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New name part of changes at Education

HOLLYWOOD — The tongue twister has been put to rest. The Seminole Tribe’s Center for Student Success and Services
(CSSS) – has been renamed as the Education Department. Department officials sought the name change and Tribal Council recently approved it.

While it might seem like a formality, Education director Michael Giacchino said it represents a reconnection with the tribal community.

“When I would call tribal members I’d say: ‘Hey this is Michael from the CSSS’ and they’d say: ‘From where?’ We had to chop it up into pieces as to who and what we are. It presented an obstacle. Once we changed it, most people were very happy,” Giacchino said.

Michael Giacchino

The original intent for the name CSSS, was to convey a department that would create independence among tribal members.

“It used what’s called strength-based language, however it just didn’t catch on with the community. There was a total disconnect,” Giacchino said.

Giacchino said staff uniforms, brochures, banners, business cards and the like will soon begin to reflect the name change. It’s one part of what’s been a transitional period for the department as a whole.

Focus: tribal members

Giacchino’s first day as director was Nov. 12, 2019. Just four months later, in March 2020, he was in a meeting with Emergency Management about the Covid-19 threat. In-person school instruction stopped about a week after the meeting.

“Things became really process driven, particularly because we were acquiring remote learning devices – computers, laptops, iPads,” he said. “There were hiccups with schools and platforms, but overall it flowed very smoothly.”

Almost two years later, students are back in the classroom, but some still attend virtually for health and safety reasons, Giacchino said.

Giacchino has made staff changes as well. He recently hired a new assistant director, Marisa Schnirman; and Reginal Belizaire is the new tribalwide K-12 program manager. In addition, recent Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) participant, Dana Osceola, is now a community member liaison for the department.

ELP was previously called Advanced Career Development (ACD). Tribal members Randee McDonald and Calvin Tiger are currently in the program.

Giacchino said the Education department is now more customer service oriented and data driven as well.

“It’s a more mature crowd in here,” he said. “In the past it’s been very young and more cliquish. It wasn’t tribal member focused at all, and we worked to break that mold by hiring more seasoned veterans.”

Giacchino said the days of simply handing out scholarship applications and hoping for the best is over.

“We actually try and have a conversation now and develop a relationship and develop the trust of the community,” he said. “It’s no secret that tribal members are sometimes off-put by seeking assistance or guidance from non-tribal members. In order to overcome that, you’d need that relationship and rapport, rather than hiding behind your desk or picking up a phone and giving it three rings and hanging up.”

Tribal member Rollie Gilliam III, Education’s quality assurance analyst, describes the changes as “forward motion, rebuilding and departmental balance.” He’s been in the position since July 26, 2021, and quickly developed outreach programs like the “drive-thru popcorn pop-up,” where staff meets and greets tribal families with information about programs and services that are available.

Rollie Gilliam III

“We’re looking to be able to demonstrate our outcomes through data, which never was done before,” Gilliam, who is from Fort Pierce and an ELP graduate, said. “It’s not good enough to say we did an event. We need to do outreach. How can we say we’re helping students by just handing out an application?”

Education serves about 900 students in K-12; 210 in higher education; 200 are in tutoring programs; and about a dozen are currently under the Tribal Professional Development (TPD) umbrella. The department itself has about 50 staff members.

Giacchino and Gilliam, who said they developed a strong professional bond during the pandemic, would like to see more tribal members hold staff positions.

“We’re moving in that direction. We have five now and the idea is to have more,” Giacchino said.

Giacchino has also instituted quarterly “SOS” (Save Our Students) meetings to provide support for those students who are at risk of losing a scholarship.

“Other than the health department, we are entrusted with nurturing the most valuable thing – the children of the tribe,” he said.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at