Eastside High School Marching Band members and Rams cheerleaders poured into the main auditorium on Monday night and surrounded more than 200 attendees of the State of the District event.
The band danced through the aisles, drummers owned the stage, and the cheer team members showed off their skills.
Eastside Principal Leroy Williams introduced the band and cheer team and said the show proved why “Eastside is the best side.” He added that thanks to school improvements afforded by the half-cent sales tax approved by Alachua County voters, the school had first-class facilities.
When Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon was introduced she stood at the podium and announced that this was the school she graduated from and gave a “Go Rams” shout out to which the audience cheered.
Simon recognized elected officials, school board members, parents, students, faculty and staff in attendance and then she began her presentation explaining that the school board brought her in to focus on needs of the district.
“We’re an ‘A’ performing district but one of the things I think we aren’t is we’re not an ‘A’ performing district to every single one of our students,” Simon said. “And that’s something we know we need to focus on.”
Simon said the COVID-19 pandemic took all of the inequities of the past and exasperated them.
“We see problems that are larger than what we thought they were,” she said. “We have to lean in hard to increase the equity and improve the quality of our instruction.”
Simon emphasized the importance of increasing support for mental health and then introduced a series of administrators who shared programs that have been formed in the past five months and had department heads review district accomplishments in facility improvements.
There were eight initiatives that staff presented including High Dose Tutoring, Beyond the Bell after-school tutoring for elementary, middle and high school students, the University of Florida Literacy Institute program (UFLI), a progress monitoring data program called Illuminate, a transformational leadership program, equity goals and a commitment to transparency and communication.
Simon referred to the changes ahead as a new school board will form when four seats are up for election in August 2022.
Since the last school district strategic plan was put in place in 2013, Simon said now is the time to develop the new updated plan that reflects community needs.
“When the new board comes in November 2022, they will have an idea of what the community is interested in,” she said.
Her timeline for the strategic plan is to focus on community conversation through the Spring, developing surveys for teachers, district staff, families and students and use the results to prepare a “have a robust report about the new district post-COVID.”
“COVID changed everything,” Simon said. “It changed who we are, how we see education, how we see ourselves, how we see our future.
“We need to have those engaging conversations again,” she said and invited the community to participate in the process. “We need to dream and come together. We would like you to collaborate with us and help us host community conversations or introduce us to people in your community you think we need to talk to.”
Once programs and strategies are in place to address the community’s needs for the school district, Simon said the next steps will be to “replicate and scale up. And that’s going to transform our district.”