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New year to bring Hernando schools more academic programs and career training

Hernando County School District superintendent John Stratton answers questions about his goals for 2020.

The Tampa Bay Times reached out to Hernando County School District superintendent John Stratton to learn what his plans are for the district in the coming year. His responses are edited.

What are your goals for the district in 2020? Or alternatively, what do you hope looks different about the district a year from now?

This past summer, the school district presented our new strategic plan to our staff, families and community. A committee, made up of a cross-section of staff, leaders and business partners, collaborated for more than a year to draft a plan that would serve as our core work.

The strategic plan will focus our efforts and guide our investment of resources on five key pillars:

  • Student achievement — When we return in January, we will be well underway in our plan to expand academic opportunities and outcomes for all of our students. We have added advanced academic options at several schools, with plans to add more in the near future. Joining the long-standing International Baccalaureate program at Springstead, Central High is enjoying increased enrollment after they added the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education program last spring. Weeki Wachee High added the Advancement Via Individual Determination program this year, and Fox Chapel Middle School will bring “Middle Years” (the pre-IB program) next year.
  • Our people — To respond to the nationwide teacher shortage, we added a recruiter position earlier this year. Former principal Michael Maine is doing an incredible job finding and bringing talented staff to the school district.
  • Facilities operations — We are in year four of the half-cent sales tax referendum passed in 2015. We continue to fulfill our promise to use those funds on deferred maintenance projects. Our facilities team has completed approximately 40 percent of the deferred projects. About 78 capital projects have been completed.
  • Communication and community engagement — The school district continues to look for ways to improve communication with our stakeholders. We have added a monthly video feature, “The Superintendent’s Roundtable,” to explain topics of interest, and we are developing a better mobile app experience for our users. Our Parent Academy team continues to identify focused and needed resources to our families. In only twi years, their “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Summit” has grown, and many of the attendees report the support they receive from this team has been vital to their coping with their new reality.
  • Fiscal responsibility — We continue to operate with a healthy fund balance but as costs and needs increase, the district is looking for other funding opportunities to ensure we can maintain quality programs, add highly qualified staff and support future growth.

Will the district make progress in 2020 on expanding vocational education offerings on the Central High campus? Will that happen with or without Legislative funding?

We are hopeful that our appropriation to increase the number of SunTech classrooms on Central High School’s property will be funded. If it is not funded, we remain committed to finding ways to bring more high-demand programs to our schools. At this time, our career and technical education staff are working on plans for high-need programs such as nursing assistant and electrocardiograph technician for next year. Supporting the workforce needs of our community is one of our district’s priorities.

When do you expect the district to begin plans to redistribute students among existing schools, given overall population growth and approved housing developments that will begin to break ground?

Our facilities staff works closely with county and business leaders to prepare for projected growth. We will begin planning as more accurate information is known.

Do you expect any district policy, training or spending changes, given the rise in recent years of Hernando students being removed from schools under the Baker Act, as documented by the Times?

Unfortunately, what did not appear in the article were the additional intense mental health support systems and staff we have put in place. Since last year, the district has hired eight additional social workers, ramped up efforts to identify students-in-need earlier, and we’ve added a Mobile Response Team through BayCare. We take the mental health needs of our students seriously and have taken action to provide additional services. The effort is ongoing, but results are promising. Our mid-year data shows the number of students Baker Acted by law enforcement has declined.

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