With the passing of Joe Rizzo at the helm of the Flagler County Education Foundation, we can think of no one more committed to education, or able to fill his shoes, than Teresa Rizzo. In this week’s edition of The Big Five, Teresa shares the journey and her vision for leading the organization into the future.

Tell readers a bit about your background in education and your journey.

In the November of 1998 I was approved to complete my senior college internship at Flagler Palm Coast high school as an athletic trainer. I graduated from Mars Hill University in the spring of 1999 with a degree in physical education and concentration in sports medicine. After teaching in Flagler county for 12 years I decided to attend Stetson University and complete my Master’s degree in educational leadership. My education at Stetson gave me the confidence and knowledge to move into more educational leadership roles.

I accepted a position with the Florida Department of education as a State Regional Literacy Director in the fall of 2020.

My educational journey started as a pre-school teacher at Palm Coast United Methodist preschool, to teaching physical education and dance at Flagler Palm Coast high school, to a little hiatus from education and exploring my entrepreneur interests owning two businesses in Ormond Beach Florida, then returning to the elementary school classroom at Old Kings Elementary as a PE, kindergarten and first grade teacher. Dr. Anna Crawford, principal at the time at Wadsworth Elementary school open the door to school leadership by inviting me to be the media specialist and instructional coach at Wadsworth Elementary school.

That leadership opportunity and instructional coaching experience open the door to me becoming a state regional literacy director.

You completed additional education as an adult. What were the benefits and challenges you faced on this part of your journey?

Completing additional education as an adult reminded me of how much of a lifelong learner I am.

Attending Stetson University after many years of completing my undergraduate degree reignited my love of learning. Learning as an adult I appreciated each and every experience and collaboration with my fellow students and professors.

The challenges were attending class every Saturday for 12 months for eight hours a day. This pretty much took the place of any weekend plans for an entire year but each hour was worth every sacrifice. The relationships I built with fellow colleagues and the amazing professors at Stetson were priceless.

You have recently been named Executive Director of the Flagler County Education Foundation. Please share your history with the organization and why you wanted to step into this role.

My husband Joe Rizzo around 2010 became involved in the education foundation by the invitation of the current Flagler schools superintendent Bill Delbrugge. Mr. Delbrugge encouraged Joe to get involved as member of the foundation board. As with everything, Joe dove right into this opportunity head first and completely.

The foundation became an integral part of my family.

From having the Christmas party in our backyard to our son helping set up events, to our daughter proofreading documents for her dad, to me being next to Joe side dressing up in fancy costumes for the wonderful events the foundation would put on, the foundation was not just a job but it became our family’s passion and mission.

With his passing we knew we had to continue his legacy and mission because it was also ours. I applied for the position not just for myself but also for my children because it is important to them that we continue the hard work and love that their dad poured into the mission of giving kids and teachers in Flagler County an opportunity they may not have otherwise had.

What kinds of goals and dreams do you have for FCEF and how, as a community, can we help you achieve them?

Joe built such an amazing launchpad at the foundation for us to elevate it to another level.

Our goals as a team at the foundation are to continue the great work that has already impacted Flagler County schools but to align future goals with the school district’s strategic plan, and continue to close the achievement gap and re-open our doors to the community for them to see the amazing things happening at Flagler schools. We will continue to grow our teacher grant program to provide teachers opportunities to be innovative in their classrooms for students to experience a 21st-century education. Early literacy is something that is near and dear to my heart and I look forward to working with the school district to implement a plan to support our families in Flagler County and their children with improving kindergarten readiness. We will also explore opportunities to open doors with STEM education for students focusing on math achievement.

The Flagler County Education Foundation’s robust programs like Stuff The Bus, Take Stock In Kids and Career Coaching, are programs that we want to continue to grow and strengthen as they are amazing opportunities for our students to interact with the community and experience mentorship.

The community can support the foundation financially by donating to these amazing programs, but the donation does not always have to be financial it could also be through mentoring our kids.

The Foundation has focused on students from all walks of life to help them become successful. Why is this such an important building block for our community?

The Flagler County Education Foundation is a gem in Flagler County. Many are unaware of the amazing contributions that the foundation has provided for students and teachers. In the coming year one of our goals is to educate the community more on how the foundation is focused on students and teachers, providing them with opportunities to elevate their learning experiences. This will open doors for students to become productive, happy and philanthropic community leaders who will stay and give back to Flagler County. The students of Flagler County Schools are Flagler’s future and the Flagler County Education Foundation will work to equip students with what they need to be successful.

For more information on the Flagler County Education Foundation, please visit here.

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