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First day of school — and what’s coming next

By Staff | Aug 5, 2022

Close to 100,000 students will enter the doors of a Lee County public school on Wednesday as the 2022-23 school year begins.

With 96 traditional schools and 23 charters under its umbrella, the School District of Lee County is the ninth largest school district in the state and the 32nd largest in the country.

Like many large districts, ours is one that has its successes and its challenges.

Among the challenges is overall student achievement, hit hard here by the pandemic which hampered learning, especially for children most in need of foundation and remedial knowledge.

As we shared as the 2021-22 school year entered its final quarter, 56 percent of second graders — kids who never got the benefit of a “normal” school year — were performing at a kindergarten level in reading basics.

Fewer than half of the third graders enrolled in district schools passed the state test for reading last year.

Only 48 percent received a score of 3 or higher — with a 3 being the passing point of the five-level scoring system — in last spring’s English Language Arts assessment.

That’s a whopping 10-point drop over 2019.

Only 20 percent of School District of Lee County students at the key third-grade benchmark scored at a Level 4 or 5 with approximately 79 percent or so not yet proficient in reading and so not likely to succeed in their course work this year without additional intervention.

According to the state rating system, 29 percent showed a reading level that was “inadequate” and will begin fourth grade in need of substantial support to succeed. Twenty-three percent scored “below satisfactory” and will begin fourth grade this year likely in need support. Twenty-seven percent, scoring at a satisfactory level, will begin this school year still in need of some support to move on to fourth-grade level courses.

Why is third grade considered a tell on what is to come? For students, third grade is the point when learning to read becomes reading to learn.

Simply put, children who cannot read, cannot readily absorb the material they are tasked with mastering in grade levels four and beyond.

Couple this with the need for hypervigilance related to school safety and transportation staffing issues impeding the district’s ability to even get kids in their seats on time and teachers — not just elementary school teachers, but teachers in middle school and beyond — have their work cut out for them as the 2022-23 school year begins.

It is gratifying that the district’s administration, led by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christopher Bernier, both recognizes the challenges and the need to meet them head on with a commitment to student progress monitoring and individualized help for the kids who need it.

Given the very real challenges the district is facing it is gratifying not at all to see the continuing attempt to politicize the education of our children.

Voters will not weigh in until November but there is a from-the-political-shadows move to make the superintendent of schools an elected position instead of one that is school board appointed.

Sound good? Maybe. If you want a successful partisan party fav running a $2 billion highly specialized business that 1) you must “buy” unless you have the bucks to shop private schools and 2) gives its “customers” — children — no chance for a do-over if the political agenda du jour tastes great when you consume it but is a lot less palatable when it comes back up later in the real world where education matters.

That said, we are absolutely in favor of both parental and community input in how our kids are schooled here in Lee County.

There are four Lee County School Board seats up for grabs in the Aug. 23 election with Early Voting beginning next Saturday, Aug. 13.

Cape Coral voters can cast a ballot in two of the four races.

The Cape is split between two districts, seats 1 and 4, depending on address, which will determine in which of the two voters may cast a ballot.

The District 1 race, to be decided by voters who live in the district — which includes parts Cape Coral and North Fort Myers and Pine Island — features four candidates, Christine DeVigili, Kathy Fanny, Sam Fisher and Cathy Stout.

The longtime incumbent, Mary Fischer, opted not to seek re-election.

The District 4 race, to be decided by voters who live in the district — which includes parts of Cape Coral, North Fort Myers and Dunbar — features four candidates, Jason “Big Mama” Jones; Debbie Jordan, the incumbent; Dan Severson; and Gerri Ware.

Seat 6 is at-large, meaning voters countywide may cast a ballot in a three-way race featuring Tia Collin, Jada Langford Fleming and Denise Nystrom.

The seat for District 5 is also up for grabs.

The Breeze has gathered information from the candidates and prepared both a story and an at-a-glance synopsis on the applicable district and at-large races online here under Cape News.

The School Board of Lee County is where policy is appropriately set.

If you want your voice heard, research those asking for your vote and cast a ballot in the Aug. 23 Primary Election.

Then gear up for November.

Your vote on the referendum on whether to make the superintendent of schools a partisan elective office is going to matter to both our kids and the state of education in Lee County for a long time to come.

–Breeze editorial