icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Our Best and Brightest: The Origins

I worked for Betty Castor during her campaign for education commissioner in 1986, when the question of establishing a state lottery was on the ballot.  She (and I) hesitated about it, but did not object if it really would raise additional money for education.  Voters adopted it, and Betty worked hard to direct the flow of dollars to two specific, measurable programs at opposite ends of the school spectrum:  early childhood education and merit scholarships at our public universities. 


My daughter was in middle school then, and I clearly remember the day she came home from high school and told me about Florida Academic Scholarships.  This was Betty's program, being implemented at the local level.  My kiddo was very excited about the pep talk her counselors at Armwood had given re this scholarship to Florida colleges, and although she ultimately went to Harvard (why not?), it was satisfying evidence for me that Betty's plan was on track. 


Another friend, Dr. Marcia Mann of the USF College of Education, was appointed by Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles to administer the lottery program in the 1990s.  She did a good job, but since then Republican governors and especially Republican legislators have raided these funds for other purposes.  It nonetheless seems that educators, especially counselors, continue to push the merit scholarship program that was intended to keep our brightest kids in Florida. 


At least that is the conclusion I reach after analyzing this year's crop of graduates.  I study it every year simply out of curiosity, and I'm grateful to the Times for continuing the Tribune's tradition of publishing a photo and information about the valedictorian and salutatorian of every high school in Hillsborough County.  I also see it as a valuable voter tool, especially in school board elections, and therefore want to fill you in on the Class of 2019.


Our Best and Brightest: The Good News


First let me say that it has been a long time since a 4.0-point grade average (GPA) meant that you had gotten all As during four years of school -- and that was as high as you could go.  For a couple of decades now, students pile on extra-credit courses that make the once-esteemed 4-point look close to zilch.  The highest GPAs I found in the list were the valedictorian and salutatorian at Newsome, who came in at 10.6 and 10.1.  For those of you who never leave South Tampa, Newsome – named for former school board member Joe Newsome -- is a public high school in Lithia, which attracts students from the newish development of Fishhawk.  Second highest, at 10.0, was the magnet school at Middleton in East Tampa, which until the early 1970s was segregated and for African Americans.


Not exactly your stereotype, is this?  It demonstrates that the hard work of modern educators is in fact paying off.  Although Middleton is known for football, it also had the second-highest salutatorian at 9.2.  Plant High, traditionally Tampa's best public school, came in third with 9.0 for its valedictorian; its salutatorian was 8.5.  That's the same GPA as the valedictorian of the IB (international baccalaureate) program at Armwood, which, oddly enough, also is known for football.  Other public schools where the top grads had GPAs of more than 8.0 were Alonso, Freedom, King, Leto, Plant City, Sickles, Steinbrenner, Tampa Bay Tech, and Wharton. 


With the three above, that means twelve of our 27 public high schools produced graduates whose GPAs are at least twice that of the formerly perfect 4.0.  This may be grade inflation, but I don't think so.  Top kids these days are really smart.  I know several older men in the Harvard Club who interview applicants, and they freely acknowledge that they never would be admitted today.  Educators are just doing a great job of exposing young minds to serious knowledge, and they should be better rewarded.  But that's another column.


Deeper into the Data


Betty Castor's goal of getting more talented young people to stay in Florida seems to be truly paying off.  If my count is right, 70 of more than a hundred people profiled intend to stay in the state.  Thirty are going to USF, while 40 are bound for other public universities in Florida, mostly UCF in Orlando and UF in Gainesville.  Another 20 are headed to good out-of-state schools – Georgetown, Stanford, Virginia, etc. 


Just five, though, are going to Ivy League schools – two to Yale and one each to Princeton, Columbia, and Dartmouth.  None are Harvard bound, which would be a great disappointment to the late Bronson Thayer and Jack Grady.  Hubby was among those alumni who joined them in hunting down talented kids for Harvard, and Hubby remains proud that he got in two kids whose parents were honest-to-god migrant farmworkers.  One year we had four kids just from East Hillsborough:  Armwood, Brandon, Bloomingdale, and Plant City.  That decline is not good news.


It's also not so good news for those parents who pay tuition on the supposition that private schools are better than public.  Some may be, but some of the most prestigious of those – Academy of the Holy Names, Berkeley, and Carrollwood Day School – chose not to provide measureable data to the Times.  Of the nine other private or parochial schools listed, Brooks DeBartolo in north Tampa was best, with a valedictorian GPA of 8.2. 


Again, it is hard to know exactly what these grade points mean, but because all were over 4.0, I think we can assume that they emulate the public school scale.  Second to Brooks DeBartolo was Bell Creek Academy in Riverview, at 7.0.  The lowest was Citrus Park Christian at 4.5 – but that was only slightly lower than two longtime schools, Jesuit and Tampa Catholic, both of which were 4.6.  Most students did not list an intended college major, but of those who did, the most popular were health sciences and engineering, followed by the social sciences.  I didn't see anyone who intended to major in education or English, which bodes ill for the next generation of teachers and authors.


Finally, the most notable thing over the past forty years that I've perused these pages is the change in the surnames of the top grads.  The influence of immigrant families is clear in such names as Abu-Khdair, Cai, Duong, Fiol, He, Iranmanesh, Kamaga, Li, Nziga, Wahib, and many more -- including two young women named Patel, as well as three others who chose to wear hajibs in their photos.  Interestingly, there also were identical twins, girls at Robinson who both had GPAs of 6.32.


My count revealed approximately 45 Anglo surnames, with a slightly smaller number of Hispanic names – although this being Tampa, those families might have been here for five generations.  Anyway, these kids are growing up in a much more diverse world than ours was – and that is all to the good. 


And How Does Your Garden Grow?


I guess you've seen that this May was the hottest since Florida records began in 1895.  The results are just strange, with flower minds messed up after our warm winter.  I've had mums and poinsettias in bloom since last fall, with yellow and white ones re-budding now in June.  Meanwhile, things that should be blooming – daylilies and hydrangeas – seem to be waiting for winter to come soon.  Our lychee tree has ripe fruit, while the mango hasn't even set bud.  Bananas are hanging on at the same size and degree of ripeness that they were months ago. 


I had one minuscule blossom from the expensive clivia bulbs that our daughter gave me, and amaryllis bulbs were late and little.  I see rain lilies that have popped up in wild places, yet the ones for which I paid good money – not so much.  Nor did we have our usual roadside wild phlox this year, although that may be because DOT has killed it.  But I did have the best orchids of my life this spring, with three still adorning the family room.  It could be worse.



Make a comment to the author