In the summer of 2009 Innisfree’s CEO and founder Julian MacQueen, and his wife Kim, met a third generation Pensacola pastor named LuTimothy May.
Reverend May leads a congregation at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Pensacola Florida. He’s an accomplished, humble, gracious, charismatic and talented person. He holds a Master of Divinity Degree, has received many awards for his musical talents, and sits on several civic and governmental boards. The MacQueens were immediately drawn to him.
At the time, Reverend May was spearheading efforts to establish the A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence. He and his church founded the school in a dilapidated abandoned school house in a disadvantaged crime ridden neighborhood in Escambia County. May’s vision found many supporters among local non-profits and businesses but had yet to earn the support of the Escambia School District. The Reverend inspired Kim MacQueen to join the Dixon Board of Directors.
The initial years were a struggle and by the fall of 2011, A.A. Dixon was on the verge of having its charter yanked and doors permanently closed. The school was $100,000 in debt and just received an F on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The Escambia School District granted A.A. Dixon a last minute reprieve, giving the school’s administration a year to get on stable financial footing and improve its test scores.
Kim MacQueen decided to investigate how Innisfree could help the school remain open. She arranged a school tour for Innisfree’s Development team and asked them to conduct an assessment. She then sent a message to Innisfree’s corporate offices and hotel staff asking company employees if they would be willing to ‘adopt’ this struggling school. The answer was a resounding yes.
Three days later, dozens of staff members from both the corporate office and hotel properties descended on the school for a pep rally. The pirates from the Holiday Inn Resort’s family entertainment program whipped the students up into an excited frenzy with sword play and beach balls. Their screams were deafening.
Julian MacQueen officially announced his company’s plans to adopt the school. He promised the students if they succeeded in their efforts to increase their test scores, they would be rewarded with a pool party courtesy of Innisfree’s three beachfront hotel properties on Pensacola Beach.
After the pep rally, Innisfree employees formed the ‘A.A. Dixon Adoption Agency’ and quickly got to work planning their efforts to support the school’s students and teachers. Each of the company’s six beachfront hotels, as well as the three corporate departments, adopted a classroom.
Innisfree volunteers from every department, ranging from front desk clerks to the President and Chief Financial Officer, volunteered their time on a weekly basis to assist the teachers in their classrooms and tutor the students in preparation for their FCAT tests.
After the classroom volunteer program was up and running, the Adoption Agency set about organizing a multitude of other initiatives to support Dixon’s students and teachers. The Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front Hotel served a buffet appreciation breakfast, and a teacher of the month program was implemented to dispense incentives such as spa gift certificates.
A book fair was organized to help stock the library and over 400 books were collected. Funds were raised for school supplies. The adoption agency also collaborated with a local hospital to stock a school clinic and organized a holiday season food bank initiative for Dixon families in need.
Most importantly, Innisfree employees made sure the kids had a fun and memorable year. Christmas parties were sponsored in each classroom and the children were given holiday gifts. In the spring, the Adoption Agency organized and staffed a field day complete with a water slide and dunk tank.
In the meantime, Innisfree’s hotel maintenance crews assessed the school’s building condition and addressed some of the immediate issues. They also organized two work days where Innisfree staff, teachers and school families pitched in to clean the school and make minor repairs. Their efforts were rewarded with a cook out.
As the FCATs approached, the Adoption Agency stepped up its tutoring efforts and A.A. Dixon’s young students rose to the challenge. Just prior to the conclusion of the academic year, the Escambia School District granted Dixon a reprieve because the children made significant academic improvements and the school was finally on stable financial footing. Thanks to Reverend LuTimothy May’s tireless efforts, support for the school continues to build among local churches and businesses.
At the start of this school year, the reverend was named Dixon’s new Director of Education and Dr. Wendy Bennett was appointed principal. Talented teachers were recruited and hired to supplement the staff. The school was cleaned and repainted and the cafeteria updated. Generous donations facilitated the development of a well stocked art wing, music lab and drama area in the library.
To celebrate its success the school was given a new name and logo. It is now called Dixon School of the Arts and the logo is a pinwheel. Kim MacQueen says, “This is because each student’s potential is like a pinwheel and the blades represent the major areas of their curriculum including reading, language arts, math, science, social studies and the arts. When the wind blows, the blades begin to spin and this represents the endless potential of the children and their learning.” The school’s new motto is Earning & Learning.
Last year the students and staff at Dixon school had to nurture their optimism. This year the future shines bright. These successes were celebrated on September 16, 2012 when Innisfree hosted a pool party for the kids on Pensacola Beach as promised. Smiling children toting colorful pinwheels were a wonderful reward for a job well done.