On August 13, 14,000 teachers and 174,000 students will return to 179 District campuses in the tenth largest school district in the country. As we welcome students and families to a school year full of promise and potential, Palm Beach County has much to celebrate.
First, the District has reclaimed its “A” status and is among one of only 20 districts in Florida to boast an A rating. Of the 67 school districts in Florida, Palm Beach County currently ranks 13th based on student performance.
The District also increased the percent of A and B rated schools across the District, with Palm Beach County having the highest percentage of A and B rated middle and high schools among all large urban districts in Florida. These standings don’t happen by accident – they are reflective of a relentless focus on teaching and learning from the many educators who commit their time and talent to students. I’d also like to commend parents as well our many volunteers and mentors for their role in this success – learning must continue after the school day if students are to reach their highest potential.
The summer months are not necessarily quiet months for the District. We’ve used the time students are away to clean and improve campuses and ramp up 160 projects funded by the voter-approved penny sales tax. Ten schools – Bear Lakes Middle, Cypress Trails Elementary, Del Prado Elementary, Jupiter Farms Elementary, K.E. Cunningham/Canal Point Elementary, New Horizons Elementary, Timber Trace Elementary, Watson B. Duncan Middle and Wellington Landings Middle – were closed for the entire summer while those campuses were overhauled with new roofing, new flooring, updated plumbing, technology upgrades and fresh coats of paint.
Summer projects also included the conversion of 17 additional schools to single point of entry campuses. Safety will continue to remain a paramount priority for all District employees and I would like to remind the entire community that the presence of officers on campus does not alleviate each of us from taking a personal role in keeping students safe. “See something, say something” is not just a catchy phrase – it’s a call to action to have our eyes wide open to unusual behavior, or to behavior and talk that might be a cry for help. The Student Protect app provided by Sheriff Ric Bradshaw makes it easy for any student or adult to anonymously report information to law enforcement.
The District maintains contracts with over 30 providers to support the mental and behavioral health needs of students in need of support. The District mental health plan submitted to the state includes a focus on broadening access to school mental health supports, and strengthening community partnerships to provide integrated and coordinated mental health care. The plan includes crisis response teams staffed by medical professionals and mental health professionals to support schools, and providing school-based mental health services for students.
School Police spent the summer wrapping up 160 hours of required training, including active-shooter training. School Police Chief Frank Kitzerow has hired 15 additional officers and will continue to recruit and hire to relieve the many law enforcement agencies covering campuses when schools open. New patrol cars funded by the penny sales tax have arrived for our officers and the School Board recently approved a 5 percent raise for School Police Officers, giving them the highest hourly rate of any law enforcement agency in Palm Beach County.
Parents and students are returning to school with access to a new portal called the Student Information System, or SIS. The portal provides up-to-date information about student absences, assignments, grades and progress towards graduation requirements. Parent engagement is an important part to student success, and we have invested in multiple platforms to make it easier than ever for parents to stay up to date. The community can also stay informed about their favorite schools by following them in the new District App, which is available for download in the App Store and Google Play.
Finally, I would like to thank the many community organizations and members who were also busy this summer collecting and distributing essential school supplies and clothes for our students in need. Palm Beach County has a long history of supporting children, and the outpouring of support to ready students for school is a testament to our community spirit.
August 13 will be my first-ever “first day of school” as a superintendent, and I look forward to seeing the excited faces of our students, parents and teachers. As I move through my first full year as Palm Beach County’s superintendent, I also look forward to building upon our already strong relationships with business and community leaders; continuing important and necessary conversations about school safety, teacher salaries and equitable access to education; and highlighting why Palm Beach County’s public schools are the best in our state. Let’s make it a great year.