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School Choice Expands in Suwannee County

Suwannee Intermediate School in Live Oak.

-Photo by Jeffry Boatright

By Jeffry Boatright

The Suwannee County School Board voted unanimously on the evening of June 25 to expand school choice, according to a press release from Suwannee County Superintendent of Schools Ted Roush.

It is widely recognized that today’s technology has ushered in an array of new career choices that were unimaginable just a decade ago. With that, educators understand that a new era of instruction must be embraced to prepare students for the careers of the future.

According to the press release, the board’s decision will result in the configuration of three Pre-K through fifth grade elementary schools of choice in Live Oak. Those three schools are currently Suwannee Primary School, Suwannee Elementary School and Suwannee Intermediate School. Presently, students attend Suwannee Primary School through first grade before transitioning to Suwannee Elementary School, where they attend through third grade. Students then attend Suwannee Intermediate School during their fourth and fifth grade years.

“Our current configuration puts small children through major school transitions several times in their early years,” Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Janene Fitzpatrick explained. “At a time when it’s extremely important for students and parents to be able to get to know the school administration, counselors and teachers in Suwannee County, particularly in Live Oak, our students transition every two years. For a student and family to be able to have the potential to stay in one school for seven years prior to being transitioned to a new school, the benefits are outstanding,” she stated.

Fitzpatrick articulated that having only one sixth or one seventh of the students new to the campus each year is also quite a benefit for the school. “The continuity that can be provided will manifest itself in many, many areas,” she said. “Among those areas are student achievement, parent engagement and school pride, to name a few.”

According to the press release from Roush, each school is to have a unique 21st century theme.

“In conversation we’ve looked at some popular magnet school themes such as Science and Technology, Art and Design, Entrepreneurship and Leadership,” Fitzpatrick elaborated. “The exact themes will be a large part of the planning process, and we want to make sure we will have concepts that will appeal to a wide range of students and parents. Our goal would be that it would be difficult to choose.”

In his press release, Roush stressed that this is an era of growing school choice and program offerings, and through the configuration of three Pre-K through fifth grade elementary schools in Live Oak, the Suwannee County School District plans to expand school choice for those the district serves.

As stated in the press release, the Live Oak area will not need to be broken into zones to make the plan work. Fitzpatrick reiterated that while the new program does not call for zoning, it will operate on the premise of school choice, which will be different.

Certainly there will be challenges in implementing the program, but Fitzpatrick embraces the endeavor with optimism. “We know that getting enrollment policies and transfer policies for students correct will be essential,” she acknowledged. “This will also be a large portion of the committee’s time.”

Although the new configuration will not take effect until the 2020-2021 school term, plans are already underway. Roush, along with his team, will work throughout the 2019-2020 school year to bring plans before the Board. Such plans will be related to enrollment policies, school themes, special curriculum offerings and school names, among many other topics.

In his press release, Roush emphasized that plans will be put into action to involve stakeholders in multiple pieces of the project. He added that board members will receive monthly updates on the progress at future board workshops, which are normally held the second Tuesday of each month.

Finally, Roush confirmed that public information sessions will soon be scheduled.