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AVON PARK, Fla. – Sept. 20, 2016 – Late on a Friday afternoon, after quiet had taken hold of the South Florida State College Hardee Campus, Teresa Crawford’s day ought to have been winding down.
Not so for Crawford, the SFSC Hardee Campus director. “Tonight, I’m slipping into my role as a member of the Hardee County School Board to attend a ribbon cutting, dedicating a new track for Hardee Senior High School,” said Crawford, who is running for her third term on the board.
Afterward, she stayed for the main event, the Friday night football game pitting Avon Park High School against the Hardee Wildcats. Crawford taught and counseled students at Hardee Senior High School for 16 years.
Crawford’s Saturdays are dedicated to completing the doctoral program in educational leadership at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, where she travels to attend classes.
For all of the 31 years of her working life, Crawford has taught in the classroom, counseled students, directed college programs, or overseen public education as an elected official in Hardee County. Even though she’s eligible for retirement, she has no plans to slow down.
“We have high school students from our dual enrollment program, traditional students, and adult students, and I take great delight in helping them achieve their goals,” Crawford said.
As the SFSC Hardee Campus director, Crawford oversees a handful of staff who help students run through the gamut of life on a rural college campus. From helping students apply for admission to settling on the right career path to helping a student through a tough class, Crawford and staff do it all.
“I even teach political science classes on our campus,” said Crawford, who will enter her 16th year heading up the SFSC Hardee Campus in October.
When Crawford graduated from Avon Park High School in 1981, she headed straight for what she remembered as “South Florida Junior College.”
“I had an idea of becoming an accountant after I graduated from SFSC and headed off for the University of South Florida to finish up my undergraduate degree,” she said. “While at USF, I learned my heart was in education.”
While earning her bachelor’s degree in social science education, she interned at Hardee Senior High School. That’s where she landed once she had her degree in hand.
“For eight years, I taught it all—psychology, sociology, and government—before deciding I wanted would go back for my master’s degree in counseling,” Crawford said. “I saw I could forge good relationships with the students and decided to move into educational counseling.”
Before she had earned her degree, Crawford had already made the transition to counseling students at Hardee’s lone high school.
In 2001, SFSC was on the hunt for a director for its Hardee Campus. At that time, three classrooms and one office were housed in a former commercial space in downtown Wauchula.
“I had the counseling and the educational leadership background, so I said to myself “I’m going to apply for the position,’” Crawford said.
She passed muster with the selection committee and found herself sitting across from then SFSC president Dr. Catherine P. Cornelius for the final interview.
Two years into her new position, Crawford and her colleagues left the storefront and moved into the newly constructed SFSC Hardee Campus, a two-story complex, six miles north of Wauchula, in Bowling Green.
“The new campus opened up so many possibilities for the students we serve in Hardee,” Crawford said. “We could offer more classes to more students in the just the right setting.”
Six years into her tenure at the new campus, Crawford thought she could do more to boost education in Hardee County. She took on an incumbent school board member and won.
“I always had an interest in politics, coupled with an in-depth knowledge of the county I live in and a passion for education,” she said. “I think the voters know that because 80 percent of them gave me their support when I was up for election again in 2012.”
Serving as the board’s chairperson this year, Crawford didn’t draw an opponent. She will start her third term after the November election.
Crawford’s commitment to education doesn’t end with her stewardship of the county’s K-12 system. “Two of my colleagues and I discussed going for our doctoral degrees in educational leadership at Florida Southern College,” Crawford recounted. They will wrap up their coursework in the spring. After that, they’ll hunker down to write their doctoral dissertations.
“I’ll be writing my dissertation on school principals’ leadership competencies,” Crawford said. “My husband of 31 years, Vent, is a good sport and is supportive of my many interests.” Crawford’s other interests include serving as a director of the Hardee County Fair and the county’s Chamber of Commerce.
Retired after a career as a lieutenant with the Florida Highway Patrol, Crawford’s husband caught the education bug from his wife. Vent now teaches adult education at the SFSC Hardee Campus, helping adults prepare for their high school equivalency diploma.
Although she is now eligible for retirement, Crawford has no plans to shift into the slow lane. A new academic year is already underway, she’ll be sworn into her office for her third term, and now she’s taken up glamping.
“Glamping is the new word for glamorous-style RV camping, one with a big screen TV and no real hardships,” Crawford said with chuckle. “Vent and I bought that special RV a year ago to make visiting our new grandchild in Georgia all the more enjoyable.”