BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County students, and their parents, have returned from summer break in recent years to find a number of obvious changes at their schools.
New school boundaries. New rules about who can use the bus. New start and end times. New fees.
This year, there is nothing quite so visible at the school level. But there are a number of important changes in other areas.
For starters, the district has a new superintendent. Lori Romano officially took over in July as the district's top administrator, replacing Bryan Blavatt, who retired after holding the job for a little more than three years.
Romano, 41, comes to Hernando having spent more than a decade in Florida education, including nine years at the Florida Department of Education. Most recently, she worked in the Martin County schools, a high-achieving district on Florida's east coast, where she served as director of adult, community, secondary and virtual education.
This is Romano's first time leading a district.
Elsewhere around the county, although Hernando has no new traditional public schools this year, two charter schools will open to students, bringing the number of charters in the county to three.
The Brooksville Engineering, Science & Technology Academy and the Gulf Coast Middle School in Spring Hill will open Aug. 19, the first day of school for all Hernando students.
The Brooksville charter, known as BEST Academy, will start with just two grades — 66 students in the sixth grade and 20 in seventh.
Gulf Coast Middle, a replication of the high-achieving Gulf Coast Academy in Spring Hill, will start with all three middle school grades. The school will have 44 students in sixth and seventh grades and 22 in eighth.
"We're really excited," said Nevin Siefert II, Gulf Coast Academy's director of administration. "It's been very busy."
Winding Waters K-8, beginning its third year, will add a grade level for the 2013-14 school year and now will have kindergartners through seventh-graders. Next year, the school will have all grade levels.
Throughout the Hernando system, a number of changes will affect students inside schools and classrooms:
• Beginning with this year's freshman class, students will have the ability to earn one of two special high school diploma designations. A scholar designation will be given to students pursuing college-level classes, and a merit designation to those pursuing technical training.
Aside from normal graduation requirements, students wishing to earn the scholar designation must take two foreign language credits, pass all their end-of-course exams and take at least one college equivalency course, such as Advanced Placement. Students trying to obtain a merit designation would need to meet normal graduation requirements and also obtain at least one industry certification.
• All end-of-course exams this year will count for 30 percent of a student's final grade. In addition, as has been required in the past, students must pass the Algebra I exam.
• The state enacted a cyberbullying law this year, giving school administrators in Florida the authority to reach beyond school grounds if the bullying "substantially" interferes with or disrupts the educational process. Administrators may now regulate and punish bullying, even when it originates on a computer or device off campus.
The Hernando County School District has had this practice in place before this year, said Mary-Grace Surrena, director of student services. For the 2013-14 school year, they'll go to greater lengths to publicize it.
The communication policy has been highlighted in the 2013-14 student conduct manual, a document each school goes over at the beginning of the year.
• The state also changed the definition of battery in schools, an offense that could result in expulsion. In order for an incident to be considered battery, the attack must be serious enough to warrant consulting with law enforcement and result in serious bodily harm. Previously, an attack was considered battery when someone didn't fight back.
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.