TAMPA, Fla. — The Hillsborough County School Board voted unanimously to add Titus O’Neil’s Thaddeus M. Bullard Academy to Sligh Middle Magnet School, reflecting recognition for service to the Hillsborough County Public School System, as well as a rebranding of the work at the school around creative and immersive mentoring of students.
The Bullard Academy at Sligh Middle Magnet School will be a beacon for the community where Bullard and his Bullard Family Foundation have transformed the lives of students, families, and faculty districtwide.
“I was once labeled a ‘bad’ kid and told I would be dead or in jail by the time I was 16,” said Thaddeus Bullard aka WWE Global Ambassador Titus O’Neil. “This is the highest and most respected honor that I could ever receive considering there was never any expectation of me ever finding much success in my life. Hopefully this will prove to any student who comes from an underserved community that anything is possible when you believe.”
It all began in 2016 when Bullard dropped by Sligh Middle Magnet School and asked if he could throw a birthday party for the students who were celebrating the milestone in that month. He had never had a birthday party growing up and he knew there were other kids in similar situations. Bullard bought a cake, the kids gathered in the gym, and he sang happy birthday to them. They played basketball and celebrated. In August of 2018, with the creation of the Bullard Family Foundation, Bullard saw an opportunity to blaze a trail at Sligh, which sits within a zip code that records the sixth highest percentage of children living in poverty in the state of Florida. Sligh would become the model example for the world of what transformational impact looks like at the intersection of corporate and community giving.
Today, the Bullard Family Foundation, along with his partnerships, give generously of their time and resources at Sligh. Students receive the opportunity to grow with programming around leadership, art, technology, and sports. Teachers and administrators feel supported and appreciated. And parents receive workforce development training and wraparound support services.
After just one year, Sligh experienced a 67-point total gain on state assessments in the spring of 2019, which ranked first among Hillsborough County middle schools. During the course of 2020, overall attendance was up, incidents of student misconduct and suspensions were down, and teacher retention was at an all-time high. Before the cancellation of the 2020 state assessments, Sligh was on pace to surpass the gains of the previous year.
Outside of Sligh, each year the Foundation provides free backpacks, school supplies, haircuts, and medical, dental, and vision services at its annual Back to School Bash. Just recently, 1,000 volunteers helped stuff 30,000 backpacks for distribution. Throughout the year, teachers at underserved communities are surprised with lunches to thank them for their hard work. Students received laptops and technology to aid in the transition to e-learning during the pandemic. The Foundation distributes food throughout the holidays and stepped up in a big way during the pandemic, even delivering food directly to the homes of families in need. The Foundation has built 5 innovation labs at schools in the Tampa Bay Area which double as incentive rooms during the school day and a safe space after school. During their annual Joy of Giving event, students receive gifts and their parents are connected to support services.
“We have more than 150 corporate and community partners who give generously,” Bullard said. “This renaming builds a legacy that we can all be proud of.”
Before the vote, Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis called Bullard “a community hero.”
“He continues to go over and beyond to help children to address significant gaps in our communities,” Davis said. “And he just doesn’t stop at Sligh. It has grown legs throughout a number of feeder middle schools within our transformation network. I’ve never met a more incredible person.”
“Other community leaders look to you to see what you’re doing, how you are doing it,” Board Vice Chair Stacy Hahn said to Bullard. “You’ve done great things for Sligh, no doubt. But you have really transformed the community.”