ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — After more than four decades of shaping young minds, career educator E. Wayne Gent is retiring as superintendent of St. Lucie Public Schools.
"This is my 45th year in education, and that pretty much led to it," Gent told WPTV on Thursday. "We've really achieved some great accomplishments here. Our graduation rate is seventh in the state of Florida. And it just felt like the right time."
Gent — whose last day will be June 30 — has been superintendent of the school district for seven years.
Before joining St. Lucie Public Schools in 2015, Gent was superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County for four years.
Under Gent's leadership, St. Lucie Public Schools had a historic graduation rate of 94.5% in 2021, no failing schools, and was top tier in the state for academic growth.
"We've got a strong team here, a great foundation," Gent said.
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However, one of the biggest educational challenges Gent ever faced came toward the end of his impressive career when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in early 2020.
Over the last two years, St. Lucie Public Schools — like countless other school districts throughout the country — has weathered a storm of remote learning, student illnesses and quarantines, staffing shortages, and learning losses.
Despite all that, Gent said the dedication and resiliency of his team has allowed the district to meet every obstacle brought on by the pandemic.
"It was a challenge, but you always keep your eye on the goal, and that's teaching and learning," Gent said. "The resiliency of our administrators, our teachers, our staff members is what's really carrying us through that."
The superintendent said one of his school district's biggest goals is to recruit more teachers to overcome shortages brought on, in part, by the pandemic.
St. Lucie Public Schools offers the "Promise Is A Promise" program, which guarantees participating St. Lucie County students a teaching job in the district after they graduate from college.
"Teaching is a calling," Gent said. "We try to grow our own students right here in high school. If they go to college and become a teacher, they're guaranteed a position here in St. Lucie County."
Gent said there's no time frame for when the school board will select a new superintendent or how the search process will play out.
Until his last day on the job, Gent said he's committed to providing local schools and students with the best services possible.
"I've made a lot of great friends, a lot of great colleagues. I'm very proud of the students. I've got former students now that are politicians, lawyers, city council members," Gent said. "Just to see their successes over the years is very, very fulfilling and rewarding."
Gent said he's looking forward to the next chapter of his life, taking his grandchildren to school, playing sports with them, and boating.