I consider myself very fortunate to have met so many wonderful people during my life that I’m blessed to call “friends.” Their backgrounds are as diverse as the world in which we live. Some have been politicians, others doctors, lawyers, law enforcement, and even those with rags-to-riches stories. While I love to celebrate their histories of accomplishment, the ones whose lives touch me most are those who passionately serve others, whether through personal sacrifice or by giving generously of their gifts and talents. Their backgrounds may differ vastly, but they desire to serve with little attention drawn to themselves. One such person is long-time friend Kim Amontree, whose contributions to our community read like a “Who’s Who.” Kim has served on the local school board as Vice Chair and as an integral member of a variety of boards and committees that include the “Punta Gorda Diversity Task Force,” “Charlotte County Chamber Government Affairs,” and “Charlotte County Reads” in addition to her various roles with the Florida School Boards Association. This association aims to increase student achievement by developing effective school board leadership and advocacy for public education.
Simply put, the FSBA is the “voice of education in Florida,” which Kim has served on multiple committees and continues today as co-Chair of the Legislative sub-Committee. Kim’s involvement with the community is just as comprehensive as she serves on the Board of Directors for the YMCA of Southwest Florida and is “Chair of the Punta Gorda YMCA Community Board.” Her passion for children does not end there as she is a “Coalition Member of Drug-Free Punta Gorda,” a “Volunteer Reading Buddy.” She has also served as a mentor for Take Stock in Children and a coach for Girls on the Run. I’ve often felt Kim was the person I would call if my house were on fire as she’d be the first one on the scene and have it under control before the fire trucks arrived. She’s not one to sit back and hope for change; she’s a team player who will invoke the change.
I often ask those looking to move to our area what brought them here. For Kim, it was an opportunity for her husband Jim, a highly respected Gastroenterologist, to join the Intermedic practice years ago. Kim recalled how they met through a group of friends while both were living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They weren’t dating for long when Kim had an opportunity to move to New Orleans, working with NCR, a world-leading enterprise technology provider of software, hardware, and services for large banks and other entities. Jim was an Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico when a close physician friend notified him of the Intermedic opportunity. Kim jokingly said, “I told Jim I wasn’t moving just for love. It would be for a ring, a house, and a dog.” So in 1991, they made the move and never looked back. Despite being on a fast track herself, Kim put her career on hold to help Jim open his practice which came to fruition in 1999. Years later, having helped create a thriving medical practice and raising three gifted children, Kim said, “Life is short, and I wanted to spend time doing things that matter.” Those who know Kim know of her passion for community and children specifically. Having been a Realtor myself for 20 years, the questions from those looking to move to our area center around medical services and education, the question most dear to Kim’s heart.
Few of us would disagree that we live in a world fraught with many issues, from health and finance to the environment. Kim reflected, “Unfortunately, the problems in society we face today the next generation is going to have to solve, and that comes through education.” Equally challenging is the environment our educators face today. Aside from the lack of decorum exhibited in debates of opposing thoughts and philosophies, you hear in classrooms and on college campuses throughout the country, not to mention security challenges, Kim said, “There is a direct tie to the impact on educational performance that stems from socio-economic conditions. Approximately 60% of the children are “direct certified” (receiving some form of government assistance). Over 90% are considered “economically needy.” While the pandemic had devastating effects on the 2020-2021 school year, where 30% of the children missed more than ten days of school, a dramatic increase from the 12% norm, Kim said, “The Charlotte County school system wasn’t going to take the foot off the gas; the students were expected to learn the curriculum.” In 2021, the Charlotte County School System had its highest graduation rate of 91%. Not only did more children graduate, but they scored in the top tier of Florida’s Advance Placement Standardized Test.
Kim’s decision to join an organization or board comes down to one significant fact, “Does it benefit the children of the community?” I’ve always felt we educate our children to benefit other cities and towns across the country since, historically, there have been limited employment opportunities locally. Kim said they could benefit from higher-paying jobs by providing workforce opportunities to serve the community’s growth, such as aviation, where students can graduate with FAA certifications. Kim continued by saying that with the cost of education reaching all-time highs, providing white-collar opportunities without going through a four-year college program would reduce student loan debt and enable these students to earn a good living in less time. She added, “If you want better medicine and services, you must support and have confidence in the school system.” By passing the “Yes For Success” referendum, teachers’ salaries increased from $38,000 to $54,000, which is one of the highest in the state. The referendum enabled the school system to address the psychological impact many children face today. Succinctly stated, “Schools are the front line of mental health issues.” As a result of the passage of the referendum, they were able to triple the number of social workers and double the number of psychologists.
Kim continued, “Discipline is one of the biggest barriers to educational success. It only takes a two percent discipline problem in a class to impact the other ninety-eight percent.” When you factor in some families’ socio-economic challenges, taking 20 minutes a day to read with a child is often compromised. Kim added, “Some parents don’t know what they don’t know.” Reading with your child stimulates from a knowledge base perspective and builds a stronger parental bond.” I have often thought with the absence of this bond; one can only assume there is a correlation as to why we see so many issues manifesting in today’s generations.
I share Kim’s love for the children in our community as; for years; we were very involved in our son’s academic and athletic endeavors. I’m not sure who benefitted more from coaching our son’s teams and working on many school projects with him. To experience the confidence he developed academically and athletically was rewarding. Still, the enjoyment and personal satisfaction I had helping other children gain the same confidence when they weren’t seeing it in themselves was priceless.
Too many times, we sit in judgment of the child’s behavior rather than considering the cause. People like Kim take a different approach. She looks to the future and what these children need to be competitive. Through her involvement and mentorship, she helps foster initiatives and programs today that will pay dividends for the children in our community in the years to come. For anyone who has coached their child’s team, there were lessons gained that applied to everyday life. I saw children with discipline issues and a lack of confidence stemming from the lack of a supportive family blossom into individuals who entered a game or completed a school project with renewed confidence. It’s as if they just opened a gift, and to see the results of those early interactions years later is very rewarding.
We all have something that drives us. For some, it is personal betterment; for others, like Kim, it is investing in children to give them a more stable environment and a better chance for a bright future.