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Escambia Opens New Year With Two New Schools, Improved Security

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Students across Northwest Florida are heading back to school. The first day of classes is this Monday, August 13.

To get an update on readiness in the Escambia County School District, WUWF caught up with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas last Friday as preparation for the new school year were wrapping up.

General Readiness

Thomas: Teachers have been back now for six days.  They've been working hard. I think the classrooms are prepared. Our bus drivers have been running their routes. We’ve been taking accommodation requests all week to take care of those last minute requests, as many as we can.

So, I think we’re as ready as we can be. It sort of feels like the night before the wedding. You’re taking your list, you’re checking it off, you’re a little nervous because you know a lot of things still have to fall into place; but we’ve got a great team and from transportation to our teachers, they’re ready to go and ready to receive our students on Monday.

School Safety and Security Preparations

Thomas: We’ll continue what we’ve been doing for the last five years, really intensified last year after the Parkland shooting in south Florida. I think parents are gonna [sic] more physical security in terms of fencing and some construction that’s happened on some school sites with us trying to get to the place where every school has a single point of entry. Of course, armed security on every campus, we will continue that. We started in the spring as a trial. We will have school resource officers at every middle and high school. The sheriff has restored the second officer at the high school. Last year, because of his budget cuts and personnel shortage, we had to reduce that to one officer per high school. We’re gonna [sic] go back to two with the exception of Northview H.S. So, we’re pretty happy about that. We’ll use off-duty officers at the elementary level.

And, probably the change that will be of notice to parents that will cause them the most pause to a minute is after the third day of school, we will no longer allow parents to walk their child to class. And, this is all part of those safety procedures because one of the most vulnerable times for us is entry and dismissal. And, if we have a lot of people in the hallways during entry of school and they don’t have badges we really don’t know who is who.

We understand the first few days, parents are gonna want to find out where the classroom is, see the teacher, so we’re gonna [sic] allow them to walk them to class the first few two to three days. Then after that we’re gonna ask them to follow the normal drop-off procedure for a car rider, bus rider, or for a walker.

We’ll take them into school and at that point, if you need to get into the school, you’ll have to follow our normal procedures by going to the front office, stating the business, and if it’s something that requires you to be in the school, we’ll give you a visitors badge and we’ll know who’s on our campus. That way, once we take in and begin school, everybody’s gonna [sic] have and employee badge or visitor badge and we’ll know someone’s out of place.

First Aid Kits Now in Every Classroom

Thomas: We are providing first aid kits for every classroom, so that if the teacher happens to be the first responder that they’ll be able to do the minimal necessary to stop bleeding if that were to be the case or to treat something, compress a wound at least long enough so that EMS could show up on the scene.

Random Metal Detector Screening

Thomas: One other thing that we’ll be adding this year at middle and high school are random metal detectors. On a random basis each day, we’ll be selecting a bus, a door, for about 10 to 15 minutes and we’re gonna [sic] scan and wand with metal detectors to make sure students are not bringing contraband, particularly weapons, onto the campus.

Teacher Staffing

Thomas: We had a great job fair (last week). We had over 130 people show up looking for employment. It helped us, not only with teachers, but it helped us with custodial, food service, teacher aids, all of those positions. We’re gonna [sic] be a few teachers short when school begins, but a lot of that is just walking through the process, advertising the job long enough, and then getting the background checks necessary so they can be on campus.

Enrollment Growth

Thomas: At this point of the year, it’s really hard for us to know. I mean, If I’m looking at what’s in our system, it looks like we’re gonna be over in many, many schools. But, I also understand that there are many parents that have moved and did not bother to tell us. So, this year, like every other year before it, we’ll have a number of students that are on our roll, but have relocated to another district or another state.

You know, it’ll take us the first week. We’ll have to start counting the heads and that’s when we’ll get a sense of which schools are really on point with what we projected and who’s over or under.

New Schools for Growth in Beulah

Thomas: We’re gonna have a brand new school at Kingsfield Elementary and a brand new middle school at Beulah Middle. They’re both ready to go and we’re looking forward to those students going into those new hallways.

Credit Bonny Shiflett / Escambia Schoosl Public Relations Facebook Page
Escambia Schoosl Public Relations Facebook Page
This is a classroom at Lipscomb Elementary that's ready to welcome students on the first day of the 2018-19 school year.

New Curriculum

Thomas: Well, we’re doing quite a few things, particularly for some of the schools that struggle. We’re bringing a Curriculum Associate’s product called i-Ready into all of our elementary schools. It is an online software that will help personalize a student’s progress for English Language Arts and Mathematics. And, again, that will be available in every elementary school.

It’s got a number of tools that the teacher can use, so that the lessons can hit the student right where they are. Whether they are ahead of the class or behind the class, we can move the students along at the appropriate level. It also has intervention suggestions for the teacher so when they do their small group instruction they’re exactly on point with what the student needs.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.