For those visiting Florida, it might seem like the perfect place to live: sunshine, beaches and tourism destinations. But like any other state in the U.S., Florida must also provide infrastructure and services to its residents — including public education. And with that comes some unique challenges.
“I’ve gotten lost looking for schools that don’t register on my GPS,” laughs Carol Burg, Senior Enrollment Advisor for NLU Florida. “They literally put schools in the middle of orange groves in Florida. So there’s a lot of opportunity, but there are different challenges — unusual challenges that a person used to working in the Chicago Public Schools area would never imagine.”
In Florida, Carol noted, a public school district comprises an entire county. So while the Chicago system serves 400,000 students —the third-most in the nation — its physical footprint is relatively small, 230 square miles, compared with Hillsborough County — which includes Tampa, more than 200,000 students and 900 square miles — and Orange County — Orlando, 180,000 students and a thousand square miles. (All stats here.)
Such far-flung districts are a major undertaking for their administrators in terms of resources and staffing. This isn’t lost on Carol, who in her 16 years at NLU has traveled extensively to meet educators and visit schools across central Florida.
Originally from Chicagoland, Carol was already familiar with the great reputation of NLU’s National College of Education for preparing educators when she moved to Tampa. Looking to get back into education, she became a part of NLU’s Florida presence in 1998. She’s also a graduate, having received an M.Ed. from NLU in 2000.
As Senior Enrollment Advisor, Carol supports NLU Florida’s new Interim Executive Director Michael MaGowan, providing leadership, strategy and planning while continuing her outreach efforts in the region. NLU Florida currently has 142 students enrolled for the winter quarter and moved into a new regional center in Tampa at the end of last year — a chance, Carol said, to pause and assess for the future, plotting a course that’s innovative, engaging and financially sustainable.
A big part of that future is the Educational Leadership program — Carol, who also holds a Ph.D., is a part-time EDL instructor at NLU — with offerings at the master’s, post-baccalaureate and doctoral levels. (In total, NLU Florida offers six education graduate programs, and one master’s and two bachelor’s offerings in business and management.)
EDL is where the University is doing its part to train future principals and superintendents. And while they face real issues in addition to far-flung logistics — Carol noted the pervasive poverty among students in more isolated, rural areas — Florida education does have great advantages, including tremendous diversity. She cited Orange County schools as representing around 130 different languages, a product of decades of immigration. Opportunities for teachers with ESL training and those providing ESL professional development abound.
In addition, NLU has formed partnerships with local school districts, where on-site classes are often hosted. Many professors in the EDL program have school administration experience themselves and are deeply involved in the mentoring and development of leadership talent in the region, including working with the Florida Department of Education and six local school districts to expand educators’ capacities as school- and teacher-leaders.
This deeper link to Florida education sets NLU apart, Carol believes, along with the personal touch students receive in all programs from start to finish.
“You’re not going to get the run-around,” she said. “You’ll get personal contact, personal attention, personal service and follow-up. NLU’s Student Services really help the student get enrolled, get admitted and make it through classes successfully.
She added that NLU Florida is looking to expand offerings in 2014 to better meet the needs of students. It’s a bright future, Carol said — one that’s built on a foundation of serving communities and schools.
“What’s really inspiring about our degree candidates and graduates is that they feel passionate about meeting the needs of their own students,” she said. “One of our faculty leaders once observed that in NLU’s National College of Education, we not only care deeply about our own students, but we care deeply about our students’ students.”