Manatee students eager for first day of school

srocco@bradenton.comAugust 18, 2013 

MANATEE -- When Amy Handel's three daughters go back to school at Jessie P. Miller Elementary on Monday, their main concern will come in the form of friends.

"I'm worried about making one friend, at least," Feythe, 7, said in the dining room of her Bradenton home.

Then her older sister, Genevieve, 10, chimed in: "I'm mostly worried about having my friends in the same class."

This weekend, more than 45,000 students and 2,400 teachers across Manatee County are getting organized and gearing up for the first day of school. They'll spend their weekend kissing summer goodbye, making way for homework, tests and bedtimes.

"We got our clothes and backpacks a week or so ago," Handel said. "And they get the yearly trip to Justice."

Handel said she is confident with the teachers at Jessie P. Elementary, but she prays for her daughters every day as they face the challenges of school.

Back-to-school emotions typically come in a mix of anticipation and excitement, with a touch of apprehension.

This year back-to-school may bring a little more anxiety than usual as staffs at 17 Manatee County district schools work to overcome the D and F grades, and five schools face longer school days because they are among the lowest performing in the state on reading scores. And budget uncertainty, teacher layoffs across the district and last-minute moves Friday all serve to add to uncertainty and anxiety as teachers and students head back to school.

Manatee High changes

Manatee High School students won't see at least one familiar face at the front desk, school resource officers have been replaced and the school secretary has been moved.

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said Troy Pumphrey, the new investigator in the school district's Office of Professional Standards, arrived at Manatee High late Friday to ask the assigned school resource officers -- Freddy Ordonez and Danny Bench -- to leave the school.

"The superintendent's investigator showed up Friday asking on behalf of Superintendent Mills without any justification or complaints," Radzilowski said. "Which at that point I was perturbed."

Radzilowski spent part of his weekend shuffling officers to cover the first day of school.

"The officers said they don't want to work anywhere they are not wanted," Radzilowski said Saturday. "Luckily, we have other officers that have agreed to switch."

The moves are a result of the Rod Frazier case. Frazier, a former Manatee High School assistant football coach and parent liaison at the high school, has pleaded not guilty to seven misdemeanor charges of battery and three misdemeanor charges of interfering with a student's attendance.

The two officers will be re-interviewed about the case Radzilowski said, however, he added there is no indication that they knew anything.

"They were questioned before and denied knowing anything," Radzilowski said. "Apparently that was not good enough for the superintendent's new investigator."

Susan Faller and Jessica Kane were both asked to leave Manatee High on Friday afternoon as well. Mills said Friday he decided to move them because he figured they wouldn't want to be at that school any more.

A fresh start

Back to school typically means a fresh start and most of the students and teachers are looking forward to a new year.

Corina Geiger's two daughters, Amber, 17, and Abigail, 6, bought their school supplies two weeks before the first day to avoid the last minute rush.

Geiger is thankful that uniforms are mandatory at Braden River Elementary. At Braden River High, where Amber is set to attend, they're not.

So Geiger came up with a simple solution: "(Amber) was given money and I said 'here you go, you know the dress code, you follow it.'"

Samantha Robinson's daughter Mallory will be a senior in Southeast High School's International Baccalaureate program.

"She's excited to go back to school for senior year and she's looking forward to being done with IB," Robinson said.

This year, Mallory will apply to colleges where she hopes to major in broadcast television. On her list of preferred colleges: Syracuse University, the University of Missouri, the University of Florida and the University of Notre Dame.

Back at the Handel house, Feythe, Genevieve and their sister Peycien, 8, proudly pull out their brand new backpacks. Messenger bags for Feythe and Peycien and a blue plaid Jansport backpack for Genevieve.

"Yours is the best," Peycien says to Feythe, petting the front of the bag.

"I'm just so excited for back to school!" Genevieve says with a grin.

Staff writer Jessica De Leon contributed to this report

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