Schools in downtown Orlando are booming

As high school students across Orange County prepare for end-of-year exams, I gush with pride for our schools and students in the 5th District. We've come this far.

The district I represent includes much of Orlando's urban core along the I-4 corridor.

In 2000, 49.5% of our students graduated from Orange County's traditional high schools. In 2023 we will have completed 95.5% of our graduation.

This is a staggering increase, and these additional degrees will improve the lives of our students as they go to college, the military, the workforce, and raise families in our community. At all three high schools I represent – ​​Dr. Phillips, Jones and Oak Ridge – the graduation rate is over 90%.

Another important performance indicator is school grades. And this year, each of our District 5 schools received a grade of A, B or C from the state Department of Education. This reflects the hard work of our students, teachers, principals and district administrators who make supporting public schools a priority. As a former teacher, I know that excellence is truly a team effort.

I am also proud to say that every school in my district since 2000 is either new or has been renovated or replaced. This wouldn’t be possible without our voters in Orange County. In 2002, they approved a half-cent sales tax to fund school construction and continued it in 2014. But some of these buildings are now over two decades old and need to be modernized. That's why we're asking voters on November 5th to continue funding our schools for another 10 years.

Education in District 5 is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Parents and students have an excellent choice. These include the medical magnet at Jones High, the 3DE by Junior Achievement magnet at Oak Ridge High, and both the Center for International Studies and the Visual and Performing Arts magnet at Dr. Phillips High.

This year, the visual and performing arts magnet was the only OCPS program to be recognized as a Magnet School of Excellence by the Magnet Schools of America. Last year, the Center for International Studies magnet was the only one in the district to receive the award.

We also reach every type of learner. Jones offers a comprehensive range of advanced courses through its International Baccalaureate Program. And 100 Black Men provides mentors and college scholarships.

Jones' art offerings also have a national profile. Led by its first female band leader, Jones graduate Naomi Nelson, the drumline accompanied Mickey Mouse in the halftime show at the 2023 Florida Classic, and the jazz band and drumline were in “Clare and the Chocolate Nutcracker” at Dr. See Phillips Performing Arts Center. The Jones Concert Choir participated in Walt Disney World's Candlelight Processional and its Master Singers performed at Camping World Stadium to kick off the Pop-Tarts Bowl.

And through the Orange Technical College, we train our future healthcare workforce. Newly renovated classrooms on our main campus include a dental suite, a robotic body, and an operating room where students can practice surgical procedures and patient care. And Orange Technical College-South offers welding courses and training for careers in transportation, manufacturing, food service and hospitality. Their campus will also be renovated in the coming years.

It's hard to believe we're almost there, but it's also time to start planning for graduation. Each spring, OCPS recognizes Super Scholars, students admitted to one or more of the nation's top 20 national universities, liberal arts colleges or service colleges. Nine students in District 5 received 16 admissions to these outstanding institutions.

And we are creating thousands of graduates who will make great contributions to our community.

Take Laura Narcisse of Oak Ridge High School. She plans to become a mental health counselor to repay the support she has received from mentors and counselors over the years. Not only does Narcisse excel in academics, she also works part-time at Target.

This student is also a proud and dedicated member of the National Honor Society, a member of the Elevate Orlando Mentoring Program, and a member of Oak Ridge's Senior Class of 2024 Council Committee. She spends countless hours volunteering at a local women's shelter and mentoring elementary school students at Elevate Orlando and the Environmental Science Club of Oak Ridge. There are many students like her in our District 5 schools.

An OCPS education is an outstanding asset and our entire community should be proud.

Vicki-Elaine Felder has represented District 5 on the Orange County School Board since 2020. She taught in OCPS high schools for 39 years.

Anna Harden

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