Dr. Nancy Graham jokingly questioned why she accepted an invitation to speak at a function during the first day of classes as the new superintendent of the Lee County School District.
"What was I thinking when I said ok to a luncheon on the first day of school?," she quipped.
Graham was the guest speaker at the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting at Charley's Boathouse Grill Thursday. SunStream Realty sponsored the event.
"It's a big day in Lee County," Graham said about the Aug. 8 classroom start for students, teachers and administrators. "We are saying every day is a great day and an exciting one."
The invite was a tough one to turn down since it came from FMB Chamber Foundation Board Director John Albion, someone she has known for a long time, and the fact that several college students that had previously attended high school in the District were receiving scholarships from the Foundation.
"I'm especially pleased to be here, even though these students have left us after they did what they needed to do to graduate," she said. "I commend you and congratulate you."
Before accepting her current position to take the place of the retired Dr. Joseph Burke, Graham served in the administrative roles for both school and district after beginning her career as a campus life director for middle and high school students in Indianapolis in 1979. After that assignment, she taught English in her native Broward County, beginning in 1983.
In 1987, Graham's school career branched off to Lee County when she moved to the area to teach at Fort Myers High until 1992. That is when she began her tenure as an administrator at Gulf Middle School in Cape Coral. She has since worked as a high school principal in Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties.
Graham, who earned a bachelor's degree in English/Secondary Education at Taylor (Ind.) University and a Master's and Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of South Florida, worked for the Lee County School District for nearly 20 years, which included a stint as principal of Cypress Lake High School. She addressed the scholarship winners and chamber members with her next comment.
"I was a high school principal for the majority of my career prior to getting into administration, and I understand what you have done to get your diploma," she said. "I will tell those of you who went to school long before now, it's a very different picture, a very different set of standards and a very different set of requirements. There is no messing around to get your diploma."
Graham was a Collier County principal when she became a finalist during the 2011 Lee County Superintendent search that chose Burke. In late May 2013, the Lee County School Board unanimously chose her as the district leader upon Burke's retirement.
"I look forward to a working relationship with many of you. We have a lot to do," she said. "My mantra since the night I was sworn in is that we are in this together. I mean that just as sincerely as I know how to say it."
Graham then shared that she has a love for children and a passion for her work.
"I believe in public education," she said. "That is why I am willing to take on what some people have said to me, 'what are you thinking.' It's exciting, it's challenging and, today, it's just cool because everyone is on their best behavior since it's the first day of school."