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Schools now open across Lee County

August 18, 2017
By CHUCK?BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The buses were out in full force last Thursday as more than 95,000 students throughout Lee County returned to class for the first day of the new school year.

Even though teachers had been back at work for a week, and administrators worked for much of the summer, it usually takes that first day to tighten any loose links.

School board member Steve Teuber said things went as well as expected.

"All the schools seem to be opening with success and everyone is excited. We're constantly listening to what the parents need," Teuber said.

School board member Mary Fischer was at Gulf Elementary helping to serve lunch. She said there was "electricity in the air," and it wasn't lightning.

"Things are going very smoothly and everyone is very excited. I had a little girl come up to me and say she loved her teacher," Fischer said.

In North Fort Myers, with the exception of a few buses coming in late, everything was otherwise smooth sailing.

Debbie Diggs, North High principal, said things were fantastic as everybody was prepared.

"The kids were excited to be here. There was great energy and the kids were happy to see each other again," Diggs said. "It was very organized and it felt like we had never left."

The big challenge for everyone was getting used to the 7:05 a.m. start time after a summer of sleeping in for many. Diggs said it wasn't too bad.

"The kids like the structure, and while the kids like to be off for a nice long summer, generally the kids are happy to be back," Diggs said.

Dr. Thomas Millins, principal at North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, said opening day was nothing short of phenomenal as the staff and administration work hard to prepare for the students.

"We told our teachers what the expectations were for the whole year. We feel good about the safety of all stakeholders and focused on our three initiatives; education, arts and safety," Millins said. "It was a great day for everyone."

Both principals said the open houses were important in helping things go a little smoother, as it allowed students and parents to meet the teachers and take care of some odds and ends.

"We not only do open houses, but also prep days where kids come in to get their schedules and textbooks, their Chromebook and parking and locker," Diggs said. "They got to find out their homeroom and exactly what to do the first day."

"Open houses are critical. About 90 percent of kids and parents came, and that sets the tone for the rest of the year," Millins said. "We can show how things operate and prepares those students to what they would expect on the first day."

As for buses, both said there were a couple that came late on each day as drivers settled into the routes and the flow of new students coming in calmed down, but overall, things went well.

The second day of school saw some weather-related blips. Shortly before dismissal, the lightning alarm went off at NFMAA, forcing the school to go to a lightning dismissal.

Students had to go to Plan B.

They went to areas inside while the buses had to pick up the kids one bus at a time, causing delays in the time students were picked up and creating a domino effect that impacted when other students from other schools were picked up. North High, which lets out at 1:45 p.m., was not affected.

Millins said this is not uncommon, especially at this time of year when thunderstorms are a daily event. It may take longer, but it ensures everyone is safe.

"The buses are done on tiers. We dismiss at 2:10, so if a bus is late at the high school, it trickles down to us," Millins said. "Transportation has worked to rectify those issues. They have alternative buses that can fill in."



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