Pasco school leaders express gratitude at year-end meeting

Gulf High School Athletic Director Bruno Buonsanto accepted a donation from the Rotary Club of New Port Richey on Dec. 10. The gift was recognized during the Dec. 15 Pasco County School Board meeting by Board Member Megan Harding.

LAND O’ LAKES — The Pasco County School Board met last week for the final time in tumultuous 2020.

The year of COVID-19 included the abrupt closure of in-class schooling in March, the scramble to figure out how to wrap up the 2019-2020 school year remotely and the stressful but successful work to give all Class of 2020 seniors proper graduation ceremonies.

School leaders had little, if any, down time before figuring out how to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year, but solutions were discovered, alterations have been needed at times and the district made it to winter break.

The Dec. 15 meeting included some COVID-19 talk, notably when Assistant Superintendent for Administration Kevin Shibley provided a brief update on winter break testing and vaccinations. Pasco County Schools will offer COVID testing over winter break similar to Thanksgiving break, he said, and district staff participated in a conference call with the Florida Department of Health about coordination efforts related to vaccine distribution. Shibley said Pasco County Schools could become a “closed-POD distributor” of the vaccine once it becomes available for school employees. POD is an acronym for point of dispensing.

While there were the regular school business items to address, a good portion of the meeting was spent recognizing the achievements of a few staff members and one student as well as thanking a couple of community groups for their support of local schools.

School Board Member Megan Harding set a positive tone early with her Thought for the Day. “There’s nothing like gratitude to change your attitude,” Harding said during her statement that thanked students, families, educators, staff members and all others involved in school district responsibilities and activities.

Later in the evening, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Schools Kimberly Poe took a few minutes to recognize and thank Heritage Pines Community Association for its continued support of Mary Giella and Shady Hills elementary schools. Heritage Pines is an active 55-plus community in Spring Hill that has supported the two schools for years. Poe said that was just brought to her attention recently because they adopted both schools and “truly provide wrap-around services for them throughout the year.”

This year, the community association donated 300 backpacks stuffed with school supplies, turkeys and sides for Thanksgiving for families in need, food and gifts for over 50 families at each school for Christmas, and handmade wool hats, mittens and scarves and handmade wooden toys, books and candy canes for kindergarten and first graders.

Poe said the group also donated 15 bikes between the two schools and provide food weekly to ensure the food pantry at Mary Giella is stocked full at all times to support families in need.

“They donated last week $4,000 to Mary Giella Elementary School, and it’s to support the ongoing efforts of the school to celebrate their students and staff,” Poe said.

Poe said she met one of the longtime organizers of the support effort, Penny Norton, who said she’s been volunteering at Mary Giella for more than 20 years.

“I’ve never known such a giving group of people,” Poe said, reading a quote from Shady Hills Principal Tom Barker. “We could never thank them enough for all they lovingly do for our students.”

“They’re beyond amazing,” Poe said, reading a quote from Mary Giella Principal Tracy Bonnett. “We’re truly blessed to have their support.”

During her member report, Harding also took a moment to thank another West Pasco organization supporting the school system.

“I wanted to thank New Port Richey Rotary for their continued support of our schools,” Harding said. “They recently gave Gulf High School a generous donation to their athletic department and I know that New Port Richey Rotary is constantly supporting our schools.”