Cape Coral Conversations: Charter School Superintendent Nelson Stephenson

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On December 15, 2014, Nelson Stephenson was announced as the new Superintendent for the city’s Charter School System.

A resident of Cape Coral for the past two and a half years, the new position was sort of a homecoming for him and his family.

All but his time going to college in North Carolina, Stephenson has spent his entire life from three months old in Southwest Florida.

A graduate of Naples High School, has served as the Assistant Principal of Naples High School, Administrator at Gulf View Middle in Naples, and Principal at both Arcadia Middle and High School during his 15 years as a teacher and school administrator.

As he embarks on his new journey, CapeCoral.com had the opportunity to sit down with Stephenson to discuss his new job and his goals, ambitions, and expectations of the city’s charter school system under his leadership.

 

How did you initially get into the education field?

I have been in education for about 14-15 years. I started out originally with an interest to be a city manager. That was my long term goal. I went and got a Master’s in Public Administration and was on that track. I was working in Collier County as a Budget Analyst, and I was offered a course to teach at Edison College at night on International Relations and state and local government, courses like that. As I started teaching those courses, I found the education thing very interesting. So, long story short, I ended up going back to school to get what I needed to be a teacher and started teaching. Then felt that being a principal would be a pretty interesting to do and started looking at what I needed to do to achieve that level. I went back and got a Master’s degree in Education Leadership and began doing that, and here I am today. I love the education field. It was certainly the right choice for me to make.

Most of my career was in Collier County. I was at Naples High School, Lely High School, Gulf View Middle School, and alternative schools. I had a broad depth there. Then I was offered the opportunity of a principalship in Arcadia in Desoto County. We owned a home in Naples and was looking for a place in the middle. We have in-laws that live in Cape Coral, so we came up here to take a look at a nice little foreclosed home, and we were very happy with the price and got it. In fact, so happy that we sold our Naples home and moved up here full-time. That was two and a half years ago.

Once this position came open, I make the joke that I was the first person to put in my resume. It was everything that I was hoping for.

 

What enticed you to apply for the Superintendent of the Cape Coral Charter Schools?

In education, just like in government, you have criteria, rules and regulations that you need to follow. Most of the places I have been have been well established already entrenched in their tradition and ways. This school system is still relatively new and growing. It provides me the opportunity to do some things outside the box. What are we going to do with growth? What are we going to do with technology? It allows me to be kind of hands on and a decision maker. Like I said a lot of places you are in you are just stuck with, “This is the way we have always done it,” mentality. With this governing board, staff, and community members, they are just hungry to establish a long term plan for the future. It is nice because I feel like I am going to put somewhat of a stamp on what is going to be the future of this school system. It is not mine, but the community, but that is why it is exciting. Every day I come in it is almost like new. There are a lot of policy and procedure decisions we are making. Somebody with my personality, this situation allows me to take it and fix it and look back and see if it is working or not and make adjustments. Previously for me, it was just a do it, hope it works, and this is the way it has always been.

 

What did do you see as some of the strengths of Cape Coral’s charter school system?

We just had a presentation from our high school principal about our graduation rates and following up. She was saying out of approximately 125 students that graduated, 90% of them are still working to attain their four-year degree. Those are statistics you just don’t find. It is the students, and we have wonderful students. But, the driver really is the parents. Parents are taking that initiative to get their kids into a system they really believe in. When I go to a PTO meetings, and I find, there are 60, 70, 80 parents there it is amazing. I have never seen that in any school system that I have been in. That support of the parents and them saying whatever you need we will do it is fantastic. Then you have the backing of the city that is the financial piece that fits together for the charter system. To me it is community support, the governing board, the city of Cape Coral, and our donors, and we have plenty of those, and then having a foundation that is willing to go above and beyond to look at our future growth are all strengths.

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