By DANIEL SUTPHIN
Most students at Neil Armstrong Elementary in Port Charlotte don’t walk into the school without a hug.
Joella Moore, student resource officer and Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office deputy, makes sure of it.
Moore has been an SRO for the county for the past 10 years, and she loves every part of it.
“I love my job,” said Moore, who has been at Neil Armstrong for three years. “I was a school teacher before I was in law enforcement, so my passion is working with kids.”
The 2019/2020 school year kicked off on Monday with safety and, of course, learning in full swing.
“As always, our goal is to be the best,” said Charlotte County Public Schools Superintendent Steve Dionisio. “Every day our staff tries to achieve this goal and in turn provides an outstanding education for the students of Charlotte County. We (also) continue to add additional security and mental health personnel at the school sites and will continue to do everything possible to keep our children safe.”
NAE Principal Angie Taillon said they start off every new school year with three goals:
• Get them here safely to the right place.
• Make sure everyone gets where they are going.
• Make sure every child gets their lunch and breakfast.
On top of these goals, safety remains a top priority.
“In today’s world, we have to be prepared,” Taillon said. “I wish I could put kids in a bubble and they wouldn’t know things, but they do. They can go anywhere and see the stuff (that goes on in the world). They can hear the news one day when they weren’t supposed to hear it … so we prepare them.”
Taillon said they train their students in ways that makes them feel safe but keeps them aware.
“We train them how to conceal yourself in an emergency situation but not in a fearful way … just that we have to be quiet,” Taillon said. “We practice evacuation. For anything that could happen on any given day. We practice it because it’s there and we have to be prepared. There is a fine line between scaring kids and preparing them so we want to make sure that we do that in a good way so they’re not feeling scared when they come to school.”
CCPS spokesperson Mike Riley said that all the county’s public schools are compliant with the state’s new security laws.
“We are currently working on improved security fencing at a couple of schools,” Riley said. “Both teachers and staff have received training over the summer dealing with active shooter drill‘s and security measures that are now in place. We added additional law enforcement officers at each high school along with additional school psychologists, social workers and guidance counselors throughout the district.”
Charlotte County School Board member Cara Reynolds, mother of three CCPS students, is excited for the new school year.
“In my house, the big back to school day comes with a lot of excitement in the weeks leading up,” Reynolds said. “About three weeks ago, we got new school shoes, clothes, and lunch boxes. Two weeks ago, I shopped for all the schools supplies and stocked up on extras so we have them handy as the year progresses. Summer is full of free time and fun, but this mom likes early bed times and a daily routine just as much.”
One big change this year is an extended school day.
Due to the passage of the sales tax referendum, the district this year added 30 minutes of instructional time, so class now begins 15 minutes earlier and ends 15 minutes later for all schools.
The earliest start time is for high school students, at 7:10 a.m., and the latest is for middle school, at 9:10 a.m.