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Guest Commentary: Resilience, dedication, and excitement for school year ahead

By DR. CHRISTOPHER S. BERNIER - Superintendent of Schools for the School District of Lee County | Aug 9, 2023

Dr. Christopher Bernier

I’m excited for the start of a brand-new academic year at The School District of Lee County. As we gather once again, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to our entire community for their unwavering resilience and dedication during the past year.

On Aug. 10, we again came together after facing the challenges of a tumultuous year marked by the recovery and rebuilding efforts following the devastating impact of Hurricane Ian. The journey to restoration has not been an easy one, but as a community, we stand strong and continue to support one another.

This academic year represents a fresh start–a chance to build upon the foundation of growth and renewal that we established together. Our schools are not just buildings; they are sanctuaries of knowledge, creativity, and community. Our teachers and staff are not just educators; they are mentors and guides, nurturing the minds and hearts of our students.

We will start the year off with two new schools, Amanecer Elementary and Lemuel Teal Middle School. We also will open up the expanded portion to Lehigh Acres Middle School. These three projects add an additional 2,000 student seats to the East Zone. In addition, our teams continue renovation projects at Cypress Lake Middle and Riverdale High, as well as a full rebuild of Franklin Park Elementary School. All of these projects are thanks in great part to the half-penny sales tax, for which we continue to share our gratitude to our community for approving. 

As we begin this new chapter, I am pleased to share some important updates and initiatives that will shape our journey toward being a world-class school system. 

The safety and well-being of our students and staff continues to be our top priority. In line with this commitment, and in addition to our already robust safety and security programs, we have implemented significant upgrades across our campuses. A new weapons detection system,  OPENGATE, will be installed in all of our buildings in phases throughout the school year. It will also identify other contraband items that are not allowed on school property. All students and visitors to a district building will be subject to search. 

Additionally, we will be launching the Guardian Program. These employees have successfully completed the required training with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. They will be uniformed and armed, and will assist our School Resource Officers during emergencies. We thank you for your support at all our buildings as we implement these security measures. 

Last spring, the School Board approved a new student enrollment plan for elementary school known as proximity. Preliminary data on the impact of this plan is encouraging as we work towards our goal of getting students to school and from school on time. This is not a fix-all, but is a step in the right direction. This year, we will be having conversations with our community as we develop the proximity plan for middle schools. 

As we embark on this new academic year, I encourage all students to embrace curiosity and every opportunity to learn and grow. I urge parents and guardians to be actively involved in their child’s education, as your support plays a crucial role in their success. I thank our teachers and staff for their dedication and resilience for the benefit of our students. I ask our community to  continue supporting and encouraging our students to achieve their highest potential. Together, we will create a thriving educational community where knowledge is celebrated and everyone feels safe and supported.

— Dr. Christopher S. Bernier is the Superintendent of Schools for the School District of Lee County.