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Community In Focus

Principal’s Community Involvement Efforts Win $5,000 for Riverview High School
By Mitch Traphagen
May 8, 2008 - 10:03:51 PM

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RIVERVIEW - Members of administration worked side-by-side with janitorial staff, teachers and special education personnel to gather 40 letters listing the ways Principal Robert Heilman benefits their school.

Heilman, who has been at Riverview High School for 10 years, was chosen from among hundreds of entries across the nation to be one of 25 principals to receive the MetLife Ambassadors in Education Award.

Because of this, MetLife will not only send a representative to give him an award and a crystal apple, but also to present the school with a check for $5,000 said MetLife spokesman Gary Chandler who works out of the company’s home office in Denver, Colo. “Tentatively, we have an awards ceremony set up for May 15,” Chandler said. “But there are a lot of people to coordinate so I’m not completely positive of that date.”

No matter. Chandler said the principal will definitely receive the award and the school will receive its check by the end of the month.

The award was first given in 1976. It supports programs that give students and teachers a voice in the community, and is co-sponsored by the National Civic League. The Web site,, explains the award’s purpose as “honoring middle and high school educators who are building partnerships and communicating beyond their schools for the betterment of the entire community.”

“It was as though this award was tailored to exactly the way Mr. Heilman works,” said technical resource teacher Jerry Thompson, who along with Sue White of the school’s janitorial staff, spearheaded the nomination effort.

Heilman says he believes a school should stay active in its community. His involvement with Riverview started long before the school even opened- with his effort to help get the school renamed “Riverview” after the school board had named it Anthony Pizzo High School. A Tampa elementary school was later named after Mr. Pizzo whose good works were done in that city.

“Riverview’s school should be called Riverview,” Heilman said. “And when it was renamed, that name showed we were an integral part of the community.”

Overseeing the student body, which is at capacity at 2,200, Heliman credits the work of former principal Vincent Thompson and former school superintendent Earl Lennard with laying the groundwork for his good works.

“There’s a long tradition of community involvement here because of them,” Heilman said during his interview last week. “I am just one spoke in the wheel. A lot of people here are involved in the life of the community. We do things like Trick or Treat Street, community drama, we have huge blood drives, and our students go to elementary schools and give plays and tutor students. We’ve been able to host Riverview elementary’s carnival, hosted tournaments, Christmas pageants and Spring Fling and two different churches use our facilities on weekends. We don’t sit idle. We’re a 24/7 school.”

Those things are only part of the reason teachers and other staff wrote letters to MetLife’s panel of judges.

“He’s great to work with,” said Heilman’s secretary Mary Jane Bisesto who has been with him 10 years.

Jerry Thompson and Sue White agreed.

“We’ve gathered the letters people here wrote about him into a book to give him at the ceremony,” White said. “If he hadn’t won, we were going to present him with the letters anyway to show him how much we appreciate him.”

Criteria for the award included building partnerships with community organizations, parents and guardians; promoting safety in the school and community; promoting civic engagement and performing community service.

Each nomination had to contain at least two letters of support and include two, 250-word essays titled: “What special actions does this principal take to link the school with the community?” and “How are these actions and relationships benefiting both the school and the community?”  

“Mr. Heilman’s 40 letters of support showed a tremendous amount of loyalty and appreciation,” said MetLife’s Gary Chandler.

Residents who want to find out when the ceremony will be held may call the school (813) 671-5011 or Gary Chandler at MetLife, (303) 278-2865.

© Copyright 2007 by The Observer News Publications and M&M Printing Company, Inc.

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