W - Dan Boyd photo 2013

GAINESVILLE – In a half-empty office, with only a few boxes remaining, half packed, Superintendent Dan Boyd, sits in a chair at an empty table and talks about his last few days in office.

Boyd, 72, left his position as superintendent of Alachua County on Monday evening after serving as a Florida educator for, what Boyd would say, 49 and a quarter years. Of those 49 and a quarter, Boyd spent nine of them as the superintendent.

His last week in office has not been like a normal week. Between school events and packing his office up, it’s been much more hectic than usual, he said. Some of the stress comes from the number of celebrations he’s been to, most notably Gainesville High School’s commemorative event for him Wednesday, Sept. 25.

“I enjoyed it,” Boyd said. “It was nice. I got to see a lot of former teachers and people in the community that have meant a lot to me. It was a nice way to say goodbye.”

Of all the schools in Alachua County, Gainesville High School is the one that stands out the most for him. Like the first-born son to a mother and father, Gainesville High School sealed its place in Boyd’s heart as he spent 24 years there as the principal, he said.

Even if his last week at work was slow and calm, Boyd still wouldn’t regret his decision to retire three years early. He’s ready to read, hunt and spend time with his family.

“I’ll get a book and get up in a tree and sit there all day and read and watch to see what comes down the trail, and if it’s something good, then so be it,” Boyd said.

Boyd won’t just be focusing on his recreational activities like hunting and reading, but he’s excited to spend time with his daughters and grandchildren as well. His oldest granddaughter is going into ninth grade at Gainesville High School next year, and Boyd is interested in seeing her experience the high school where he worked for the majority of his career.

While Boyd is confident with his decision to retire, he won’t forget his proudest moments in his career. He will always be known for becoming a principal at Gainesville High School in 1971, he said, as tension between races grew shortly after desegregation.

During a time of serious racial conflict, Boyd looked to student government and sports to bring together the students and instill a sense of school pride. After three years of integrated sports, clubs and band, tensions began to ease, Boyd said.

Later in Boyd’s career when he became superintendent, he looked to unite the Alachua County Middle schools the same way he brought the students of Gainesville High School together, through sports. With a lot of work and campaigning for sports at middle schools, Boyd was granted approval to install three small sports into each of the middle schools. They were girls and boys basketball, volleyball and soccer.

“I have never missed a final or championship game the entire time I’ve been here,” Boyd said.

But his biggest and most memorable achievement is when Gainesville High School received a sports complex after a 20-year struggle to have one built, he said. The sports complex was built while he was still a principal for the school, but when he left it was named after him.

“They even named it in my honor when I left in 1995,” Boyd said. “It was called the W.D. Boyd Education Athletic Complex. I guess it was named for me because I stuck with it for 20 years.”

But in that mostly empty office that still held those half packed boxes, on his final day there, Boyd offered a piece of advice to all future superintendents: Trust the people you work with and to remember everyone is different, nobody is the same.

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NEWBERRY –Nations Park will hold its Columbus Day Classic tournament Oct. 11 to13, and its Halloween Bash tournament Nov. 2 through 3.

While this may be considered business as usual, the Newberry City Commission has been having preliminary discussions about renegotiating the entire process of running Nations Park, said City Manager Keith Ashby.

The Newberry Department of Parks and Recreation, Gainesville Sports Commission, United States Specialty Sports, Elite Pro Ball Academy and girls softball programs have been involved in the discussion.

“Depending on how they renegotiate the process, we believe the Gainesville Sports Commission may end up being the mangers of the field in operation.

If all goes well with the new contracts, the first tournament put together under the new arrangement will be in December, Ashby said.

The sports commission has started to discuss bringing in events to the park and forming new partnerships, said executive director Joleen Cacciatori.

In addition to the two upcoming tournaments, Perfect Game will hold its North Florida qualifier super 25 series on Nov. 23 to 24.

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Becky Sue is driving down Archer Road and checks her phone for the text message she just received. At the same time, the Honda in front of her breaks for the stoplight they are approaching. Without noticing this, Becky crashes into the back of the Honda before she can even look up from her phone’s screen.

Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent – at 55 mph – of driving the length of an entire football field while blind, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Starting on Oct. 1, texting while driving is illegal in the state of Florida.

The new texting and driving law prohibits texting, emailing, or instant messaging on any handheld device while the vehicle is in motion.

The fine for a first offense is $30 while the fine for a second offense is $60, according to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office website.

Some law enforcement officials, however, feel this is only a small improvement for cracking down on dangerous driving habits.

“This will not have the large impact that everyone is hoping for, being that it is a secondary offense,” said Officer Ben Tobias, spokesman for the Gainesville Police Department. “Some will be disappointed with it, but I feel it is a step in the right direction.”

A secondary offense means that an officer must see you commit another infraction, such as speeding or not wearing a seatbelt, in order to penalize you for texting.

This could change in the future, just as the seatbelt law did, which also began as a secondary offense, said Lt. Todd Kelly, with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

Drivers will be allowed to text while at red lights or stopped in traffic, in accordance with the “in-motion” aspect of the law. It will also be acceptable for drivers to continue use of hands-free texting methods, or to report criminal activity while driving, according to the sheriff’s office.

The main goal for this law is not to punish people heavily for texting and driving, but instead to change the culture and behavior of drivers today, Kelly said.

“People have become so accustomed to just grabbing their phone and sending a text home ‘real quick’, without realizing the dangers that can pose for themselves and their fellow drivers,” he said.

Along with the Gainesville Police Department, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office will continue to make efforts to educate drivers and try to prevent more incidents from occurring, Kelly said.

There is not currently a statistic that is kept through the Sheriff’s office regarding the number of infractions involving texting, but this could be something else that will change, as the law now requires these records to be kept.

Florida is only the latest out of 40 other states in the country to ban texting while driving. Kelly said he feels the action was long overdue.

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High Springs – The High Springs Police Department (HSPD) was given permission to open a trust fund at a city commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 26.

The commission decided to grant the police department permission to open a trust fund for money that comes from confiscated and seized property, said Ed Booth, city manager of High Springs.

The issue was brought forward after the police department seized a vehicle and some money, said the new finance director, Hubert Jacques.

According to Florida statute, money acquired through seizure must be placed into a trust fund as approved by the state, or in this case, the city commission.

Before the meeting, the High Springs Police Department did not have a trust fund, but Jacques has been looking to improve the police department.

He started with the confiscation and seized property trust fund.

“We’re getting in line with what the state requires, and that’s because we have a new finance director,” Booth said.

The trust fund will place the money from confiscated or seized property, which could come from money or property that was seized and later sold, into an account, Jacques said.

Once the money is placed in the trust fund, it will be spent on what the state deems necessary for the police department, he said

Jacques is looking into areas to help improve the department and the trust fund is one that the HSPD needed, Booth said.

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W - Greece front page

(L-R) Gentle Carousel Trainer/Owner Jorge Garcia-Bengochea, Billy, an unnamed orphan and Marine Raftopoulou, volunteer coordinator at Gentle Carousel Greece.

HIGH SPRINGS – Travelling from the small town of High Springs to a mountain orphanage in Greece is a journey most horses probably haven’t undertaken.

Members of the local organization Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses have returned from Greece after helping set up Gentle Carousel Greece, a therapy-horse program to focus on special needs children and children living in orphanages. Charity founder Jorge Garcia-Bengochea and members of Gentle Carousel Greece met with nuns running isolated mountain orphanages to explain the therapy program and how much it could help the children in their care.

They were encouraged by how well the program was received and look forward to regular Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horse visits with the children in their remote settings.

Because the orphanages are so isolated, the children get little exposure to the outside world and visitors, Garcia-Bengochea said. Visits with the children help broaden their perspective on life. In addition, miniature horses live quite a long time. The children will grow up with the same horses throughout their childhood in most cases, he said.

In Greece, adoption is not an option for children without parents. They stay in orphanages with other children and the nuns until they are adults. “They are a family unit. The older children help take care of the younger ones like they would in a regular family setting,” he said.

The Greek Olympic Equestrian Team contacted the High Springs group, asking if they could set up a sister program in Greece.

“They were willing to provide stables, full-time trainers, vehicles to transport the horses and sponsorship money for their program if we would consider setting up a program for them,” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea.

Greece has a strong equestrian history and honors one of the most famous actual horses of antiquity, Alexander the Great’s horse Bucephalus, on Greek coins and statutes.

“We considered it carefully before agreeing to do it. We knew we couldn’t afford to set up another program anywhere. The cost of transportation for the two of us back-and-forth to Greece and sending our horses to Greece was a major concern,” she said. “However, they were willing to pick up the entire cost of setting up the program and had an extensive amount of public and governmental support. Plus, this would remain our program. We will train the trainers and oversee every step of the program because it is a Gentle Carousel program.”

The couple said they would like to have been able to set up other Gentle Carousel programs in the United States, but the charity is operating on a shoestring as it is. “We just couldn’t afford the cost to set up a program without outside help,” she said. “While we do get donations to our charity, both Jorge and I still work to be able to maintain the program we have now,” she said. “In addition, some of our sponsors have withdrawn their support because we decided to set up a sister program in Greece. They were disappointed we didn’t do it here first, but there was just no way we could do that financially,” she said.

Better known nationally and internationally than locally, the Gentle Carousel founders received an overwhelming welcome on their recent trip to Greece. “We went over to train the trainers, talk to the people involved and the nuns at the orphanages to help set up the program,” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea.

During their visit, the Mayor of Rafina, Yiorgos Chritopoulos, expressed support for the organization.

“Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses have long supported the sick, the elderly and those living in difficult situations in the United States,” he said. “It is my honor to now welcome this special charity to Greece where they will be an encouragement to the most vulnerable members of our community and bring a common bond of hope between our two countries.”

George Frangogiannis, two-time national show-jumping champion and a member of Greece’s national team welcomed the couple.

“I am thankful that young children challenged by sickness and the elderly of Greece, who might never have the opportunity to know the love of a horse will now have that experience,” he said.

While the Garcia-Bengocheas are back in Florida, they are Skyping with the Greek trainers as they work with the horses in Greece and are preparing to send six more of their own trained horses over to Greece soon. The couple will go back to Greece to work further with the Greek trainers and get the program started.

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ALACHUA – The Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator (SMBI) in Alachua was ranked as one of the best university incubators in the world this month, during the 16th Annual BioFlorida Conference.

During the conference, key personnel from SMBI received awards displaying their aptitude as business leaders and entrepreneurs of biotechnology.

Patti Breedlove, director of the SMBI, was a recipient of the BioFlorida Leadership Award.

Under Breedlove’s leadership, SMBI was ranked by Sweden-based research group University Business Incubator (UBI) as the world’s best incubator.

The ranking came after an extensive analysis of 150 incubators in 22 countries.

“The award is really gratifying, a whole group of us here work hard every day and it is nice to see our work recognized,” Breedlove said, “We have been really fortunate, and had such a good unique opportunity to do things that are hard in other places; it’s been a lot of fun.”

Breedlove has been working for SMBI since 1998, starting in a junior position and working her way up to director.

James Talton, CEO of Nanotherapeutics, a graduate company of SMBI, was awarded the Weaver H. Gaines Entrepreneurship Award.

Talton received the award for making extraordinary contributions to the growth of the life sciences. He could not be reached for comment.

The 16th annual BioFlorida conference was held in Tampa, Fla. from Sept. 15 to 17.

BioFlorida is known as the voice of Florida’s life sciences industry.

It hands out four awards each year.

Guests of the conference included business executives, scientist and stakeholders.

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W - Star parkNEWBERRY – Although the sky was cloudy last year on June 5, Alachua Astronomy Club, Inc. still spotted Venus start its eclipse of the sun through telescopes set up behind the Easton Newberry Sports Complex. That could have been the last chance some of them would get to see Venus’ transit in their lifetimes.

For about two years, the club has been meeting at this location behind the baseball fields, a small facility called Newberry Star Park, said Any Howell, club president.

With help from Doug Eng, club secretary and Easton Foundations outreach director, and the Parks and Recreation Department, the club now has eight observation pads to stand their telescopes on and a place to store equipment.

“Most members are recreational astronomers,” Howell said. “They enjoy looking at the stars and the moon and observing and learning about the heavens.”

The club is dedicated to public outreach and invites everyone who is interested in the moons and stars to attend International Observe the Moon Night on Oct. 12 at the park from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

It holds school outreach events, like the one at Hidden Oak Elementary School that will be on Oct. 10. Members bring their telescopes for the kids to show them the stars and the planets.

The idea is to regularly schedule school and public outreach events to stir up interest and astronomy education for the community, Howell said.

“We want to get Newberry schools more involved as well. If we can use the Star Park as a base to educate kids,” he said, “that would be fantastic.”

The organization, through cooperation with state parks, is planning to host a star showing for visitors at Big Shoals State Park.

The community is welcome to attend the club’s public meetings held usually every second Tuesday of every month at the Florida Museum of Natural History. One exception is the meeting on Oct. 8, which will be at the Santa Fe College’s Kika Silva Pla Planetarium. University of Florida astronomy professor Elizabeth Lada will speak about stellar clusters and our origins. The November meeting’s topic of discussion will be aimed at helping beginners choose a telescope.

The Alachua Astronomy Club, started in 1987 by Dr. Howard Cohen, a retired UF professor, became incorporated in 1997. It has 100 members and celebrated its 25th anniversary last December. Membership dues vary for individuals, ranging from $12 to $100, depending on age and college-enrollment status, among other factors.


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