Cheryl Joe ’87 Made Her Mark on the Field of Education Thanks to Florida Southern College

Feb 14, 2023

by FSC Staff

Cheryl Joe ’87 has been a student, teacher, administrator, and senior director in the Polk County Public School system, and much of her academic expertise was acquired at Florida Southern College.

Joe was an exceptional student when she enrolled at Florida Southern. She was a wife and a mother of two who had already taken junior college classes. She was working fulltime and wanted to remain close to home while completing her bachelor’s degree.

Colleges in other cities were farther away than she wanted to drive. The structure of Florida Southern’s program fit with her lifestyle as a student with a job and a family.

“When you serve students to reach their highest potential,” Joe stated, “there’s no higher calling than that.”

Mr. and Mrs. Joe
Mrs. Cheryl Joe ’87 and her husband Mr. Ernest Joe sponsored a RISK Club scholarship.

That lesson is vital for Joe, even today. As advocates for higher education for African American youths, Cheryl Joe and her husband, Ernest, continue as sponsors of a scholarship for a teen to participate in an Atlanta-area college tour. Thanks to support from Mr. and Mrs. Joe, RISK (Reality Instills Skillful Knowledge) Club, a youth and mentoring program that operates out of the Dream Center in Lakeland, is able to award a middle or high school teen a life changing trip. The student will be able to visit several colleges and institutions that will hopefully inspire an interest in higher education. The Joe’s sponsorship pays for the costs for a student’s travel, meals, lodging, and admission fees for various activities while on the trip with RISK Club.

Her Florida Southern Family

“When I arrived at Florida Southern, I knew I was in the right place,” Joe said.

She said the education and preparation she received at the College enabled her to be a dynamic teacher in the classroom and prepared her for every aspect of her illustrious career in education.

Decades later, Joe still remembers two of her favorite FSC professors.

“My professor who I remember the most, who believed in me and said I had a future, was Dr. Marjorie Wynn,” Joe said. “She instilled in me all the things that made elementary education come alive for me, how to teach, what to teach, and how to access students, how to serve students, and also serve the adults that I worked with. Dr. Jack Haynes was in the college of education, and he also spent many hours coaching me, telling me about education. Those are the two professors in the college of education who changed my trajectory to be successful and to be in one of the highest-ranking positions in the school district.”

Mrs. Joe Advisory Council
Mrs. Joe served on the FSC School of Education Advisory Council
for many years.

Professional Collaboration with FSC

When she was a teacher and administrator, Joe’s expertise was recognized by school principals. When she left the classroom, she was respected as someone well-versed to help prepare the next generation of classroom teachers. She provided insight into the needs of many local schools.

While working for PCPS, Joe served on the FSC School of Education Advisory Council for many years. She collaborated with Dr. Tracey D. Tedder, current Interim Provost, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Drs. Hal and Marjorie Roberts Endowed Chair in Learning and Literacy, to help write the framework of the Master of Education in Educational Leadership degree program. The collaboration resulted in FSC receiving full Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) approval to offer the Masters in Educational Leadership degree.

Joe also worked with FSC to place interns in K-12 classrooms. She met with the intern supervisor from FSC as a part of the collaboration. PCPS provided seminars for FSC student interns and recruited FSC graduates to take teaching positions in Polk County under Joe’s guidance.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Mrs. Joe for many years,” said Dr. Tracey D. Tedder. “She has made many outstanding contributions to the field of education. Her experience as an educator, school-based administrator, and district administrator has been invaluable in our collaborations regarding preservice teacher preparation.”

Family Matters

Joe approaches everything she does with a problem-solving attitude, even when tragedy strikes. Her nephew, Kedar, had severe autism, a developmental disorder that affects communication and the ability to interact with others. He choked to death while eating lunch at school. Joe’s family believed that Kedar’s death could have been avoided if the school staff had been properly trained.

She channeled her grief into helping develop Polk County Public Schools’ autism endorsement for teachers, shepherding it through the state approval process. With her oversight, PCPS was the first district in the state to offer the endorsement. In 2019, the Florida Department of Education directed Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS) centers throughout the state to develop autism endorsements for the districts they serve. PCPS has been contacted by other schools wanting to implement the program since its approval.

“Florida Southern prepared me with the skills, research, and a body of work to be not just a teacher, but a curriculum specialist,” Joe said. “When I look back, it was because of the education that I received at Florida Southern that I made a difference, or hope I made a difference, in the lives of thousands of school leaders and hundreds of thousands of teachers that I impacted by just telling them that this is a field that you can be proud of.  You will serve students.

Honors and Achievements

In September 2018, Joe received the Excellence in Educational Leadership Award from the University Council for Educational Administration. She received the award after a nomination by faculty at the University of South Florida. Joe collaborated with USF to select Polk administrators to complete an Educational Leadership degree program with an emphasis in turnaround schools. During her collaboration with USF, she worked with the college to provide master's degree opportunities to teachers at Kathleen High School, as part of the Schools of Hope grant program.