MARION COUNTY – A projected 43,181 students will attend Marion County Public Schools this year with Monday marking the first day of class. Attendance usually peaks in October when official student counts are taken for funding reasons. The district expects at least 31 more students than last year.
New teachers started Wednesday, August 1, while returning teachers headed back to their classrooms earlier this week on Monday. To date, the district has hired 473 new employees, including 267 teachers at every grade level. As of today, 90 teaching positions remain open including elementary, secondary and Exceptional Student Education (ESE). Last year, the district hired 277 new teachers, including positions funded by a voter-approved referendum for art, music, physical education, library media and vocational programs.
Security also takes on a new look this year thanks to a state law now requiring armed security on every public school campus. This means 56 School Resource Officers, or SROs, to cover every elementary, middle and high school in Marion County. Some high schools will have two SROs on campus because of higher enrollment numbers: Belleview, Forest, Lake Weir, Vanguard and West Port. As many as 30 armed guardians will also be part of enhanced security under the new law.
Traditionally, parents had to enroll new students by appearing in person at the school, completing lots of paperwork, then presenting required legal records. Using the district’s “New Student Online Enrollment” option, parents can complete much of the required paperwork at home in about 15 minutes. They must still physically present legal records like birth certificates and proof of residency at the school; however, this new online option greatly reduces the time it takes to enroll a new student. This option is available by visiting www.marionschools.net and clicking the “Student Enrollment” tab.
Around the district, 16 schools have new principals this year thanks to leadership changes made by Superintendent Dr. Heidi Maier and her team. Of these, six are first-time principals (noted with double asterisks**) including four home-grown leaders who graduated in Marion County:
- Belleview-Santos Elementary – Ashley Kemp** (Belleview High graduate)
- Eighth Street Elementary – Dawn Prestipino
- Fessenden Elementary – Lacy Redd
- Harbour View Elementary – Rob Hensel
- Legacy Elementary – Shameka Murphy** (Dunnellon High graduate)
- Maplewood Elementary – Christine DiSanza**
- Ward-Highlands Elementary – Treasa Buck
- Fort McCoy School (K-8) – Renee Jones
- Howard Middle – Lamar Rembert
- Lake Weir Middle – Brian Greene
- Osceola Middle – Matthew Koff**
- Belleview High – Heather Guest (Forest High graduate)
- Forest High – Elizabeth Brown
- North Marion High – Danielle Livengood**
- Vanguard High – Christopher Carlisle** (Forest High graduate)
- Marion Technical College/Marion Technical Institute/Career & Technical Education – Mike Kelly
New structuring also divides the district into three areas to better serve students, staff, and the community. Each of these areas includes a director for reporting and supervision and improved communication.
Area 1 schools include: Anthony, Dr. NH Jones, East Marion, Evergreen, Fessenden, Fort McCoy (K-8), Madison Street, Oakcrest, Ocala Springs, Reddick-Collier, Sparr, and Wyomina Park Elementary schools; Howard and North Marion Middle schools, and North Marion and Vanguard High schools. Melissa Kinard will supervise these schools.
Area 2 schools include: Belleview, Belleview-Santos, Eighth Street, Emerald Shores, Greenway, Harbour View, Legacy, Maplewood, Stanton-Weirsdale, and Ward-Highlands Elementary schools; Belleview, Fort King, Lake Weir, and Osceola Middle schools; and Belleview, Forest, and Lake Weir High schools. John Kerley will supervise these schools.
Area 3 schools include: College Park, Dunnellon, Hammett Bowen Jr., Marion Oaks, Romeo, Saddlewood, Shady Hill, South Ocala, and Sunrise Elementary schools; Dunnellon, Horizon Academy, and Liberty Middle schools; Dunnellon and West Port High schools; Hillcrest School, Marion Technical College and Marion Technical Institute. Ben Whitehouse will supervise these schools.
Eleven elementary schools are Differentiated Accountability schools this year based on their academic performance: Anthony, Belleview-Santos, College Park, East Marion, Emerald Shores, Evergreen, Fessenden, Greenway, Oakcrest, Reddick-Collier and Wyomina Park. These schools will offer one extra hour of academic instruction each day.
Most elementary schools operate 7:45AM-2:05PM daily. Middle schools range from 7:45AM – 3:50PM. High schools vary from 7:40AM – 3:40PM.
Elementary schools also offer “stagger start” for kindergarten students, meaning one third of students report to school either Monday, Tuesday orWednesday. On Thursday, August 16, all kindergarten students report to class. Staggering times like this gives students more personal time with their teacher to make the adjustment to school easier.
Students, especially seventh graders, must have their immunizations up-to-date by August 13 as required by Florida law. Otherwise, they are not allowed in class on the first day. Last year, 257 seventh graders lacked proper immunizations and were not allowed to attend first-day classes. Outreach efforts to reduce this number started back in the spring with in-school clinics and continued this past weekend with phone calls and immunization clinics for incoming seventh graders.
To date, parents have submitted over 6,000 applications for their students to be reassigned to out-of-area schools. Criteria are strict and not everyone who applies receives approval.
Extended Day enrollment is already at nearly 2,800 students. The popular program offers adult supervision of students before and after school. As of today, 27 of 38 Extended Day sites already have waiting lists before school even starts.
Meal prices remain unchanged — $1.75 for students (middle & high) and $2.75 for adults. Nearly 67 percent of students district-wide are eligible for free and reduced meal plans.
Construction highlights around the district wrapping up in time for the first day of class include:
- a new $6.5 million classroom wing at Wyomina Park Elementary;
- sidewalk and foundation repairs at Belleview Middle ($625k);
- a new Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Program at Booster Stadium ($150k);
- security fencing on the Hillcrest and Sunrise Elementary campuses ($317k);
- Young Parenting Program remodeling on MTI campus ($630k);
- Partial reroofing at North Marion High ($1.2 million); and
- Osceola Middle wheelchair lift and gym floor replacement ($272k).
Technology continues to be interactive for enhanced communication. For example, parents can sign up for and use “Family Access” for complete 24/7 access to student grades, attendance records, and other important academic information. Parents can register at one school with a valid photo ID and have access to all their children’s records with a single convenient sign-on.
A new “Community Reads!” website also offers parents of elementary students additional resources and activities they can work on with their students long after the regular school day is over. User should visit www.marionschools.net and “look for the book” icon at the top center of the page. Clicking this icon takes them to the “Community Reads!” area where they can choose more information by grade level.
Peachjar e-flyer service also continues at every school, further reducing the number of printed-paper flyers and promoting green efforts district-wide. Last year, the district avoided handling 3.9 million pieces of paper, dodged $585,000 in printing and handling costs, saved 466 trees, and sent hundreds of e-flyers to over 13,200 parent email addresses.
Marion County Public Schools’ complete calendar and other valuable information can be found at www.marionschools.net.
Regarding bus transportation, many buses are late the first few days of school due to unexpected student riders and loading times. Parents should remember students must ride the bus in the morning to ride in the afternoon. As well, local drivers should stop for flashing red lights on school buses and slow down for flashing yellow lights in school zones. Otherwise, the blue lights of law enforcement may hand out hefty fines. Most importantly, observing these lights helps keep students safe.
Meantime, here are some things to consider about Marion County Public Schools’ bus transportation program:
- 84th largest public schools bus fleet nationwide
- 56% of students ride buses (24,000 students)
- 276 buses on road daily
- 100% of buses with GPS
- 82% of buses have seat belts
- 90% of buses use digital cameras
- 1,088 bus routes
- 3,300 bus stops
- 33,000 bus miles daily
- 5.9 million bus miles annually
- 6,461 gallons of diesel fuel used daily
- 1.16 million gallons of diesel fuel used annually
- $1.6 million annual diesel bill
- $9,240 average daily cost to operate diesel bus fleet