The Guide asked several leaders in education to explain their reasons for choosing our community.
APRIL M. GRIFFIN Alachua County School Board District 1
Gainesville and its surrounding municipalities are a wonderful place to raise a family. There are many opportunities for families to enjoy the fine arts, sports and nature all within the borders of Alachua County.
Our school system is another example of “Why Gainesville.” All Alachua County Public Schools strive to be centers of excellence. Our county has a vigorous School Choice option with academic magnet options at elementary, middle and high school levels. We have both the International Baccalaureate and Cambridge programs, in which our students have consistently ranked among the top in the country and internationally.
We encourage all of our students to take Advanced Placement classes, and our pass rate for AP exams is over the state, national and global passing rates. Last year, more than 2,300 students took 4,800 AP exams.
Our students in career technical magnets and classes earned over 4,000 industry certifications in the 2014-2015 school year. The Washington Post listed five of our county’s high schools among the nation’s most challenging.
Alachua County students also excel in athletics. We offer a very diverse array of sports at both the middle school and high school levels.
Our district also boasts a rich array of fine arts education and programs throughout all of our schools.
During the 2014-15 school year , the community supported our schools by volunteering over 722,000 hours and passing an extra one-mil tax that is vital to our programs.
The business community also supports our schools. In 2014, almost 400 business partners donated almost $3 million through donations, in-kind giving and time.
As you can see, our public schools are “Why Gainesville”!
DR. JACKSON SASSER President, Santa Fe College
My family and I chose Gainesville because beauty is more than skin deep. Of course, the city and its environs are indeed beautiful, from the character of downtown to rolling topography to the water, weather and diverse neighborhoods.
We did not have to dig deeply to see that Gainesville — the people of the city and region — is devoted to intellectual pursuits, quality of life and accountable service. These just so happened to comport with our wish that Gainesville would offer extraordinary professional opportunities in a college town where faculty, staff and others in the community elevated learning to its highest level.
Santa Fe College was regarded as a leader in higher education long before it received the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence to become the nation’s No. 1 college. Santa Fe is a charter member of the League for Innovation in the Community College, a select group of institutions that set the standard for accomplishment. Our Florida College System, the brainchild of the University of Florida’s James Wattenbarger, for whom Santa Fe’s Student Services Building is named, is emulated throughout the country. Being part of such a remarkable institution of higher learning presented me with the opportunity and challenge to build upon excellence.
Having two distinguished institutions — the University of Florida and Santa Fe College — in the same town, both of which operate successfully and collaboratively at the local, state and national levels, infuses a community with tremendous advantages. Both the college and university benefit greatly from a public school system that embodies the values we hold dear: engaged teaching, diversity and inclusion, and the embrace of the sciences and liberal arts as mutually supportive.
Layne and I have lived in some very desirable places, but we were stunned to find the range of resources available within a few miles of our home. Gainesville has amenities typically found only in large cities. The Harn Museum of Art on the UF campus is one of the largest and best designed university art museums in the Southeast, while UF’s Phillips Center for the Performing Arts attracts musicians and dancers from all over the world. Gainesville has its own professional theater and is a venue for Broadway productions and other first-rate shows. Santa Fe adds another dimension to our community’s cultural offerings with its Fine Arts Hall and planetarium.
The outdoor surroundings are just as impressive. Coming from Houston, our family found clean rivers, cool springs, woodlands, prairies, wetlands and hammocks. There are wildlife sanctuaries, botanical gardens and bird-watching vistas. To walk outside each morning and experience a beautiful and healthy environment enhances our sense of well-being. In addition, the nearness of the Gulf and Atlantic is not to be underestimated by the Sassers. We love the sea.
Clarity of the environment is matched by transparency in institutions. Local government is high minded and citizen oriented. The media is the most animated I have encountered. The widespread insistence on seeking the truth at all levels derives from our thriving academic community. We grow and prosper among intelligent, sophisticated residents who embrace a spirit for living found in few other places. We love this place and its people. This is why we chose Gainesville.
DR. W. KENT FUCHS President, University of Florida
It’s January, and if you’re like me, this is the time of year when you congratulate yourself on the wisdom you showed in choosing to live in Florida.
I came to Gainesville from Ithaca, New York, where I was provost at Cornell University. The weather is certainly a major drawing card — as the saying goes, you don’t have to shovel sunshine — but Gainesville and Alachua County have so much more to offer than a nice climate, and the University of Florida is a major part of it.
What I find most striking is a palpable sense of optimism and momentum. Our students, of course, are the reason we’re here, and they provide a high level of youthful energy that I find exhilarating. This is a community that knows it has a bright future that’s growing brighter by the day, fueled by a culture that values innovation and creativity. It is a community that venerates technology and the arts and humanities.
That positive outlook may stem in part from the tangible evidence you can see everywhere, especially on the UF campus.
The university has completed six major new facilities since the start of last fiscal year, including the Harrell Medical Education Building, Cypress Hall and Heavener Hall. We have an additional five buildings under construction, most prominently the soonto- be-completed Reitz Student Union and the New Chemistry Building. All told, these 11 facilities total 707,000 square feet of building space. The $65 million renovation of the O’Connell Center is another major project that will have huge benefits for UF and our community.
As with athletics, we know UF’s cultural offerings and facilities set Gainesville apart.
The Harn Museum of Art at UF just celebrated its 25th anniversary. It’s amazing how much the Harn has grown since it opened in 1990, most recently with the addition of the Cofrin Asian Art Wing. From 3,000 objects of art at the outset, the Harn has more than 10,000 today, making it one of the largest university museums in the country.
In the realm of health care, we can see the progress of the new hospital construction off Archer Road, future home to two new hospitals: the UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital and the UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital.
As we expand both our Health Science Center and main campus, we are adding new faculty, including senior faculty from other institutions. These faculty join an already stellar group of educators and scholars on our campus who have fully embraced our vision of being a premier university that the state, nation and world looks to for leadership.
They not only see UF’s potential — they are UF’s potential.
I’m thrilled to call Gainesville home now — I’m sure you are, too — and I’m proud that UF is such a vital part of this vibrant community. Welcome, and if you haven’t discovered the University of Florida yet, I hope you will soon.
DR. OWEN ROBERTS Superintendent of Schools
Welcome to Alachua County! Even though I myself am a fairly recent resident, having taken on my position as superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools in July of 2014, I have come to know this community and its citizens very well. This is an absolutely wonderful place to work, live and raise a family!
One of the things that make it so special is the quality education available from prekindergarten all the way through college. Of course, I’m particularly proud of our K-12 public education system. Alachua County Public Schools have a long tradition of academic excellence. For example, our SAT scores were the highest in the state in 2015 and are always well above state and national averages. Our students outperform their peers statewide, nationwide and across the globe on the challenging Advanced Placement tests. We have five schools listed among the best in the nation by The Washington Post. This is just a sampling of the indicators of the outstanding education offered in our schools.
Our schools offer a wide variety of academic, arts, career/technical, athletic and other programs that are sure to engage any student. Our teachers are the best educated in the state. We have nurses in every school. We offer a full range of extracurricular activities and state-of-the-art classroom technology.
We also have a very supportive community, with hundreds of business partners and tens of thousands of individual volunteers contributing their time and talents to support our students, teachers and schools.
Whether or not you have school-aged children, I know you will find the Gainesville/Alachua County area a great place to call home! There are plenty of cultural and recreational activities, we are surrounded by many natural beauties and of course, the people here are wonderful. These are all the reasons my wife and I are making this community our “forever” home!