Education is the key in moving our community and improving the quality of life.

The high-school graduation rate is one of the best indicators of a community’s economic prospects. When companies explore moving to a community, one of the first things they look up is the graduation rate. Our graduation rate is holding the area back. In Escambia County, just 64 percent of our high-schoolers walk away with a diploma. For black students, it’s 51 percent. These numbers are some of the lowest rates in the state.
The state average is 75.6 percent overall. 1 in 3 Escambia County students didn’t graduate last year.

The impact of generational poverty on the community’s economic and educational prospects is reflected in measures such as the free- and reduced-price lunch rate — which in Escambia County is 62 percent.

The Florida Office of Early Learning says on average 33 percent of Escambia 5-year- olds are not ready for kindergarten. Often those children come from poor families.


Town Hall follow-ups: Schools

Tuesday’s District 3 town hall meeting at Brownsville Assembly of God church was a packed house. Here are answers to questions that didn't get answered. Read full story


Center for Cybersecurity on line

PRESS RELEASE – UWF Innovation Institute recently launched the Center for Cybersecurity, providing a hub for research on cybersecurity and opportunities for students to move into high-demand career fields through collaborative partnerships. “This new Center will create a perfect complement to the new cybersecurity programming we are developing at the baccalaureate and master’s level,” UWF Provost Martha Saunders said. “I envision important synergies with the community.” In February 2014, Dr. Pamela Northrup, executive director of Innovation Institute and associate provost for academic innovation, appointed UWF professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science, Dr. Sikha Bagui, as director of the Center. Bagui will represent the University’s multidisciplinary cybersecurity-related programs, certificates and services and coordinate the highly engaging activities for cybersecurity students. “Cybersecurity is more than just IT,” said Bagui. “Cybersecurity has applications in the healthcare sector, telecommunications sector, financial sector, industrial sector and defense contracting. There is a critical need to fill 50,000 Cybersecurity jobs in just the federal government and private industry, and we are working to address these needs with our new programs and certificates.” The Center will promote a pipeline of academic programs and certificates that are deeply connected to the Northwest Florida technology community and industry.  — Certificate in Cybersecurity: Focused on networking and security, the certificate in cybersecurity prepares professionals to become cybersecurity specialists. Students develop technical and problem-solving skills to help organizations defend their network systems. Read full story


Town hall fact check: Education

Malcolm Thomas, superintendent of Escambia schools, talked a lot about education Tuesday at the District 3 Town Hall Meeting. When a question was raised about what young people can do to fix their lives after getting in trouble or dropping out of school, Thomas stressed the importance of high school graduation. He told a story about a 16-year-old student who dropped out so he could get more hours on his job. Thomas pointed out that parents can play a role in preventing their children from dropping out because a students needs parental permission to quit school. “In the state of Florida you cannot drop out of school if you’re under the age of 18 unless a parent or guardian signs the form,” Thomas said. FACT CHECK: True, according Florida Statute 1003.21(1)(c)  “When a student reaches 16 years of age he/she is no longer required to attend school if he/she files the required formal declaration of intent to terminate school enrollment with the school district and the declaration is signed by a parent. The declaration must acknowledge that leaving school will likely reduce the student’s earning potential. The school district is required to notify the child’s parent or legal guardian that the student has filed a declaration of intent to leave school.” Read full story


Lending a student vet a hand

PRESS RELEASE – Elizabeth Jones recently became the first student veteran at the University of West Florida to receive a scholarship through the Student Veterans of America. Jones was selected for the Rockwell Collins-Student Veterans of America Wounded Veteran Scholarship, totaling $5,000. The scholarship is awarded to five wounded student veterans each year to support them as they pursue a degree in higher education. “I was so excited when I heard I had been chosen to receive this scholarship,” said Jones, a senior electrical engineering major. “It is going to make it a lot easier and less stressful financially on my family as I continue my education at UWF.” Jones served 23 months in the Marine Corps before being medically discharged under honorable conditions at the rank of corporal. She said she hopes to use her engineering degree to make it easier for residential and commercial buildings to utilize efficient power and energy renewable resources. Jones said her experience at UWF has inspired her to broaden her future career goals. “Higher education has changed how I look at what I’m capable of and the opportunities I could pursue,” Jones said. “The faculty has impacted what I want to do with my career, and with their support, as well as my involvement with the math association on campus, I have been encouraged to pursue not only my engineering degree, but also my professional engineer’s license.” Jones credits the UWF Military and Veterans Resource Center, as well as the Student Disability Resource Center, for assisting her throughout her college career. “The MVRC has been instrumental in helping me transition to a four-year university, from registration to applying for Veteran Affairs benefits,” she said. “They were more than willing to stay open late just to help me determine my senior status as I was applying for this scholarship. The Student Disability Resource Center also encouraged me to apply for scholarships, and without their support and motivation, I wouldn’t have pursued this opportunity. They are excellent at letting disabled students know they can succeed.” UWF has an extensive history of supporting veterans as they pursue higher education, showcased by its recognition as a top military-friendly school by both Military Advanced Education magazine and G.I. Jobs magazine consecutively since 2008. The MVRC at UWF serves as a resource center to assist military and veteran students as they transition from the military environment to campus life. Tutoring, advising and counseling are some of the services that are provided through the center. For additional information about UWF’s support for military and veteran students, visit the MVRC website, The mission of the Student Disability Resource Center is to deliver innovative and high quality service through collaborative networks that ensure educational access and support for students with disabilities. They aim to empower students with disabilities in their pursuit of educational and career opportunities by assisting in the creation of an inclusive and supportive campus environment that facilitates graduation and participation in the global community. For additional information, visit This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


All the right moves

Ransom Middle School’s Chess Club is traveling to compete in the 2014 National Junior High Chess Championship April 25-27. Middle schoolers from across the country will participate in this tournament at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.  Last year, Ransom Middle School placed third in their division. Back in October, club sponsor and English teacher at Ransom John Lowe was kind enough to invite me to visit a practice session of the club, just before they were to host a tournament at their school. In this video, you can learn a bit about the club. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


Better living through chemistry

Attending graduate school never occurred to Janae Baptiste until she joined the University of West Florida’s Chemistry Scholars Program. Now Baptiste is pursuing a doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of Maryland. “Interacting with and talking to faculty motivated me to pursue higher education,” said Baptiste, who received a biochemistry degree in 2013. “They believed in me and that made me believe in myself.” UWF’s Chemistry Scholars Program’s mission is to recruit and retain high-achieving chemistry students and to increase the number of students pursuing doctoral or dual medicine/doctoral degrees, both with an emphasis on under-represented, or minority, students. Baptiste is among a group of 11 students who were accepted in the program’s inaugural class. Since the program’s inception in 2011, the number of under-represented chemistry students pursuing professional or medical degrees has increased from 2 percent from 2008 through 2012 to 31 percent in the 2013-2014 academic year. UWF assistant chemistry professor Karen Sinclair Molek, the program’s director, credits the success of the program to motivated students and faculty. Spending more time with students gave professors more opportunities to talk freely with students about social, economic, ethnic and financial issues affecting their lives, she said. Going beyond the role of mentoring, they began discussing ways the students could break down barriers that could hinder them from seeking a post-graduate education, Molek said. “I can give you stats all day, but what matters most is that the faculty got on the ground with students to improve retention, talk about the quality of their education and help them decide where they’re going,” Molek said. “That has helped not just minority, but majority students as well.” UWF’s Chem Scholar Program is modeled after the Meyerhoff Scholars Program set up by Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, and the Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program directed by Michael Summers, a UWF chemistry graduate. Students in the program meet monthly to hear guest speakers discuss summer research programs and post-graduate opportunities, receive career advice, participate in peer-to-peer mentoring and receive professional development and mentoring from faculty in the chemistry department. The program’s goals include: — Increasing the retention of students, especially under-represented chemistry students. —  Increasing the percentage of students pursuing post-graduate education. —  Providing scholarships, priority registration and graduation honors. Molek said about 55 percent of UWF chemistry students go onto graduate or professional programs. UWF plans to expand the program to other STEM areas. It already has submitted a $2.1 million proposal to the National Institute of Health for a biology and physics scholar program. Baptiste, a graduate of Escambia High School, postponed a job search to continue her education, thanks to the Chem Scholars Program. “I had planned to look for a job in Pensacola in a related field,” she said. “Now, I’m really looking forward to the challenges of working through difficult projects to get the results of achieving a Ph.D.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story


Festival on the Green opens

PRESS RELEASE — The 14th annual Festival on the Green will return on April 4 and 5 at the University of West Florida. Read full story


"Can we get there?"

Jerry Maygarden seemed to have more on his mind this morning that just bringing change to the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. Based on the tone and tenor of his speech at the chamber’s monthly Gopher Club breakfast, the former mayor, legislator and business leader is out to Pensacola itself. Read full story


Shannon's Window: The new college choice

It’s hard to think when you’re hungry. Read full story


Startup Weekend Part 2

PRESS RELEASE — Startup Weekend is on. Read full story


UWF student shares tale of teacher's impact

James Buttatoven Matthews is a UWF music student who will play Carnegie Hall on April 20. Read full story


Honoring the bright, artistic stars

The Escambia County Public Schools Foundation will honor outstanding high school seniors at the 2014 Mira Creative Arts Awards Banquet on March 27. Read full story