Summer officially ends this week.
Nearly 50,000 children will return to Manatee County Public Schools on Thursday. Miles of hallways have been waxed, thousands of rooms have been cleaned and more than 200 new teachers have been hired.
Teachers reported for teacher training on Friday, and buses roll at 6 a.m. Thursday for the first day of school for the 2017-18 year in Manatee County.
Here is what to expect as the county’s children return to school.
Focus on student engagement
During a summer principals retreat, Schools Superintendent Diana Greene spoke to Manatee’s school leaders about student engagement.
“What we mean by student engagement is looking at not just the meat and potatoes,” said Greene, who wants teachers to commit toward creative and innovative lesson plans at least once every nine weeks. She said when she taught fifth grade, she dedicated a four-week unit to learning the human anatomy, complete with games, activities and a song to the tune of “The Hokie-Pokie.”
“Instead of saying, ‘You put your left foot in,’ we would sing, ‘You put your phalanges in,’” Greene said. “I'm convinced that if they learned nothing else from me that year, someone could have talked to them and they would have remembered that. I know you can’t do that every day. It requires a lot of planning and making sure you have the resources to do that type of project, but we should at least be able to do that once every nine weeks.”
For Gabby Bowdren and Katy Pyle, who both teach fourth grade at Mills Elementary School, student engagement begins with establishing close relationships with their students.
“I think the biggest thing for both of us, is our kids move to fifth grade, but we still have kids before and after school every day come and see us and tell us how much they miss us,” Pyle said. “We keep up with them still, even though we don’t have them.”
“They have to know that we’re human, too,” Bowdren said. “We are a little silly. We’re not known as the quiet ones.”
District leaders say the biggest “new” thing for the 2017-18 school year is that there really isn’t much that is new. The education industry complex is constantly humming with flashy new products, programs and curricula, and school districts can be notorious for introducing new initiatives annually, abandoning old ones just as teachers learned to use them.
But this year, Manatee is focusing on stability.
“I know we love flash, but we are just excited that we are sort of getting into a consistent groove,” Greene said. “We are opening up the school year focused on educating students, which is our mission.”
Manatee High School principal Dave Underhill is in a new position after 17 years at Bayshore High, but he agreed with Greene that this year seems especially light on new initiatives — and he said that is a good thing.
“That creates a fidelity in the programs,” Underhill said. “You’ve got to learn whatever you are using, and you’ve got to learn it well before you can deliver it well.”
Several schools in Manatee have new principals:
Manatee High School: Longtime Bayshore High principal Underhill replaced former principal Don Sauer at Manatee High. Sauer will be the district’s supervisor of student demographics, projections and assignment.
Bayshore High School: Wendell Butler Jr. is taking over for Underhill. Butler was previously an assistant principal at Southeast High School.
Braden River High School: Former Haile Middle School principal Sharon Scarbrough was promoted to the Braden River principal position. She replaces Jennifer Gilray, who will become an assistant director at Manatee Technical College.
Haile Middle School: Former King Middle School assistant principal Kate Collis replaces Scarbrough at Haile.
Gullet Elementary: Former Moody Elementary Principal Todd Richardson will lead Gullet this year. Richardson replaces Shirin Gibson, who took a job at the school district’s central office.
Moody Elementary: Oneco Elementary principal Tina Stancil has replaced Richardson.
Oneco Elementary: Ronnie King, current Assistant Principal at Horizons Academy and former Assistant Principal at Harllee Middle School, will take over for Stancil.
One school closed, another opened
At the end of last school year, Sara Scott Harllee Middle School shut its doors. Although the school earned a C this past year, it had been a perpetual failure in the eyes of the state after four consecutive Fs, and the board opted to close the school.
Although the district initially had plans to convert Harllee into a gifted academy, those plans never materialized. It will now be home to several small specialty programs, including ACCESS, which serves children with severe disabilities, the Teen Aged Parenting Program and SABLE, which is for children with emotional and behavioral problems.
The first new charter school since 2014 will open this year. Rowlett Middle Academy will open in the former Orange-Ridge Bullock Elementary building. The school is for sixth- and seventh-grade students, and it is being opened by the Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication, an elementary school.
The school targets children interested in art, television and film production or leadership.
Some things never change
On Friday, teachers in Manatee spent the afternoon in various trainings. At Manatee High School, hundreds of elementary school teachers gathered in the auditorium to learn about new reading comprehension strategies. Those teachers will have three days to prepare this week before their classrooms are filled with children.
Manatee School of Arts and Sciences kindergarten and first-grade teacher Shyla O’Dell can’t wait.
“I decided in first grade that I wanted to be a teacher because I loved school, and I loved my first-grade teacher,” said O’Dell.
Vickie Williams, the interim director for elementary curriculum and professional learning, said the excitement about the first day of school is one thing that will never change in education.
“Some things never change. The beginning of school is always an exciting time,” Williams said. “You know from the beginning of the year to the last day of school you see so much growth, so it’s seeing the start of a growth spurt happen.”