Biography


FAMILY AND COMMUNITY LIFE

J.F. “Jeff” McCullers, 59, is a fifth-generation Floridian who grew up in his grandparent’s orange grove on the banks of the Estero River. His mother Kay worked at the U.S. Post Office in Estero for most of her life and his father John was a dynamite foreman for Gulf Atlantic Corporation  in Cape Coral, and then ran his own business as a water well driller. His brother Andy manages citrus groves in LaBelle. His wife Dona was a long-time high school teacher, and she now works for the U.S. Postal Service. They have two children, Ainsley and John, who both attended Lee County schools. Jeff and Dona live in the Country Oaks neighborhood near Estero, San Carlos Park, and Three Oaks.

During their teaching careers, Jeff and Dona collaborated on many high school and youth theater programs at Cypress Lake High School, often sharing directing duties while Jeff supervised the technical crews and Dona provided choreography and musical direction. These plays were one of many strong and vibrant arts programs at the school which subsequently led to its designation as a Center for the Arts.

Jeff now serves on the Advisory Board for the Florida Repertory Theater, and is a well-regarded local historian who volunteers time and research for the Estero Historical Society. He also loves to research the history of education in Florida and especially in southwest Florida. He delivered a keynote address on this subject at the opening of a restored schoolhouse in Estero.

EDUCATION AND CAREER

Jeff attended Villas Elementary School, Cypress Lake Middle School, and Cypress Lake High School, where he gained a love for journalism, creative writing, design, photography, and theater.

From the age of 8 to the age of 18, he was an active member of the Estero Go-Getters 4-H Club, and served as both a legislator and a reporter in the Florida 4-H Youth Legislature. In 1978, he received the highest national honor from the 4-H program for his years-long work in citizenship projects that included voter registration, petition drives, community mosquito education.  litter cleanups, mangrove restoration projects, and two self-published books on local history.

Jeff’s high school jobs included working as a groundskeeper for the Sunny Grove mobile home park, as a secretary for Estero Realty, Inc., as a grove hand for his grandfather, and as a well drilling assistant for his father.

In 1979, Jeff graduated from Cypress Lake High School and was named as a National Merit Scholar. He then attended the University of Florida with full scholarships. He majored in English Education and filled his elective requirements with journalism and political science courses.

In 1985, he began teaching British Literature and journalism at Cypress Lake High School, and later taught American Literature, Humanities, Drama, and Stagecraft there. He was a senior class sponsor for nine years, and created the school’s baccalaureate ceremony. He was selected to provide the school’s baccalaureate address six times.

In 1993, he and his wife Dona were selected to serve on the founding faculty of Academy High School at New Directions, an experimental grant-funded high school. The school was intended by then-Superintendent James Adams and Principal Jeananne Folaros to be a showcase school that researched how to present a solid standards-based education to students at risk of dropping out of school. The school piloted innovations such as essential questions, integrated curricula, block scheduling, one-to-one computing, online education, digital media production, portfolio assessment and exhibitions, and senior projects. In this experimental design, teachers played a central role in curriculum design, instructional methods, student scheduling, and assessment. Students worked in self-organized teams in an office environment. Jeff taught multiple literature, composition, media, and technology courses and sometimes taught science courses and coached students in ACT/SAT preparation and employment skills. Jeff later served as the school’s special projects coordinator and managed one of the District’s earliest online credit retrieval programs in the school’s Employment Skills Program. In 1994, Jeff served as the sole high school representative on the University of Florida's Blueprint 2000 Goal II advisory project for Florida Department of Education.

FOCUS ON LEARNING 

During Jeff’s nine years at Cypress Lake High School and three years at Academy High School, he developed a knack for helping students who were struggling with academic and career decisions. He wanted to make sure that every student — regardless of whether they were bound for college, for trade or technical school, for military service, or straight on the world of work — understood that their choices were wider and richer than they might have imagined. He helped students and their families consider other opportunities, frequently working with school counselors to help students search for and apply for scholarships, and arranging for internships and shadowing experiences. 

Jeff regularly introduced advanced and honors level content into his regular courses to ensure that every student obtained the greatest possible benefit, taking care to make sure this posed no additional difficulty to any student. He coached students with college entrance examinations both in English and mathematics areas, teaching both concepts for review and test taking strategies. When he had students staying after school for long evenings for play rehearsals, he always set aside a dinner break and a silent study hall period where students could complete homework for their other classes. He would provide tutorials as needed.


Jeff worked hard to make a difference in every student’s life, and to make sure they understood how powerful their own abilities really were. He was adept at convincing shy students to get up on stage or speak at a public meeting, at helping frequently-absent students overcome personal obstacles keeping them out of school, and at encouraging students to open up more to their parents about their woes and about their dreams. As a result, his reputation grew and his elective courses such as Drama and Humanities were often full to overflowing. In his last several years at Cypress, he was even assigned to teach all of his classes in the school auditorium in order to accommodate the large numbers of students who wanted to study with him. Jeff was eventually regarded as a master teacher, and called on to teach professional development sessions for other teachers (especially beginning teachers). 

FOCUS ON LEADERSHIP

In 1997, after a brief assignment at Lehigh Senior High School, Jeff was hired to be the principal investigator for two teacher training grant programs at the District’s Southwest Florida Teacher Education Center, which then served teachers in multiple districts. One of these grants was in collaboration with the then-brand-new Florida Gulf Coast University. This partnership named six schools as Academies for Excellence in Teaching, and investigated the professional development school model. Jeff worked with FGCU professors to host a colloquium on professional development schools and clinical education, and presented papers at the Florida Education Technology Conference and at the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Jeff served as the District’s liaison with the Florida League of Teachers and presented at their conferences.

Jeff’s analytical skills and writing ability led to him being temporarily assigned to create a new teacher evaluation system. In a then-new interest-based approach, the District, the School Board, and the Teacher’s Association of Lee County had participated in several workshops to identify what should be in a new teacher assessment system, which resulted in hundreds of pages of notes and ideas. It was Jeff’s task to assimilate all of this into a workable system that included a detailed rubric, guidebook, and training program. After he passed several working drafts through various parties, this system was approved and was used for more than ten years.

In 1998, Jeff was hired as a coordinator in the District’s Department of Personnel Services. In this role, he analyzed teacher transcripts for certification, conducted internal investigations, assisted teachers seeking national certification, and provided retirement estimates and counseling. He conducted research and analysis for bargaining sessions and during the legislative sessions.

In 2000, Jeff was promoted to head the District’s newly-created Department of Grants & Program Development. This unit was intended to combine grant proposal development, grant administration, and research and development activities. For the next 19 years, Jeff was called on to create concept papers, propose policy and legislative language, write grant proposals, track and analyze legislation, develop partnerships, and help implement numerous District initiatives, including the District’s school choice program, a multi-district Reading First program, Even Start projects at Three Oaks Elementary School, and magnet school programs all across the county. He worked on the proposal for the $45 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant that introduced a new system of teacher collaboration and instructional leadership. He helped design the District’s innovative school-based budgeting and staffing system, developed multiple systems to evaluate superintendent performance, and was tasked for some years to work on the District’s PeopleSoft enterprise resource planning system.

He conducted textbook analyses, evaluated curriculum programs, and briefed School Boards on numerous policy topics. Beginning in 2002, he guided administrators and teachers both in Lee County and in other districts across the state through the many changes brought about by federal programs under the No Child Left Behind Act such new requirements for education paraprofessionals and highly-qualified teachers and accountability practices such as adequate yearly progress. Beginning in 2009, he consulted with districts across the state on the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including state fiscal stabilization funds and the new Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants programs. in 2014 and thereafter, he provided advice and training across Florida on the massive rewrite of federal grant regulations known as the Uniform Grant Guidance. Beginning in 2015, he again provided statewide advice for the new Every Student Succeeds Act, including planning for the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment program. Recently he has been supporting teams working on new programs to improve school safety and promote mental health awareness.

From 1999 to 2019, he was a member of the District’s expert review panel that evaluated proposals for new charter schools. In 2007, he began representing the School Board as liaison to the District’s charter schools, and supervised all aspects of charter school authorizing and contract management. In the twelve years he served in this post, he directed the evaluation of 75 charter school applications of which 25 were approved. Also during this time, he directed the closure of 11 charter schools.

Jeff’s statewide reputation covers both the grants work (especially in terms of federal funding, policy, and regulation) and charter school authorizing. He served on the Board of Directors for the Florida Grant Developers Network K-12 for many years, and also served that organization as President. He was recognized for these efforts with the Liz A. Hobert “Hobie” Award for Leadership in Grant Development. Most recently, he served on the Florida Committee of Practitioners for the Florida Department of Education to provide advice to the Department on policy and practices for major federal grant programs. He is often called upon to present papers, conduct trainings, or deliver keynote addresses at educational conferences.

Jeff was also an active member of the Florida Association of Charter School Authorizers, and has long provided its members with analysis and advice for the complex policy issues related to charter school authorizing and evaluation. In 2013, he was selected to join a Florida Department of Education workgroup that formalized a set of principles for high-quality charter school authorizing in Florida. His long institutional memory; his deep grasp of charter school, policy, and contracting; and his collaborative spirit helped school districts and charter school operators work together to make better schools for our children and youth.

After 35 years as a teacher and administrator, he retired from the School District of Lee County in June 2019.

PROFESSIONAL DEGREES AND CREDENTIALS

Academic degrees


  • Bachelor of Arts in Education, University of Florida
  • Master of Science in Educational Leadership, Nova Southeastern University
  • Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, University of Central Florida


Florida Professional Educator Certification


  • English (Grades 6-12) 
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (Grades K-12) 
  • Exceptional Student Education (Grades K-12) 
  • Educational Leadership (Grades K-12) 
  • Biology (Grades 6-12)


PROFESSIONAL PUBLICATIONS

McCullers, J.F. (2016). “Answering the Call” in Talking back and looking forward: An educational revolution in poetry and prose. Lanham, Maryland USA: Rowman & Littlefield. Paul C. Gorski, Rosanna M. Salcedo, Julie Landsman, Eds.

McCullers, J. F., & Bozeman, W. (2010). Principal Self-Efficacy: The Effects of No Child Left Behind and Florida School Grades. NASSP Bulletin, 94(1), 53–74. Reston, Virginia USA: National Association of Secondary School Principals. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192636510371976

McCullers, J.F. (2003). “Moving Up: Excellent teachers who leave the classroom” in Keeping Good Teachers. Alexandria, Virginia USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (Marge Scherer, ed.)

Popular posts from this blog

Meet Jeff McCullers

A Message from Jeff

Teaching During The Pandemic