By Julie Gorham
Thursday, March 30, 2017 at 8:14 pm
Zac Leonard is ready to lead the Academy of Environmental Science (AES) into the future.
On March 8, school district officials agreed Leonard was the right person to take the helm of the academy. He enthusiastically accepted the job and embraces the challenges that await.
Leonard, a Citrus County almost-native, grew up here and graduated from Seven Rivers Christian School. He has been teaching in the Citrus County School System for nine years, with his most recent position being Learning Lab manager at Lecanto Middle School.
Leonard has a bachelor of arts degree from Southeastern University, and a master’s in educational leadership from the University of South Florida.
“The first thing we need to do is build relationships with students; they need to know we care about them,” Leonard said.
Recently, the academy board of directors agreed with the school district’s new pupil progression plan, and Leonard plans to make it a smooth transition for students.
“We set out to be a supplementary school for students in the county to have a better opportunity to learn sciences,” Leonard said. “Right now, we have a chance to get it back to the original charter and what it’s meant to be.”
One reason students choose to go to AES is for the hands-on opportunities in the natural world, and he wants to make sure that continues.
“In the last year, students did not go into the natural world like the pitch we sold them in eighth grade,” Leonard said. “You don’t come to AES to work in an online classroom; you come to AES to work outside, do science, experiment and discover.”
He wants the students to feel secure about their future at the school.
He said the upcoming 2017-18 school year will be a transitional one — ninth through 12th-grade students will still be at the school.
“The only difference is that the entering freshmen class won’t attend AES all year long — they will choose one semester,” Leonard said. “They have to call me and choose a semester for next year. It’s that easy.”
The one thing he knows for sure is the community loves the academy. When Carol Nicholas’ class wanted a new flag pole, they rallied and within two weeks raised over $2,000 to install a new pole. The Striker’s Fishing Club is a parent-run club that is fully supported by the local community.
As Leonard looks around the school, he sees the work spaces that need updating to make the students’ lives easier.
There are two key goals he would like to accomplish through fundraising opportunities.
“The kids want to get outside more so we would like to raise funds for a research vessel,” Leonard said. “I think it’s imperative to make this a priority, and I think if we reach out to the community they will answer the call.”
Additionally, the school would like to add 100 Chromebooks to assist with the information found on the research vessels.
“I’m excited. We’ve got a plan, my staff is some of the best teachers in the district.
“It’s not about being a superstar or making a name for myself. It’s about coming out here and letting them do their jobs. It doesn’t have to be complicated,” he concluded.
Contact Chronicle reporter Julie Gorham at 352-563-3236 or firstname.lastname@example.org.