Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Jacksonville ISD employees – faculty, staff and administrators alike – kick off the new school year with a convocation Friday morning at the new JISD Gymnasium, located at 811 Farnsworth Street site on the former Lon Morris College campus.
The local district, which offers a Pre-K through 12th grade program at eight different campuses, has more than 900 employees, and organizers feel annual gathering – themed this year JISD – Home of the Champions – “is just a good way to get everyone together before the start of school and give some encouragement and positive information so that they can have a great start to the school year,” said district public information officer Marc McCloud. “We used to hold it in the high school auditorium, but we've outgrown that facility and we wanted someplace central, so last year we used the Central Baptist Church sanctuary (for the event).”
Grace Traylor, who sits on the board of directors for the Jacksonville Education Foundation, which co-hosts the convocation, said that the event easily draws 1,300 to 1,400 attendees, including school board members, local business leaders, former staff members and alumni.
“It's really exciting” to host this year's convocation in the new gym because of the larger capacity and because it is the district's newest facility, she said.
Earlier this year, the district entered – and won – a bid for the purchase of the Vivian and Bob Smith Events Center at Lon Morris College, which was auctioned off after the historic college declared bankruptcy and shuttered the program.
During Friday's convocation, which runs from 8:30 to 11 a.m., guest speakers Sissy Phillips Austin, Class of '59, and former JHS Coach John Alexander will address the gathering.
Additionally, the foundation will award classroom grants and name new “Influential Indians,” people who “are highly supportive of our schools,” Traylor said.
“It's almost like a pep rally for JISD staff – it's a lot of fun,” she added. “The name really doesn't doe justice (to the event itself) – most people think it's going to be boring, but it's a pleasant surprise. It's become a community-wide event, which is really nice, because the staff gets to see so many people who are supportive of them.”
On Thursday, Austin and Alexander – who are co-chairs of the foundation membership drive – will be the special guests at the foundation's second annual “Evening with Our Stars,” which is part of its campaign kick-off.
Held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The Castle on Lake Jacksonville, meet-and-greet helps support the foundation's goal to help foster academic excellence in Jacksonville public schools through scholarships and classroom grant programs.
Additionally, Alexander will be special guest at a 6:30 a.m. Friday “Breakfast of Champions” at Sadler's Restaurant, while Austin is the special guest at a luncheon at the home of Jana and Barry Autry following the convocation.