problematic for some accustomed to a softer style.

I am confident all will adapt. As the leader, I am sure Garcia recognizes leaders accomplish the mission through other people, and some require different styles to be successful. This recognition doesn’t mean one abandons the mission; it means leadership must be versatile and inconsistent, dictated by the situation and an individual’s personality and demeanor.

Kudos to all involved in Reclaiming the Glory: Principal Garcia, the leadership team, staff, parents, scholars and the community.

Goliath Davis is a former chief of police and deputy mayor for the City of St. Petersburg who actively advocates for education in Pinellas County.

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