School board member unhappy with Veterans Park Academy for the Arts expansion

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THE HIGH ACRES

A Lee County school has an $18 million renovation project. The Veterans Park Academy for the Arts campus is expanding. Countless students between grades six and eight will now have permanent stations.

But not everyone is happy with this extension. Lee County School Board member Gwyn Gittens represents Lehigh Acres, where Veterans Park is located. you’d think she’d be thrilled with the renovations, but that’s not the case. These improvements do not meet its number one priority, which is to put more students in more seats in the classroom.

Lee County School Board member Gwyn Gittens is nothing if not consistent. “Since 2018 when I joined this council, I’ve said ‘we need schools,'” Gittens said.

And, four years later, she still says Lehigh needs more schools. On Tuesday, Lee County Schools unveiled it was renovating buildings once used at the former Lehigh Acres Middle School, to become part of the Veterans Park Academy for the Arts.

Steve Hanna is the Lee County School District Project Manager. “One of the goals is to make it the best learning experience you can have for a student. Another goal is to make it a place where students want to go,” Hanna said.

The neighborhood is adding new classrooms, dance, theater and music venues. But, Gittens is not satisfied. “In the meantime, you have 30 or 40 students in a math, science, and reading class because the classes are so full,” Gittens said. “And you add to that the shortage of teachers.”

Gittens says renovations should be put on hold until the school district’s immediate needs are met, which means more seats for students and more teachers on the job.

“When we don’t have schools and we are crowded in some schools. And the teachers don’t want to come here,” Gittens said. “And who wants to come and teach in a laptop when you could be teaching and a shiny, shiny new school.”

She says she won’t stop until her voice is heard. “I can’t imagine how other board members can sit down and see the details, see the data. Listen to my passionate pleas to build the schools we need and I will stop. But I can’t,” Gittens said.

Gittens told WINK News she’s seen Lehigh and the rest of the District’s East Area grow. She knows how long it takes to build a school from scratch. As a faster and cheaper alternative, she wants the district to supplement existing schools.

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