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Joe and Mary Kay Henson Recognized for Innovative Approaches to Student Achievement

SARASOTA COUNTY, May 8, 2019 – At an annual convention on Saturday, Joe and Mary Kay Henson were recognized by the Florida League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) for their contributions that advance educational equity and academic outcomes for Sarasota County’s youngest students. This year, the Henson’s received the Advancing Equity award for their work in developing and funding impactful programs such as the Summer Learning Academies in Title I schools. Together with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Sarasota County Schools’ Summer Learning Academies help students and families prepare for school by taking part in enriching learning experiences that help reduce the negative effects of the summer learning slide through a two-generation approach for family learning. 

“Joe and Mary Kay Henson are extraordinary leaders and philanthropists,” noted Todd Bowden, superintendent of Sarasota County Schools. “They believe in the power of incubating innovative ideas that help students in need of encouragement achieve personal and academic success. The school district is delighted the Florida League of Latin American Citizens has recognized the Henson’s for their efforts and contributions to our students.”

“We are pleased to recognize Joe and Mary Kay Henson as this year’s recipient of the Advancing Equity award,” said Mari Corugendo, director of the Florida League of United Latin American Citizens. “The Henson’s have an unwavering commitment to all students in Sarasota County, especially those from Hispanic-heritage families, and we applaud their work to help young students achieve their best.”

In addition to Summer Learning Academies, Joe and Mary Kay Henson sponsor a pre-kindergarten program at Gocio Elementary School for 4 and 5-year old children who have not participated in preschool due to a lack of resources. This program prepares young children for school by experiencing daily routines such as riding the bus and eating in the cafeteria as well as learning how to be independent and spending time away from their families. The program at Gocio Elementary, which has a large population of Hispanic-heritage students, is a three-year pilot study that looks at the impact of a high-quality, school-based program taught by certified teachers. Students who take part in this program are zoned for Gocio Elementary or have siblings at the school. The pilot program is in the process of finishing the second year of implementation with amazing results – thirteen of the original eighteen students in the program have qualified for advanced work in kindergarten.

“We often find that incoming kindergarten students are not as prepared for school as they should be, and have a tough time adjusting to being separated from their families when they first attend school,” commented Steven Royce, principal at Gocio Elementary School. “This program not only helps young students learn their letters and numbers, it also teaches them how to follow direction, participate in a classroom environment with other students and take responsibility for their actions. We are thankful to Joe and Mary Kay Henson for understanding the importance of being ready to learn and preparing young children for school.”

Sarasota County Schools is now registering students for Summer Learning Academies in multiple grades at participating schools. Pre-registration with the school district is required before enrolling in academies across the district. Anyone interested in taking part in the pre-kindergarten pilot program at Gocio Elementary can do so by inquiring with the school directly.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Karen Arango,


About Sarasota County Schools

Sarasota County Schools is committed to providing unrivaled academic, emotional and civic growth to every student, every day. As one of the leading employers on the Suncoast, Sarasota County Schools boasts 53 schools that expertly cater to the diverse needs of over 43,000 students. We are one of two Florida school districts to consistently earn an A-grade every year since 2004 and have been awarded the Mid-Sized School District of the Year by the University of Cambridge. Our passionate educators empower students to take charge of their academic and personal success, a practice we believe fosters lifelong growth and achievement. We actively maintain the district’s tradition of excellence and ensure that tradition extends to all students. Our commitment to our students extends beyond graduation to make sure they not only graduate on time but do so college and career ready. Want to take your student’s education to the next level? Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or visit