They serve as first responders.
They provide first class health care.
They promote an active lifestyle.
They teach the next generation.
They practice the core value of hospitality.
They design and build the community as it grows.
They help all the villagers to live the retirement of their dreams.
They are graduates of The Villages High School who now play a vital role in the community.
In its first 20 years of existence, The Villages Charter School has earned a reputation not only as one of the best schools in Florida, but also in the world.
It has also proven to be an excellent training ground for an ever-growing workforce in the local community.
A Daily Sun survey found that more than 360 VHS alumni, out of 2,472 graduates, about 15% from 2006 to 2022, are currently working in The Villages and surrounding communities. When so many students decide this is where they want to come back to work and raise their families, I think it speaks to the opportunities that exist here, said Randy McDaniel, Director of Education. It’s a great indicator that they consider it their home.
We don’t have a traditional school in our hometown. We have students who have come from Leesburg or Ocala or even further. But seeing how they connected to this community and appreciated it so they now want to pursue their careers here is pretty cool.
VHS graduates work for The Villages in several divisions such as administration, commercial property management, entertainment, the Daily Sun, sales and marketing, residential construction and home warranty.
They work for community partners like Citizens First Bank, The Villages Charter School, The Villages Golf Cars, The Villages Public Safety Department and The Villages Recreation and Parks.
They work for building and landscaping contractors like Galaxy Home Solutions, the T&D family of companies, MiCo Customs, M&S Air Conditioning, Torri Plumbing, Tri-County Landscaping and Earthscapes Unlimited.
They work for healthcare providers such as The Villages Health, UF Health The Villages Hospital, Advanced Dermatology, Lake Medical Imaging, The Orthopedic Institute, Village Dental. They work for companies that serve the community such as Publix, Brownwood Hotel and Spa, Salon Jaylee, Ednas On the Green, FMK Restaurants and Genesis Health Clubs. They started their own businesses such as Esarey Construction, Hue Got It Painting, KRenae Salon, Schottsies Scuba and Flores Cattle Company.
Seeing charter school alumni returning in large numbers is proof of the schools’ success, said Gary Lester, vice president of community relations for The Villages.
The growth of The Villages has given thousands of students the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in the state, he said. It makes it especially gratifying to see so many of them serving the very community that has blessed them.
Knowing The Villages and the residents helps ensure a smooth transition for former students working in the community, Lester said.
We’ve all heard that you have to experience The Villages in person to fully appreciate it, he said. Students who have grown up in this area get it faster. They understand and appreciate our residents in a special way.
This familiarity with the community is a major advantage when hiring a VHS graduate, said John Rohan, director of The Villages Recreation and Parks.
They have a strong understanding of the vision and uniqueness of why our community is better than others, he said. It’s the residents, volunteers and stakeholders that make The Villages the best place to live, work, play and learn.
Students at the charter school all learn the core values established by The Villages’ stewardship, hospitality, hard work, creativity and innovation, said Rob Grant, director of VHS.
The core values that are instilled in our students always translate well into the world of work and we see this consistently, he said. We just don’t talk about our core values, we practice them daily. I tell our students that graduating from VHS will bring their application to the top of the pile.
Knowledge of these values makes a VHS graduate an ideal candidate, said Lindsey Blaise, President and CEO of Citizens First Bank.
Being able to hire former students who already know and align with the bank’s values is a great benefit and another example of how important the charter school is to our community, she said.
This knowledge helps former students settle in from day one, Rohan said.
Hiring charter school students into our organization is a win-win situation for us, he said. Their school experience has provided them with a solid understanding of our high community standards, core values and high expectations for excellence. This carries over to their enthusiasm, work ethic and belonging to a team atmosphere.
Watching graduates succeed after graduation is one of the strengths of being a school administrator, Grant said.
I love seeing our alumni working in our community, he says. I sincerely believe this validates our mission to help provide excellent education while providing our community with excellent leadership for the future.
The opportunities available locally are unprecedented, Grant said.
I constantly tell our graduating students to go to college, trade school, the military, or the world of work to get the experience and training they need; but come home, he said. There are great opportunities for them in and around The Villages.
The Villages Charter School practices what it preaches, employing 25 alumni across the school system in elementary, middle and high school.
They know our high expectations because they’ve lived them,” Grant said. It really eases the transition into the classroom as it gives them great credibility with our students. They can talk and walk. A buffalo always a buffalo.
One of the school’s first major initiatives was the introduction of its professional academies at the start of the 2006-07 school year.
In the 2022-23 school year, junior and senior students could choose from 12 academies: Advanced Studies, Agricultural Science, Commerce and Banking, Computer Science, Construction Management, Culinary Arts, Digital Media Design, Fine Arts ( dance, music and visual arts), Engineering, Fitness and Coaching, Graphic Arts and Health Sciences. One of our main goals is to prepare young people for the rest of life, said McDaniel. Prepared them for college and a career.
Citizens First is a key partner of the VHS Business and Banking Academy, providing students with the opportunity to intern in the bank across different departments throughout their senior year. Blaise said the academy is another extension of the relationship between citizens and the charter school.
The academy helps prepare students to enter the workforce, Blaise said.
One of the things that makes the charter school so wonderful is that it focuses on learning beyond standard academics, she said. It is wonderful for these students to gain first-hand experience outside of the classroom and in community enterprise.
The academies are a great investment in the future of the community, said Steve Munz, president and CEO of Galaxy Home Solutions, who sits on the board of the Construction Management and AgriScience academies. Munz even made his ranch available to AgriScience students.
Were going to pass on our knowledge and experience to the next generation, he said. And prepared potential future employees.
Many other successful contracting companies have representatives on the Construction Management Academy Advisory Board, including T&D Family of Cos., Lenhart Electric, Munns Sales & Service, Mike Scott Plumbing and more.
Our business partners are exceptional and essential, Grant said. VHS academies exist for this reason. I believe academies allow students to be exposed to more career-related opportunities and help students build relationships with local business partners.
Stay at home
Graduates say their charter school experiences have given them a head start in their careers.
Cooper Hage, superintendent of The Villages Residential Construction and Home Warranty, graduated in 2019 from high school and an associate’s degree from Lake Sumter State College through the school’s dual enrollment program. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2021 and a master’s degree from the University of Florida by 2022.
People ask me how I did, and it’s because I was able to start in high school, Hage said. Villages speed up a lot of opportunities. Jordann Kelley, from the class of 2014, now works for Grant as an art teacher at VHS.
I already had so many good relationships in place here, she said. It was good to have people I trusted to help me get started on my own path as a teacher. The relationships also paved the way for Bradley Andrews, a 2011 graduate who is now an assistant golf professional at Bonifay and Belle Glade country clubs.
It’s funny that a lot of the opportunities I’ve had have come because those roots were established years ago, he said. You don’t realize it as a teenager, but now I think about it and see how important those relationships are.
Familiarity with the community is another plus, said Aimee Shepard, a 2007 graduate who is now a mortgage processing officer at Citizens First Bank.
It’s fun because I’m one of the first people to welcome (new residents) to The Villages by helping them get their mortgage, she said. But I can also answer all their questions about the community. I grew up here. I learned to drive on these roundabouts. It is the house.
Read this story and many more in Sunday’s edition of the Daily Sun.