LIVE OAK, Fla. — With a “monumental” and “landmark decision” made by the Suwannee County School Board last week to reconfigure three county schools, the work now begins for school officials.
During a June 25 meeting, the board voted 4-0 in favor of changing three Live Oak Elementary Schools into Pre-K to fifth grade 21st Century schools of choice starting with the 2020-21 school year.
Suwannee Primary, Suwannee Elementary and Suwannee Intermediate will be reconfigured. Currently SPS is Pre-K through first grade, SES is second and third grade and SIS is fourth and fifth grade.
What do you think about Suwannee County School District reconfiguring three elementary schools?
“This is truly one of the bright and shining days in the life of Suwannee County students,” said board member Jerry Taylor. “When you talk about choice, we are choice. That speaks volumes as to where we’re headed.”
Where the county school system is going is offering 21st Century themed “magnet-type” programs at the elementary schools.
Superintendent of Schools Ted Roush said those themes are still being developed. Among the ideas being brainstormed would be a school offering robotics and technology-type STEM programs while another is focused on art, music and design with the other potentially more career-slanted such as a feeder program for the FFA program at the middle school and high school.
“You’ve got what hopefully will be a wide variety of options that appeal to the interests of parents and students across a multitude of spectrums,” Roush said, adding they’ll look at the electives offered at Suwannee Middle and Suwannee High for potential themes.
Devising the themes and the curriculum that goes with them outside of the core areas of English Language Arts, science and social studies that are standardized by the state is just one of the many areas of work school officials will have to complete in the next year in order to launch the reconfigured schools.
Roush said there will also be new school names as well as facility changes or upgrades, including playground equipment, restrooms, cafeteria furniture and library selections to consider.
School officials will also have to decide what grades will be targeted with the themed electives and enrollment plans for students that decide a program just doesn’t work for them.
“At that stage in the game, you don’t always know what your child’s forte is, what their strength is going to be,” Roush admitted about Pre-K and kindergarten students. “And you really can’t and really shouldn’t try to pigeonhole that that early on.”
But while also noting the school system would need to devise a flexible plan in allowing students to move between the schools if the themes aren’t working out, Roush said the themes will offer parents a students a choice that currently isn’t available.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said. “We’re all very excited about the work because we think it’ll be good for kids and for the community and for families.
“I think it helps take our school district to a different place in terms of what we’re able to bring to our kids.”
Roush said the plan has had strong support from faculty and staff, several of which were on hand for the meeting and stood up and cheered after the vote was made.
“From the response that I heard after the vote, evidently staff principals and assistant principals are really in favor of this new school choice,” said board member Catherine Cason.
Roush also said the discussion about reconfiguring the schools never really went away since the board last voted on the topic in 2013.
At that time, there were public meetings held prior to the vote, with the board electing to not change the schools.
Roush said the board’s initial vote on the plan was held prior to public meetings — which will be scheduled in the next few weeks — in order to save district staff and administration a lot of time and effort in case the board wasn’t in favor of the idea.
“How much time, effort and resources were spent on a plan that wasn’t eventually adopted that could have been spent in a more useful manner,” Roush said of the feelings after the vote six years ago. “Let us get the initial approval and then let us do the heavy lifting and the work to develop, if you will, the eventual plan of how it all shakes out.”
That eventual plan will include parental and community involvement as well as faculty and staff input, Roush said, noting the plan could be delayed or even nixed at some point during the upcoming process.
“It still could get derailed at some point along the way,” he said. “The intent right now is to reconfigure around these concepts for August 2020. But there’s a lot of bridges to build and a lot of bridges to cross before we get to that point.”