It All Begins With Education

Delray has invested over $11 million over the years.

Delray has invested over $11 million over the years.

Note: Last week, co-founder Jeff Perlman was invited to speak at the Delray Chamber of Commerce’s annual new teacher breakfast. The breakfast focuses on education and allows local principals to introduce their new teachers to the business community. In honor of the first day of school, here’s a transcript of the speech.

“I’d like to thank Karen Granger and the Chamber for inviting me to share some thoughts with you this morning. I’d also like to thank all of the educators in this room for taking the time out of your busy schedules to be here.

 It’s important that you share the challenges that you face and the opportunities you see with the people in this room. Together, we may be able to meet some of those challenges and seize some of those opportunities.

I’m going to start off by making a big statement…but I think I can back it up.

So here goes…

There is no city in the state of Florida that has done more for its schools than the City of Delray Beach.


That’s a big statement…but I make it proudly and confidently, because I know what this city has done: Nothing Short of a major investment of time, personnel, money and political capital so that our schools and our children can have a better chance at a successful future.

This morning I’m going to give you a very brief overview of this city’s involvement in education over the years and also outline some future opportunities that I see and hope that we will pursue as a community.

First, I think most of us can agree that there is no more important pursuit in a community than education. It is the answer to just about all of our problems and the provider of just about all of our opportunities. Whether it’s redeveloping blighted neighborhoods, creating jobs, curing illness or healing a city—the strategy must always include education.

So to those who say that cities such as Delray Beach should mind their own business and not be involved in education, the answer is not on your life. It’s too important and it really does take a village to raise a child.

So with that belief in mind, Delray Beach, the city, needs, deserves and requires a seat at the table when it comes to educating our children.

And here’s why …if you are an educator… you want us at that table; Because Over the years we have had very good table manners, literally spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money to support our local schools.  $11 million at last count.

From investing in strategies to save Spady Elementary School  and insisting on a gifted program at Banyan Creek, to supporting IB programs at Carver and Atlantic—the city of Delray Beach has been there, with dollars, political support, ideas and strategies.

We even moved a high school because we thought it was important to have a modern campus with career academies and enough capacity to bring some of our children home to attend school here in Delray.

This is a city with a rich and storied history of supporting its kids, our teachers and their principals.

Starting with a program called Sharing for Excellence in the late 80s, we have proven time and time again that when we rally our community around the educational needs of our children, we are at our best.

In the 80s and 90s, our vision called for better programs and facilities and as a result we helped to save Spady with a Montessori magnet, enhanced Carver with a middle years IB and saw Orchard View planned and built a decade later.

When two members of our Police Department approached us with an idea for a charter school, we wrote a check and seeded that school which became Tomorrow’s Promise. It closed after a decade or so, but before it did, Tomorrow’s Promise touched hundreds of lives; and lowered crime in our city.

After the new high school opened, we dedicated police officers to the Criminal Justice Career Academy and our CRA financed real estate so that students in the Construction Academy were able to get hands on experience building a home and improving a neighborhood.

Village Academy exists because a neighborhood got together week after week after week and envisioned a better future—anchored by a school. And there’s more—Plumosa has been reinvented with the help of the city, business leaders and parents. Pine Grove is seeing improvements in its academic performance thanks to the energy of a young principal who works closely with local business leaders to fund some basic needs of students. But it wasn’t always that way.

When I moved to Delray in 1987, realtors talked about something called the Delray Dilemma…they were unable to sell homes because the reputation of our schools was so poor that young families, fled to West Boca and West Boynton where the district was building new facilities.

A weak town would have given up, but not this city. Historically, this city has come together to face its problems and we have always, always solved them.  If you want to know the difference maker in Delray, the secret sauce, that’s it folks.

 It’s not a complicated theory…but it takes hard work and courage to acknowledge problems, build consensus, work together for years and put your head down until it gets done. Visioning is important…you have to know where you’re going—but this is a city that gets results. And often those results lead to benefits you don’t immediately see, they accrue over time.

The move of Atlantic High is an interesting example…It allowed the district to add Career Academies and enabled us to stop busing hundreds of kids out of town, but  it also gave us Bexley Park, two new public parks, the Seacrest Soccer Complex and land for a new Plumosa. Was it controversial, you betcha. Did it pay dividends…yes and for decades to come.

So the history is rich and I can go on, to discuss Beacon Programs and partnerships with the Delray Center for the Arts and how Janet Meeks and I met for lunch many years ago at the old annex and discussed her idea to create a position in city government dedicated to education. We did. We were the first city to do that and Janet has done remarkable things.

But I think the important takeaway, especially as we enter a new fiscal year, is the philosophy that great cities invest and reinvent in themselves.

We didn’t have to do any of those things—but this city has never been just about providing the basics. This city has been about engaging our citizens, developing a vision and investing in our future.

We have a rich history of bringing those visions to life and we should not give that up without a fight.

We would not be the Delray Beach we have become if we didn’t make those investments.

But like every investment, you seek a return.

So I’ll conclude with some investments I think we should be making in the future.

First, we need a strategy to provide opportunities for our children to come back home after college to lead, grow and contribute to this community. We have done a good job with food, beverage and culture. We have created an environment attractive to entrepreneurs but we do not have the creative space they need to thrive.

Morgan Russell and I co-founded a foundation that is mentoring and providing scholarships to some of our most talented kids…it’s called Dare to Be Great. Being involved with that group has opened my eyes to the talent that exists right here in this community. Young people who are overcoming some amazing odds to excel…we owe it to them– as leaders– to create an environment of opportunity so they can come back and build the future. So how do we create a city of opportunity, so appealing that our kids will want to come back…


We should be teaching entrepreneurship in our schools, whether kids grow up to be entrepreneurs or not, the skills they will learn will serve them wherever they land. Hopefully, they’ll start and grow their businesses right here.

We should be investing in programs like Girls Who Code or Code Academy, to make sure that our students have the skills needed to compete and win in the 21st century.

We should be pushing-and I know we are—for an arts magnet at Carver. But that effort should be a community wide one…When this community works together, it succeeds. We’ve never failed to achieve the vision we set out to accomplish when we work together. Let’s start a campaign for a middle school of the arts.

We should be teaching leadership at all levels, alongside the basics.  Our community, every community, needs better leaders. We need to begin teaching these skills in our schools, perhaps Delray can become a national pacesetter in leadership education. It was Lincoln who said “the philosophy of the school room in one generation, will be the philosophy of government in the next.” We can sure use a few Lincolns…at all level of government.

We should continue to make strategic investments in select non-profits that serve youth whether its art classes at Delray Center for the Arts or children’s programs at the Arts Garage.

 In our work at Dare 2 Be Great, every single student we’ve interviewed has mentioned a community program that they experienced that turned them on…whether it was Atlantic High graduate Stephanie Brown who took  a photography class at Old School Square and turned that into a career or Joseph Elisma who came to Delray from Haiti at age 9 with just his father and the shirt on his back. He walked past gangs and temptation every day and ended up as an IB graduate from Atlantic. He was inspired by Atlantic’s criminal justice academy and wants to come back to Delray to protect and serve this community, his community.

Or Ian Mellul, who got involved with our youth council and decided that he wanted to devote his life to public service…he was a White House Fellow this year…and he’s measuring the drapes in the Oval Office…because he wants to be President.  Remember that name, Ian Mellul, he was inspired by this community and the investments we made. We have to keep making them, they make a difference.

We’ve never been about the lowest common denominator in Delray…a core value of our city has always been having a vision, investing in it and working together to achieve the dream.

Last week, Joe Gillie called me and asked if I wanted to have lunch with Libby Wesley…that’s a name all of us should know.  We throw around words like legendary and greatness all the time…well Libby is truly legendary…she is truly great. And she was an educator….who touched thousands of lives during her career and in her later years through the Roots Festival, which celebrated education, culture and art.

When we used to meet at City Hall  Mrs. Wesley  talked to me about a covenant; a bond, a pact made between people who want to see a city thrive so that all people could seize the opportunities created by a vibrant city. Whether it’s a job or a chance to go medical school or a place to experience art; community has to work for all if it is to work at all. I will say that again, community has to work for all if it is to work at all. And It begins and ends with education.

I’ll close with these words from Nelson Mandela, because they are so true and so important… we need to live and breathe these words: “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

We’ve changed Delray through our investment in education. There’s a more work to do.  Let’s go change the world.


  1. Patsy Westall says

    And all of that took and will continue to take leadership!

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