The new school year starts next week and area educators are hoping this year’s innovations will turn last year’s disruptions into distant memories. "We're looking forward to a very vanilla year, this year" said Santa Rosa Country School Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick. It's not that he has anything against the other flavors in the ice cream aisle, it’s just that last year had a little more flavor than educators were expecting. He said last year there was a lot of "legislative impact" that took place during the school year. Wyrosdick pointed to last year’s end of course assessments being postponed as well as it being the first year for the FSA exam. He says he’s confident that last year’s lessons will make this year much smoother.
Over in Escambia County, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas is equally upbeat for the new year. He says some finishing touches have been put on some of the county’s newest facilities.
"We moved into the two newest schools, Sutter Elementary and earnest Ward during the second semester last year." Thomas says they worked over the summer to complete the covered play area and the parking lot at Sutter. And those physical changes are just the beginning. Thomas says changes in the way students learn will accelerate this year. "We are moving into something called 'Vision 20-20'. We put together a plan that between now and the next three years every student grade 3-12 will have a Chrome Book, which is a lap top type computer." Thomas says they are going to put students into the position "where they have to design, create, build, produce...because the most important thing that happens in our classrooms is learning."
Thomas says they will be de-emphasizing some of the local, district level testing.
Thomas also says there will be an added emphasis on arts education during the year. The arts will also be front and center in Santa Rosa County, where they are adding an A for art to their STEM education and making it STEAM.
Santa Rosa School Superintedent Tim Wyrosdick says,"We will ask students to think like an artist as they program their lessons and as they walk through those learning activities. Art will become a vital part of it, not just as a 30 minute segment during the elementary day or as a class separate from mathematics. We will take art and infuse it in other subject matter areas, it's a very interdisciplinary approach. We're not discounting the need for math, science, and technology at all. But what we are saying is that art is the seasoning that holds all that together."
Another thing that brings educators across the state together is the situation with state testing. At this point, no one really knows where things stand says Malcolm Thomas.
"I have no idea and that's why we are going to alter the culture of our school system that we aren't worried about that anymore. We can't get answers from DOE, we can no longer sit here and be paralyzed, that's not fair to our students and to our families. We need to get back to the business of teaching. So if the state gets their act together and can get a test and get test scores we'll take the test and they can give us a school grade. But what I'm excited about is to get back ot the business of learning that is not necessarily over-emphasizing the test."
And in addition to the questions about testing, in Santa Rosa County there is still the issue of a teacher’s contract. Tim Wyrosdick says he’s hoping the situation can be settled soon.
"Our desire and certainly the board's is to get teachers their money quickly, very quickly, and we've tried to do that now for over a year and unfortunately we are sitting at an impasse situation with a special magistrate coming in. It certainly is not our desire to draw this out to a full blown hearing and if that is the case then it is going to be October-November until they get what they rightly deserve and the board is certainly sitting ready to resolve this right now."
But no matter when that situation is settled, come Monday morning the busses will be on the road and the doors will be open for a new school year.