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School Board Superintendent Laurie Gaylord holds roundtable discussion with top staffers and media

STUART – Martin County School Superintendent Laurie Gaylord told members of the media here Aug. 2 that District staff and teachers are ready to meet the safety challenges of the new school year and will roll out some new educational offerings and new security protocols as part of the process.

“I think we’re ready to rock and roll for students to come back for the 2019-20 school year,” she said. “With 12 elementary schools, five middle schools and three high schools, we have about 19,000 students joining us and 2,500 employees. We have completed our threat assessment, and we have threat assessment teams at each high school. We have some new things this year, including a new badging system for each student that will be rolled out.”

Ms. Gaylord was referring to the new picture I.D. badges and lanyards that will be distributed to the students on every campus and be required to board school buses as part of the ReaXium ridership program the District is implementing for the first time this year. The District’s Director of Facilities & Planning Garrett Grabowski told the Hometown News July 26 that students on all campuses would be required to wear the badges during the school day.

“The badge will be read every time you enter or exit the bus,” he emphasized. “Since this system requires the badges, we decided to integrate them with our other existing systems in the cafeteria and media center for ease of student use.”

Along with Mr. Grabowski, Superintendent Gaylord conducted the recent roundtable discussion for the media with several other top District officials, including Deputy Superintendent Ginger Featherstone, Chief Academic Officer Tracey Miller and Curriculum & Instruction Director Mary White. In response to a reporter’s question on whether the District expected any pushback from students not wanting to wear the lanyards on a daily basis, Dr. Featherstone said such lanyards and I.D. badges had already been in place at the high-school level without any resistance and schools would be ready to issue provisional ones for students who leave theirs at home.

“The students see the value for safety and security, and we’re looking to make sure that everybody that’s on campus has an I.D.,” she said. “We do anticipate that some kids will forget, so each campus has a machine, and they will be issued a temporary badge that day.”

For her part, Dr. Miller highlighted the addition this year of two new top tier educational programs at the high-school level, the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education Diploma and the Advanced Placement Capstone Program. The former is an international curriculum and examination system that emphasizes the need for students to master a broader range of skills critical for success in university study and employment in addition to understanding a variety of subjects. It offers students the opportunity to tailor their studies to their individual interests, abilities and future plans within an international curriculum framework. The Capstone AP Program is based on two-year long AP courses, AP Seminar and AP Research. Rather than teaching subject-specific content, these courses develop students’ skills in research, analysis, evidence-based arguments, collaboration, writing, and presenting.

“The Cambridge Program where students can graduate with an Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Diploma at Martin County High School and the AP Capstone Diploma Program at Jensen Beach High School have generated quite a bit of interest,” she said. “Of course, we’ve had the highly successful International Baccalaureate Program in place at South Fork High School for many years. So, we’re very excited that at each of our comprehensive high schools, students have access to these very rigorous programs and that’s something we’ve been working very hard to accomplish.”

Dr. White emphasized the addition of two new offerings in the District’s Career and Technical Education Academies, bringing the total to 36 different academies spread across the District’s three high schools and five middle schools.

“We have a various rigorous career-tech program,” she said. “At Jensen Beach High School, we’re starting a new Pre-K [Early Childhood] Academy where students can prepare for the field, and eventually we’d like to have a daycare on campus where they can learn hands on. At Martin County High School, we are starting a Teacher [Future Educators] Academy where students can learn how to be a teacher.”

Although the new academies and others like Engineering and Entrepreneurship [JBHS], Culinary Arts and Digital Photograph [MCHS] and Finance and Landscape Operations [SFHS] are only offered on their respective campuses, others like Medical Sciences are offered on all three high-school campuses. Ms. Gaylord emphasized the popularity and success of such academies throughout the District.

“We have a construction academy [Building Construction Technology], and the CNA [Certified Nursing Assistant or Medical Sciences] Program is very popular at all three traditional high schools,” she said. “There are many that help a student seek jobs right out of high school, and many get jobs while they’re still in high school. We offer a CTE showcase in the spring that features every academy and every signature program, and it is open to everybody.”

Dr. Featherstone said students desiring to attend an academy not offered in their home school would have that ability but must first file a CTE application with the District.

“I have to have letters of reference in addition to the application and other information,” she said. “It’s part of our choice policy.”

The District this year is also launching a new, required middle-school course designed to prepare students for their choice of future high-school options via the academies or a post high school college undergraduate degree.

“The Career and Tech Ed graduation pathway option is new this year,” she explained. “It’s a semester-long, career exploration/option course particularly for the eighth grade where they learn how businesses work and knowing what colleges or what programs to apply for. What they end up with is a map to bring to their high school counselor and say here are some things I’m interested in.”

Martin County residents should also begin to notice some changes resulting from the additional half cent is sales tax proceeds that voters approved last year, beginning with an improvement long clamored for at SFHS. That will be followed next year with the construction of new elementary schools in Palm City and Jensen Beach, which are currently in the design stage.

“We have an exciting project at South Fork High School, which is the long-awaited replacement of the gym weight room and the chiller plant, along with some security enhancements,” Mr. Grabowski said. “We prepared a long-term replacement schedule based on funding and when the funding would arrive. Our Board approved going out for a bond so we could replace the elementary schools quicker, so we’re able to take care of building it at today’s costs. The new schools should start construction within a year, and then they’ll open a year after that.”

Superintendent Gaylord emphasized the additional pay for teachers this year in the form of stipends funded by the additional half-mil in property tax voters also approved last year for education.

“Teachers that have returned can look for that around September,” she said. “Each one of the teachers in the one- to five-year bracket will be receiving $1,800; the six-to-nine-year teachers will be receiving $5,000; and teachers 10 years and above, $7,800.”

Although Mr. Grabowski highlighted the security component of the new I.D. badge system and emphasized that most school hardening including single points of entry has already been undertaken, he did say the latter would be constantly evaluated to ensure school safety and security and to prevent unauthorized persons from entry on school campuses.

“It’s ongoing and continual, and so work is being designed for future enhancements,” he said.

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