Polk school employees fill stadium for rally

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It was a sellout crowd at Tigertown on Monday, but everyone got in for free. Thousands of Polk school employees filled the seats at a first-ever event billed by the district as “A Day of Celebration.”

“It is a day to show them we appreciate what they do,” said Polk Superintendent of Schools Jacqueline Byrd. “I am trying to increase our morale, and to increase our morale I need to bring everybody together.”

Staffers who volunteered to work at shelters, primarily schools, during Hurricane Irma, were recognized. They walked out on the field to a rousing round of applause, then treated to lunch.

“This is a good thank you,” said Deidra Collins, a cafeteria worker from Bethune Academy in Haines City. “I just wanted to do my part.”

As the name of their school was called, groups cheered and waved pom-poms. Prizes were given out, and speakers told the audience, despite the difficulty and frustrations they face, to never give up.

It all unfolded on an uncomfortable sunny Florida day.

‘Everywhere you go, it’s hot,” said Theresa Capel, who works at Kathleen Elementary in Lakeland.

The event was aimed at trying to heal the long-running rift between the district and its employee.  Like other places across the state, most teachers here say they are overworked, underpaid, and frustrated by bureaucracy.

In a recent letter to teachers about the event, the head of the district’s human resources department, Teddra Porteous, wrote, “We know the district isn’t perfect, and we are trying to make some much needed corrections. This begins with repairing relationships.”

The district hopes the event is a step in that direction.

“In general, I think there are some things that they can do,” offered Stephanie Ingram, who works at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland. “I think this is a very nice start.”