Standing on business: She cares, and it shows

Principal Connisheia Garcia don’t play when it comes to Lakewood High School’s success!

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

ST. PETERSBURG — Leadership matters, and there is no substitute for effective leadership. I was invited to be a platform guest at Lakewood High School’s graduation, and there are many superlatives I can use to describe it; however, I chose to utilize the theme adopted this year by Lakewood’s scholars: “We Stand on Business.”

It was explained that the theme, which was embraced by the school’s principal, administrators, and staff, means everyone at Lakewood High committed themselves to doing everything required for success and, more importantly, to go above and beyond.

Before going on stage to begin the ceremony, I and other platform guests gathered in the holding area with the scholars, and one thing became readily apparent: they genuinely love and respect their principal. Watching the scholars and Principal Connisheia Garcia interact was an exceptional experience.

Dr. Goliath Davis and Esther Matthews, NAACP president

I overheard a male scholar express his joy and excitement, stating, “People said I wasn’t gonna make it, but Miss Garcia stayed on me and made sure I did.” Male and female scholars alike flocked to her. She cares, which is apparent in the school’s improvement over the last year.

Principal Garcia has clearly articulated expectations for everyone at Lakewood, coupled with accountability and an attitude that does not accept failure as an option. Rita Vasquez, executive director of High School Education, told me as we waited that no one works as hard as Connisheia. By standing on business, Lakewood has made significant strides in academic/scholastic achievement, athletics, the arts, journalism/multimedia and character development over the last year.

The Center for Advanced Technologies (CAT) was recognized as a school of distinction by Magnet Schools of America; Ethan Koh, CAT’s valedictorian, is a National Merit Scholar Finalist, Channel Williams is an Ebony Scholar and African American Achievement Award winner and all senior ESE scholars graduated. Additionally, Lakewood scholars claimed the district’s Battle of the Books Championship, increased their academic grades each quarter, and over 500 scholars qualified for the principal’s list, honor roll and perfect attendance awards.

The school’s Athletic Management Academy (ALMA) was recognized as a program of distinction and the first Pinellas County Athletic Conference High School STEP championship competition was won by the Spartans. The junior varsity football team is PCAC champs; the girls’ basketball team is PCAC, District and Regional Champs and FHSAA final four qualifiers. The swim and track and field teams also distinguished themselves. The district title belongs to the boys’ swim team, and senior Sarah Long qualified for the State competition.

Seniors Marcellus Morris, Rashard Hartwell, James Morrow and Jalen Bethune distinguished themselves in track and field by qualifying for State competition, and the boys track and field team are District champions.

The scholars stood on business in the areas of journalism, character building and the arts. Siena Van Beynen was distinguished by showcasing her art at the James Museum, CJAM was recognized for its critically acclaimed documentary on St. Petersburg’s Gas Plant District and the school recorded a 71 percent decline in disciplinary infractions.

Speeches by the valedictorians (Ethan Koh, Siena Van Beynen) and salutatorians (Marcie Sullivan, Jillyanna Rivera-Adams) were excellent, and the poem by Langston Hughes, which Principal Garcia recited during her speech, was a perfect footnote for the occasion. In Hughes’ poem, “Mother to Son,” the line “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” captures the very essence of “standing on business” and the challenges the scholars experienced in life as they endeavored to reach their academic success.

The poem’s mention of tacks, broken boards and bare floors are excellent metaphors for the hills and valleys the scholars faced in life and the challenges they and Principal Garcia, teachers, counselors and staff experienced as they stood on business and worked to attain their academic goals and more importantly, go above and beyond.

The carpool organized by Principal Garcia and staff for scholars, parents, teachers, and staff from Lakewood to the Trop with flags waving was another example of Principal Garcia’s strategies to build and strengthen school solidarity and cohesiveness.

Scholars have completed state testing. They stood on business and the expectation is there may still be some work to be done, but there will be improvement when compared to the previous year. As one who carefully monitors the efforts to close the achievement gap, I have observed incremental movement in the right direction at Lakewood.

For example, the phone calls I typically receive from parents and guardians with scholars enrolled at Lakewood High have taken on a different tenor. The complaints have diminished, and the endorsements of the new principal have increased. Many were initially skeptical. If one were to search for the reasons for the improvements, they may find several. But I contend the most important reason is easily discernible: she cares!

Dr. Goliath Davis is a former St. Petersburg police chief and deputy mayor who advocates for education in Pinellas County, focusing on Black student achievement.

2 Replies to “Standing on business: She cares, and it shows”

  1. Tommye/Connie says:

    To Mrs. Garcia and her staff , what a beautiful
    Graduation you presented to the public. If the
    truth be told your graduation was The model
    for All High Schools. Thanks to you and your
    staff for a Job well done. congratulations, Congratulations.!!!!!!!!.

  2. S. Rose Smith-Hayes says:

    I am very proud of the turn around efforts at Lakewood High School. Principal Garcia reminds me of the types of education professionals that I had growing up during segregation. Our Principals and Teachers cared and gave us that caring nudge when we needed it and some of us really needed it. The Majority of my classmates made successes of their lives because of educators like Principal Garcia.

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