By Tamas Mondovics

Last month’s Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) State of the District Press Conference left no doubt about who officially is in charge as well as responsible to lead its 200,000 students.

On his first official day as superintendent of the nation’s eighth-largest school district, which he called both “refreshing and humbling,” Jeff Eakins outlined his vision during the hour-long conference in the School Board auditorium at 901 E. Kennedy Blvd.

Backed by newly appointed Deputy Superintendent Van Ayres and members of the school board, Eakins, a 26-year HCPS employee, has served for the past four months as the district’s acting superintendent after he replaced MaryEllen Elia, who was fired in a 4-3 decision by the school board earlier this year.

Under the motto, “Prepare Students for Life,” Eakins repeatedly emphasized that both he and the Board have been working hard to identify the district’s key priorities, which includes “increasing student engagement and tackling the critical issues facing our students.”

“For the past four months the Board has given me a lot of support and encouragement,” Eakins said.

Addressing how he and HCPS staff intends to achieve these goals, Eakins specifically focused on three main elements that come under the umbrella of connecting students to the community; workforce, graduation rates and student engagement.

“Our students need more than just being prepared academically, but for when they leave us, so they won’t see what is ahead as a barrier,” he said.

Eakins’ vision included students having adults as mentors, teachers having more planning time, improving teacher’s evaluation system, defining school procedures and employees’ responsibilities, tracking students grades from upon entering high school and making sure students “understand their rights and responsibilities.”

Pleased with the work that the Board and Eakins have been able to accomplish during the past four months, HCPS Chair Susan Valdes spoke with confidence when she said, “I am so proud to say that we have put together a fantastic team, one that will ensure that everyone will be on the same page.”

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