Education Committee Discusses Safety, School Achievements

Wellington Education Committee members Francine Nelson, Ruthanne Retterbush, Beth Gillespie, Donna Baxter, Vice Chair Shelly Albright and Chair John Webber.

By M. Dennis Taylor

Safety measures and some positive updates were reported at the Wellington Education Committee’s meeting Wednesday, March 28.

Committee Chair John Webber asked that members forego opening comments in the interest of speeding the meeting along, saving the bulk of the information until the next meeting. Webber made sure that everyone got to speak, but wanted to ensure that the meeting was completed before the committee’s special joint meeting with the Public Safety Committee started at 6:30 p.m., an hour after the meeting started.

Community Services Director Paulette Edwards wanted it on the record that the joint meeting had been planned to address bullying, student altercations and school traffic safety before the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting. “We were being proactive on school safety,” she said.

Edwards reported that the Students Working to Achieve Greatness (SWAG) mentoring program, funded by HUD, would provide job assignments for 12 students, working about 20 hours per week for an eight-week period over the summer. That program is returning for a second year after its successful inaugural year.

Edwards also noted that it was now time for the village’s annual environmental scholarships. Co-sponsored with Waste Management, the one-time $1,500 and $1,000 environmental scholarships will be presented to four students from Wellington and Palm Beach Central high schools, who meet specific criteria and are chosen by the Education Committee and a representative of Waste Management.

Students must plan on attending a four-year college or university following a course of study in science, technology, engineering, math or related fields, and have a minimum GPA and community service hours, as well as references and a personal essay.

The deadline to submit applications is April 13, and winners will be chosen at the committee’s May 1 meeting. Information and applications are available at the high schools and through the Village of Wellington by contacting Jonathan Salas at

Betsy Cardozo, principal of New Horizons Elementary School, noted a change in her school’s Keely Spinelli Grant of $14,000, which was to be used to hire a part-time reading teacher. She said that the deal fell through when the applicant took a full-time position with the school district. The money was repurposed to purchase technology in the form of 36 Dell Chromebook computers, a charging cart and headphones, with the balance going to the after-school tutorial program.

The limited liaison reports addressed school safety. Committee Member Francine Nelson said that at Binks Forest Elementary School, the big focus is on security, with some measures being installed over the summer and others to be implemented in the future.

Webber spoke about Wellington Landings Middle School, saying that it was an older school and needs the most upgrades. Major work is beginning on the gym and air conditioning units. “At least we are getting to start the process,” he said. “[We are] responsive to parents concerns.”

Webber seemed to sum up the consensus about how shaken they all were about the Feb. 14 shooting. “The principals have put in a lot of work,” he said. “No one should think they aren’t paying attention because they are.”

During public comments, Dr. Veronica McCue, a member of Wellington’s Senior Advisory Committee, expressed concerns that schools in Florida are mandated by law to be used as polling places, which means non-vetted members of the public will be on campus while school is in session.

The discussion was brought up at the later meeting when she repeated her comments. At that meeting, State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86) announced he will sponsor legislation that will keep students out of school on polling days.

In lighter news, Webber reported that Wellington High School raised more than $100,000 in the University of Florida Dance Marathon to benefit Shands Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network. “This is a testament to their dedication,” he said. “It really is run by the kids. It is a part of a bigger picture, but not a small part.”

Committee Member Beth Gillespie said that Elbridge Gale Elementary School’s Robotics Lego team is going to the state championships. Committee Member Shelly Albright announced that New Horizons Elementary School was awarded third place in North America — the U.S. and Canada — by the International Spanish Academy for its program.

Committee Member Ruthanne Retterbush said that while enrollment is up at Wellington Elementary School, 54 percent of students there are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. She said that 151 students had applied for choice programs at the school.

Committee Member Donna Baxter related that 750 seniors will be graduating from Palm Beach Central this year, the school’s largest class.