By: Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan
As we enter our third week post Hurricane Ian, the School Board continue to acknowledge the significant loss and suffering experienced by many in the School District of Lee County community. District and school leaders, staff, students, families, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and the entire community, all were disproportionately impacted by Hurricane Ian. Despite the individual situations that everyone is facing, all have come together for the benefit of our students, staff, and community. Even employees of other Florida School Districts that have faced their own challenges post-storm, have gone to extraordinary lengths to support our educational community during our recovery from the devastation.
We are incredibly proud of the outreach efforts made by District leadership to staff and students’ families pre and post hurricane Ian; the grace an compassion extended to staff and families managing personal recoveries while we worked swiftly to reopen schools; opportunities created for school staff to reunite and regroup and for families to to rejoin their school community prior to reopening; access provided by our staff to local, state, and federal agencies providing resources for recovery; the relationships of our District leaders with others statewide who provided relief and additional hands to those working in buildings. We could not have recovered and reopened so quickly without impressive District leadership and strong community support and understanding.
While we are pleased to have students in all of our schools back into a learning environment just three weeks after the Hurricane, our recovery experience highlighted a systemic weakness that has been under review by Superintendent Bernier’s Cabinet and the Board since late spring— the District’s current enrollment system. The process of getting students back to school post-storm was made unnecessarily difficult due to our current system of school choice. As we resume our planning for the 2022-23 school year, we will continue our reexamination of this system and school proximity plans, an initiative reintroduced to the public by Superintendent Bernier at community meetings this fall. Plans created twenty years ago for school assignment and transportation suitable for a much smaller student population are no longer sustainable.
Community meetings for public engagement in the assessment and planning process will be rescheduled soon. Please be alert to announcements asking you to participate in interactive assessment and planning meetings as we consider options for school proximity zones along a continuum from highly permissive, as is the case today, to highly restrictive. With each movement on the continuum, compromises will be necessary; compromises between transportation cost savings and student and family conveniences such as grandfathering and multiple zone options. The Board and the Superintendent intend this exercise to be immersive, collaborative, and transparent for all members of the school district community. We look forward to working with our school community members and public on this complex and significant process.
We wish all of our students, staff, and community a healthy post-storm recovery.