Former television news anchor Deborah Gianoulis
is on a mission to save public education.
Don't think you can stop her
THE HARDWARE: In her
quarter-century in TV journalism, Gianoulis won two Emmys and this prestigious Peabody for a documentary on domestic violence.
THE HARDWARE: In her
quarter-century in TV journalism, Gianoulis
won two Emmys and this prestigious Peabody for a documentary on domestic violence.
INNOVATE OR DIE: The Schultz Center hopes to use the creativity nurtured in EdSpark as a launching pad to "grow new approaches to teaching and learning," Gianoulis
Forty-eight years ago, sixth-grader Deborah Gianoulis
walked into a public school classroom in Delaware for the first time.
We were so encouraged to be creative, yet disciplined at the same time," Gianoulis
The passion that took root that morning nearly five decades ago has anchored Gianoulis
throughout the many permutations of her
life - from Emmy-winning television news anchor to documentarian, from
would-be politician to activist.
learned to overcome adversity.
learned to adapt to changing times.
And through it all, she
became, and remains, one of the foremost advocates of public education in Northeast Florida.
Last year, just months after she
took over as president and CEO of the Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership
, which for more than a decade has provided thousands of educators with a wide range of professional development courses, adversity struck her
Eighty percent of the center's funding vanished virtually overnight, as the new Duval County Public Schools
superintendent dramatically shifted the district's priorities.
Many people thought that the Schultz Center
would go belly-up, but you should never count Deborah Gianoulis
She's been knocked down before and each time, she gets back up, more determined to move forward, to make a difference, to change the world, one student at a time.
In college, at the University of Delaware, Gianoulis had trained to be a scriptwriter and reader.
And that's what the 21-year-old expected to do when Channel 12 in Jacksonville hired her
, back in 1976, as an education reporter - a fortuitous beat, as it would turn out.
The brave new world of television journalism required its journalists to be unscripted, spontaneous observers and reporters of news.
These next-generation journalists had to think on their feet.
did it with aplomb, and made a name for herself.
Many years later, she
did it again, innovating and leading in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
In 1979, Channel 4 recruited Gianoulis to be an anchor, even having executives fly to London, where she
husband had been living for a year, to secure the coup.
Over the ensuing quarter-decade, she
had earned a reputation for in-depth television reporting, taking home two Emmys - for military and education reporting, respectively - and a prestigious Peabody Award for a documentary on domestic violence.
Then in 2002, Channel 4 lost its CBS affiliation.
Through sheer force of will, she
fellow staff members rallied to rebrand Channel 4 as a comprehensive source of local news, and retained their No. 1 rating, a feat by any measure.
"The staff learned new ways of doing business and looking out for each other, putting a positive face on for public consumption," Gianoulis
"I learned we can and we will get through this."
stepped away from the anchor desk that year, when the youngest of her
two children was a senior in high school.
She wanted to be a volunteer, to become an unfettered advocate for public education.
"I had anchored and reported the news for more than 25 years," she
, allied with grassroots groups from around the state, helped shut down legislative efforts to pass the "Parent Trigger Bill," a measure that would have enabled the takeover of struggling public schools by a charter or for-profit private management company.
"Grassroots work is the hardest work there is," Gianoulis
"Most of the moms I worked with have kids in school and few resources, yet they care so passionately about the welfare of children besides their own that they are up all hours of the night, building websites, sharing email lists, doing research."
The knock-down, drag-out fight over SB 6 was a final straw for Gianoulis
began thinking it might be time to reinvent herself again, this time from activist to politician.
"Education advocacy had brought me face to face with our legislature," she
"I was appalled at the way parents and educators were ignored by our elected leadership."
And so, once her
children and husband were on board, she
took the plunge, challenging Republican state Sen.
"Losing was hardest on my team and the remarkable citizens who believed we could pull off the David and Goliath story," Gianoulis
"I was so proud of our effort and getting GOP and independent crossover votes in the second-most-Republican district in the state.
My race has encouraged others to run, so it was clearly worth the effort."
After that campaign, Gianoulis again began to ponder how she could revamp herself, this time into most effective advocate for public education.
Over the years, Gianoulis
had observed what she
considered a relentless assault on public school teachers and principals in the 1980s and '90s, and the growing move toward privatization.
Schools saw their budgets cut even as they were blamed for the U.S. losing its edge in the global economy.
had long ago given up the idea of returning to TV news, turned off as she
was by the insatiable appetite of the 24-hour news cycle.
wanted to do, needed to do, something.
"Public education is the backbone of democracy," she
There were layoffs and panic; some 20 Duval County educators were transferred out of the center's facility and Gianoulis
had to cut five jobs.
Had the center's board not dipped into its reserves while Gianoulis
sought to regroup, Vitti's decision could have been a fatal blow.
But it wasn't - at least not yet.
The cuts forced the Schultz Center
"to rethink everything," Gianoulis
says, but they also helped expedite a process already underway to expand its reach, a process she
had initiated a year earlier as chair of the center's board of directors.
"Our board had already decided the heavy dependence on a single client [DCPS] was not sustainable," she
The center began looking nationally, even internationally, for new partners.
The re-evaluation also opened the door for the Schultz Center
's EdSpark initiative, which it will launch as part of the second annual One Spark festival held Downtown April 9-13.
The idea for EdSpark was "literally ignited by One Spark," Gianoulis
The first One Spark took place just weeks before Gianoulis
learned of the DCPS cuts.
staff members had been among the 130,000 visitors checking out the 406 One Spark exhibits; they were particularly impressed by the innovative education ideas scattered over several blocks of the festival.
"We had the idea to pull them all together and call it EdSpark," Gianoulis
"We also saw huge potential as One Spark grows to create next-generation work for the Schultz Center
by recruiting education innovators and creating an incubator to grow new approaches to teaching and learning."
The center will curate education-related exhibits during the international event, with the ultimate goal in mind to become a national and global resource for education innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration.
anticipates that at least 50 education innovators will show off their ideas at the EdSpark venue, on the second floor of the Wells Fargo Building overlooking the St. Johns River.
Interested participants should note that the deadline for submitting entries is Jan. 31; it can be done online at beonespark.com.
EdSpark participants will vie with other One Spark entrants for crowd-funding votes and a portion of cash prizes totalling $310,000.
More than that, it's a huge networking opportunity for creators and innovators, and this is where the Schultz Center
sees a world of possibility.
"We do not yet know what [the Schultz Center
's] global reach might look like, but EdSpark may help open that horizon as we work to bring in international creators," Gianoulis