Few problems reported as classes begin for Palm Beach County public schools

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa meets with students at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County’s public schools reported a a smooth start to the new school year Monday morning, saying that glitches were few and far between as an estimated 193,000 students arrived for classes countywide.

“So far opening has been uneventful, which is the best news that I can provide,” Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said at a news conference this morning.

Isolated bus problems did emerge at several schools, with some parents complaining that their children’s buses did not show up at their scheduled time. Avossa said some buses also arrived at their scheduled stops too early.

“Today was the first day,” Avossa said during a question-and-answer session on Facebook Monday afternoon. “It usually takes us 10 days to work out any kinks.”

Still, Avossa said that more than 90 percent of the county’s school buses delivered students to school on time, a marked improvement from widespread transportation problems two years ago.

The school district’s more than 180 campuses also were reported to be in working order, even as officials press ahead with millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades being financed by an increase in the county’s sales tax.

One notable exception was at Boca Raton Middle School, where the school’s air-conditioning system broke down over the weekend.

Administrators rushed to bring in a truck-sized backup system, which they said was managing to keep the school cool when classes started this morning.

Belvedere Elementary in West Palm Beach had air-conditioning challenges this morning as well, with administrators discovering this morning that the system was blowing warm air.

Officials say the system had been fixed within a couple of hours and was blowing cold again by 10 a.m.

All told, an estimated 193,500 students were expected to show up for school today, including in the county’s roughly 50 charter schools.

Three charter schools closed this summer, including Riviera Beach Maritime Academy, which chose not to reopen after Riviera Beach city officials declined to renew its lease on a city-owned campus. Last year, the school enrolled about 140 students, records show.

After working this summer to find a way to keep the school open, the charter school’s leaders alerted the school district last week that it would not be reopening, said Jim Pegg, director of the school district’s charter school office.

Also closed this year are Learning Path Academy in West Palm Beach and the Belle Glade Excel charter school, Pegg said.

Meanwhile, a new charter school has opened: BridgePrep Academy of Palm Beach, which opened near West Atlantic Avenue west of Delray Beach. The K-8 school is opening this year with students from kindergarten to sixth grade, its principal said.

Avossa started his day at Washington Elementary in Riviera Beach, a school that saw its grade go from an F to a B when the state reported them in late June. The school is also one of 20 schools this fall to debut a new full-time program for gifted students.

From there, Avossa headed southwest to Grassy Waters Elementary, which is using a biomedical magnet to rebuild enrollment and draw students back from charter schools.

For the first time in years, the school is closing in on filling all of its more than 900 seats, Principal Jennifer Galindo said Monday. But just as exciting on the first day, the school’s retired cafeteria director returned for one more opening day to officially hand off the … serving spoon to the new guy in charge.

“I just had to come in,” Joanne Zotos said.

In suburban Boynton Beach, Hidden Oaks Elementary welcomed its first ever sixth-graders – more than 70 in all. The school is walking the path to becoming the district’s first neighborhood school to go K-8 over the next three years, adding one grade per year.

“This is the model we want to go to,” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said during his morning walk-through. Hidden Oaks also had lost students over the years to charter schools, and Monday morning some of them had returned.

Enrollment in sixth grade this year came by choice – parents had to sign up their children. In the future, the school’s traditional boundaries are expected to keep them at Hidden Oaks unless they choose to go somewhere else.

The two other district schools that span kindergarten to eighth grade, do so as specialty schools such as North Palm Beach’s Conservatory School for arts.

 

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