The people of Highlands County believe children and adolescents need quality education. There is strong support for schools, students and educators here.
The School Board of Highlands County has five members, each representing a district but voted for countywide. The superintendent of schools is also an elected official. The board sets policy and approves the budget while the superintendent administers the schools.
Every public school in the district is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Classes K-3 average slightly more than 21 students; 4th grade and up typically have 22 students. The school district is the largest employer in Highlands County. Salaries account for less than half of its $97 million budget.
Elementary schools are tasked with building a foundation of skills and basic knowledge; secondary schools become increasingly rigorous, requiring growing responsibility. Curriculum includes language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, art, foreign language and physical education.
Technological education is stressed and computer literacy is a requirement. More than $1 million has been invested in computer hardware. Schools typically have one on-site computer for every six students. Secondary schools have media centers, technology laboratories and production studios.
Many methods of instruction are used, from individual to cooperative learning; from whole language to phonics. There are drop-out prevention programs at all academic levels, an alternative school for middle grades and pre-kindergarten early intervention programs contracted through qualified local childcare centers.
Migrant early education childhood programs provide pre-school readiness activities. Exceptional student education is provided for students with special talents, or who have disabilities requiring customized teaching strategies. Significant vocational education opportunities are offered.
The district is just as committed to college-bound students, offering gifted programs at the elementary level and honors classes in secondary school. Other special programs include dual enrollment classes, where high school students simultaneously take college level courses at the South Florida Community College; the SFCC Tech Prep program, integrating academic and technical curricula, allows students to meet graduation requirements while developing technical skills for cutting-edge careers; and an advanced placement program for high school students providing outstanding scholars an opportunity to attract a broader range of top colleges and universities.
The district partners with SFCC in a School-To-Work program preparing students for the world after graduation. SFCC has also joined with local school boards to form the Heartland partnership which allows students to complete a four-plus-two curriculum – four years of secondary education plus two years of post-secondary education.
South Florida Community College SFCC is an engaged and vital force in Highlands County, it is very much an institution that reaches out to the community. Excellent academics, a strong student support system, a very active continuing education department and a lively athletic program are found here. The college is a year-round source of world-class art and culture, with state-of-the-art productions at the Theater for the Performing Arts, as well as special programs and lectures at the Museum of Florida Art and Culture. The college also created the Wildflower Wayside Shrine Trail – an interactive, meditative walk through scrub terrain.
The college evolved over the years as the community grew. Opening in 1965 using borrowed, make-do space SFCC now spreads over a beautiful, lakeside campus studded with original sculptures and murals. It serves more than 12,000 Highlands County residents and matured into an institution of higher learning, offering both academic and applied degrees. In 2010, approximately 2,900 full-time students were enrolled.
Beginning in August 2012, SFCC will offer a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in supervision and management. The 120-hour curriculum focuses on supervisory management roles, like human resources, finance and leadership in private, public and nonprofit settings. Because of this new program, the school will become South Florida State College on July 1, 2012.
The college offers another 10 bachelor and master degree programs, provided in partnership with six other educational institutions. The fully equipped SFCC University Center provides advisors and classroom instruction for place-bound students. A wide variety of associate degree programs are available as the college works to provide the local community with well-trained personnel through academic, workforce and technical training, as well as providing local, specialized manpower training needs. It has well-regarded nursing and dental hygienist programs.
In athletics, the SFCC Panthers have an enthusiastic local following. The campus includes a baseball and softball field, an intermural field, volleyball and tennis courts, the Panther gym which seats 1,500, a junior Olympic aquatic center and a Nautilus weight room.
SFCC serves Heartland at more than one site in Highlands County and on campuses in Hardee and DeSoto counties. All of its libraries are part of a larger public system, providing computer use and library materials.
To learn more about SFCC programs and events, visit www.southflorida.edu, follow on Twitter at twitter.com/#!/SFCCpanthers or like the school on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/South-Florida-Community-College/168727453188134.
The main campus is at 600 West College Drive, Avon Park, FL 33825; (863) 453-6661. The Lake Placid Center is at 500 East Interlake Boulevard, Lake Placid, FL 33852; (863) 465-3003. The Hardee Campus is at 2968 U.S. 17. Bowling Green, FL 33834; (863) 773-3081. The DeSoto Campus at 2251 N.E. Turner Avenue, Arcadia, FL 34266; (863) 993-1757.