Q: Can you offer any insight as to how the School District intends to comply with the requirement to have an armed deputy at each school as part of the school safety bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott?
A: The School Board is struggling mightily with this. We have held a community meeting at Gamble Rogers Middle School and I have held a focus group meeting to hear from parents as to what their expectations are to ensure that their students are safe at school. I do know that we are not arming current personnel.
Q: Will you be collaborating with other local government entities?
A: We have a joint meeting with the Board of County Commissioners scheduled for June 6 because this is not just a school problem, it is a community problem. According to Sheriff Shoar, it will cost $5.5 million to put an armed School Resource Officer in every school, which includes capital items such as cars, guns and vests. The funding we will receive from the state is $2 million, leaving a deficit of $3.5 million. The School Board believes these capital items should be paid by the county, since the school district won’t actually own those assets.
Q: What other ideas have been considered?
A: Currently, we have 15 officers in our schools and share the costs of them 50/50 with the Sheriff’s Office. We proposed that we backfill the 25 additional officers needed with off duty officers, but the sheriff said he didn’t know if he had enough people to do this, so the idea is on hold. Another option is to have school safety officers, who are armed but don’t have arrest powers. Nothing has been resolved and I’m getting nervous that whatever we decide might not be implementable by the first day of school.
Q: How is the construction of new schools coming along?
A: We are right on schedule. Both Palm Valley Academy and Freedom Crossing Academy have hired their first wave of teachers and are working on filling remaining positions, to include non-instructional positions. Additionally, we received the renderings of Mill Creek Elementary as a K-8 school at our workshop in early May and it will be beautiful. This summer, the plan is to get everything staged so there is separation between construction and students and then construction will begin in earnest this fall. It will take a year to complete. Similarly to Palm Valley and Freedom Crossing academies, this new K-8 will open on a staggered schedule with K-6 the first year, K-7 the second year and so on.
Q: Do you have anything else to share in District 1?
A: Principal Traci Hemingway is piloting a program at Liberty Pines Academy called HeartMath, which is a device to help kids set their day and their minds for a good day of learning. Students wear a finger probe which produces a colored depiction of their heart rate and breathing. Part of the program is to teach them how to calm down if necessary by using breathing techniques. The plan is for a school-wide rollout in the fall; the calming/breathing techniques will be taught throughout the school and the probes will be utilized in pilot classrooms. My understanding is that this is the first time HeartMath will be used school-wide.
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