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New school year begins Thursday

By Staff | Aug 6, 2013

More than 86,000 students in Lee County are expected to go back to school Thursday.

Enrollment is anticipated to increase 2 percent over last year for the Lee County School District.

“Student enrollment is slightly up,” Amity Chandler, the district’s spokeswoman, said.

There are 97 traditional schools in the district, including 45 elementary schools, 17 middle schools, 13 high schools, 11 special education centers, four K-8 schools and five high-tech community schools.

The total count also includes one full-time virtual school and one early learning center.

Chandler noted that about half of the district’s students will ride a bus.

“We’ll run over 700 buses on the first day of school,” she said.

With the new school year comes a new leadership and some new faces in the Cape.

Dr. Nancy Graham was sworn in as the Lee County superintendent in June. Graham held two-day training session with staff and faculty the following month to cover expectations for the coming year.

“The focus was on defining what a world-class system of education means for us,” Chandler said.

Graham touched on getting parents involved and ensuring they provide good contact information, emphasized having students and teachers learning, and covered the mantra – the “four agreements:”

n Be impeccable with your word.

n Assume nothing.

n Take nothing personally.

n Always do your best.

“We only have the kids 14 percent of the time, and we really look at the school year as a partnership with the parents,” she said.

Within the Cape, Donnie Hopper is the new principal at Gulf Middle School and Mara Vertrees has taken up the reins at Diplomat Elementary School. Michael Galbreath will now lead Trafalgar Middle School, while Island Coast High School has added two new assistant principals to its faculty roster.

Prior to joining Gulf Middle, Hopper was the principal at Gulf Elementary for three years. He also served as the director of the ESE Department and lead Hector A. Cafferata Jr. Elementary.

Hopper explained that the new school year will focus on building what the successful students have going for them, strengthening the areas where students are falling behind, and providing opportunities.

“The one good thing is we have the results back from last year, and we can see how high performing our kids were,” he said.

Gulf Middle students had the highest points in terms of school grades in Lee County.

“We’re going to take that and keep building on that,” he said.

“We’re an ‘A’ school,” Hopper added.

He also wants to focus, however, on those students who are below where they should be.

“We’re really going to spend some time with those students,” Hopper said.

The school’s intramural program, clubs and exploratory opportunities will also be a priority.

“It’s about building opportunities for our kids that are not just academic,” he said.

The PBS – Positive Behavior Support – program will play a large part in the new year.

“We have new expectations for our students. A new set of rules,” Hopper said.

It starts with ensuring that students are treated in a positive manner, even if they make mistakes.

“It’s about teaching them from those mistakes,” he said.

On the other hand, a big component of this is rewarding students who do the right thing.

The program has been in place at Gulf Middle, but they are taking it to the next level this year.

“They’re going to feel a fresh new outlook on how we interact,” Hopper said.

“A big part of my philosophy is kids need to have fun,” he added, noting that “fun” means the learning is engaging and intriguing. “Where the kids want to get up in the morning and go to school.”

For a smooth transition into the new school year, officials offered a few suggestions.

“It’s important for parents to be a part of their child’s education,” Hopper said. “The first day there’s so much information that comes home – a lot of it needs to be completed by the parents.”

Parents should familiarize themselves with their child’s schedule and review dress code policies.

“We also have our school supply list online,” he said.

Chandler suggested parents and the general public leave early and expect traffic.

“If the child is going to ride the bus all year, then they need to ride the bus the first day,” she said, noting that it helps to identify problems. “We want parents to walk with their child to the bus stop.”

“Be excited and ask questions every day,” Chandler added.

For more back-to-school information, visit the district’s Web site at: www.leeschools.net/.