The many ways HEF supports the next generation of the Tampa Bay workforce

Anna Corman, interim director of the Hillsborough Education Foundation, believes in public education, both as her vocation and through her life experience. 

As a Tampa Bay area native, and graduate of St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, Corman knows firsthand how important it is for students to have choice, and innovation, within their local public schools. But, just as important, Corman believes strong public education is an investment in the entire community. 

“Hillsborough County Public Schools are the seventh largest school district in the country. As you can imagine, the needs of our students are vast and, unfortunately, they’re growing,” says Corman. “We have over 220,000 students in Hillsborough County Public Schools and over 65% of them are considered economically disadvantaged, in some capacity. So, the need is huge, in our community, to make sure public education is preparing students for a successful future, for all our futures.” 

Recent government initiatives are laying the groundwork for support. In 2019, the SAIL (Strengthening Alignment between Industry and Learning) to 60 Initiative was passed into Florida law, by unanimous vote, in the House and Senate. The goal aims to increase the percentage of working-age Floridians with a high-value postsecondary certificate, degree or training experience to 60% by 2030. 

“Strong public education is not just because we care about supporting youth, although of course we do,” Corman says. “It is also an economic decision. With SAIL to 60, we’re currently around 50% right now. And there’s this great study, by Florida Taxwatch, that laid it all out in numbers that if we got to the goal level, if 60% of working Floridians had a post-secondary degree, or some kind of credential, or training, it would contribute over $4 billion in tax revenue for the state. Supporting education is really an economic decision that we can all benefit from.”

To help meet the growing, and diverse, needs of students, HEF recently launched an initiative, in the 2022 school year, called SCOPE, or Student Center for PostSecondary Exploration. SCOPE locations are dedicated college and career centers at Bay area high schools. The first center launched at King High School (whose students also chose the name, SCOPE), and has already proven to be successful, with both students and faculty. In addition to college admission support and financial aid assistance, SCOPE also strives to help students navigate the myriad of alternate routes available, after graduation, of career, technical and workforce pathways. 

“We’re supporting students, with one-on-one coaching, to help them plan for what happens after high school … we help them to explore career and trade programs and other opportunities, and also practical skills, like completing resumes,” Corman says. 

With another SCOPE launch coming this spring, and six more centers in the works in the next three years, HEF hopes to widen students’ perspectives. 

“We want to make sure every student knows that even if college isn’t right for you, that there’s some very lucrative trades and careers that we can help get you paired with,” says Corman. “There are great apprenticeship programs. There are lots of businesses around Tampa Bay, as well, that are looking to hire students right out of high school and provide them on-the-job training. So we’re providing students with a whole host of information and really catering that support to what works for each student, individually.”

SCOPE is just one of the many ways HEF has changed with the times, to bolster public education. Founded in 1987, HEF has a long tradition of supporting both teachers and students in Hillsborough County. Taking Stock in Children is their successful mentoring and scholarship program, pairing a dedicated, volunteer mentor with a public high school student. HEF also outfits students and teachers with the supplies necessary for success. The HEF Teaching Tools Resource Center has provided more than $33 million in free school supplies and resources to Hillsborough County Public Schools teachers and students in need. Their annual Gala, each year, Excellence in Education, in partnership with Hillsborough County Public Schools, recognizes the district’s top educators and support staff. 

“There are so many ways for people to get involved in supporting public education in some capacity. Whether that’s giving their time, talent or treasures. We have opportunities that fit all those categories. So, if you want to volunteer, we desperately need mentors who can work with students who need a role model in their life. We also need help supporting teachers with free school supplies at our Teaching Tools Resources Center. And then we’re always looking for donations,” Corman says. “We raised over $8 million last year to support public education in our community. So, regardless of what type of volunteer work you’re looking to do, or how you’re looking to get involved, we encourage people to take action and get involved in some capacity.” 

A trained educator herself, Corman started seven years ago at HEF and has worked in a variety of roles, most recently as their chief program officer. She says she’s “honored” to guide HEF through this period of transition: “Sometimes things about education will come out in the news that can be very disheartening for teachers. Today can be a very challenging time to navigate in public education – for districts, for teachers, for students. It’s even more critical now that we have HEF to shine a light on how important education is and remind our community that it’s to all of our benefit if we have a strong public education system.”♦

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