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School districts across North Florida prepare school buses to safely transport students.
-Photo by Jeffry Boatright

By Jeffry Boatright

The iconic band, The Beach Boys, epitomized the term, endless summer. That term, however, doesn’t apply to most of us, and we are reminded of that each year as students prepare for their annual trek back into their respective institutions of learning. Yes, these days of summer will soon be a faint memory, and school bells will signal the return to homework, tests, extracurricular activities and early morning rushes.

Although we do have a few weeks left to bask in the delight of summer, workers and administrators throughout North Florida diligently prepare for the 2018-19 school term. Certainly, much attention has been given to enhancing school safety and establishing strategies to improve the quality of learning.

Each district in our area either maintained or improved their 2016-17 school grade during the 2017-18 school term. The districts of Hamilton and Madison each improved a letter grade, with Hamilton being upgraded from a D to a C, and Madison raised their grade from a C to a B. Alachua, Columbia, Dixie and Suwannee districts maintained their B status, while the Levy School District maintained a C. Gilchrist School District celebrates its A status for the second year straight.

While school districts organize for that first day of school, parents also prepare to send their students back to school equipped and ready to learn. There will be new clothes and shoes, pens and pencils, notebooks and computers to purchase. Certainly, the list of needed supplies will be lengthy, and each item will be purchased with an optimistic outlook for the new school year. There are, however, a number of essentials that each child will need, but simply cannot be found in a store.

Perhaps the most common suggestion of educators throughout North Florida would be for parents and guardians to not only encourage and support their children, but to establish expectations and make those expectations known. Good educators also recognize that communication is key for the academic success of any student. It all boils down to the fact that the parent and teacher should ultimately share the same goal, and that goal is for the student to succeed.

With shared goals, success is attainable, and Hamilton County Middle School Guidance Counselor Annie Pinello recognizes that long-term goals are paramount in the success of her students. “As we move into the 2019 school year, I would like to see parents and educators setting the bar high for our young people,” Pinello explained. “Set goals and boundaries with our children that encourage them to strive further and develop healthy, long-lasting relationships with their families, peers and teachers.”

Pinello added that in doing so, students will meet and exceed our expectations academically, behaviorally and socially. “Take no excuses, make a plan and set long-term goals,” she stated. “Start young and talk to your elementary kids about their goals and aspirations.”

One common concern for students today is the overwhelming schedules that extracurricular activities bring, coupled with the intensity and importance of standardized testing.

Certainly, extracurricular activities have their advantages, but we must remember that the primary purpose for school is academics.

Too often, the focus on academics is allowed to take a back seat to other activities, even those activities that are school sponsored. This cannot continue, and there is a shared responsibility between students, parents, and school faculty to prevent academics from becoming secondary in a student’s school life.

Setting aside time to study and participate in positive interests away from school, such as church activities or other personal interests is very important. Adults function best when their whole life doesn’t revolve around work. Likewise, a student’s life shouldn’t revolve solely around school. Students, however, must pace themselves to have ample time for rest. According to Suwannee High School Social Studies Teacher Terry Fillyaw, setting priorities is one of the key elements for student success.

Just like adults, young people tire and find it difficult to focus on what is most important. Each evening, students must plan for the next day. It is essential that they complete any homework, prepare for exams, and charge any required digital devices. These tips are essential for students of all ages, including those attending college.

Students are likely to perform best when they clearly understand their school’s expectations concerning issues, such as digital devices and dress code. It is recommended that parents also understand these expectations. It is especially important that parents, and students alike, know what their school’s required dress code is before going shopping for school clothes.

Once again, parents can take advantage of Florida’s Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday, which begins Aug. 3, and runs through Aug. 5. As usual, this sales tax holiday applies to various items such as certain school supplies, clothing, footwear and accessories. Additional information concerning the 2018 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday can be found on the Florida Department of Revenue’s website at

Meanwhile, parents and students should continue basking in the joys of summer before those school bells ring. Take advantage of every opportunity to laugh, rest, work on unfinished projects and renew commitments for a stellar 2018-19 school term.

According to the district websites, school will resume in Alachua, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy and Suwannee counties on Aug. 10, with classes beginning in Columbia and Madison counties on Aug. 13. Hamilton County Schools will welcome students back to class Aug. 20. Fall classes begin at North Florida Community College on Aug. 15,
and Florida Gateway College students begin class on Aug. 20. Santa Fe College begins its fall semester Aug. 22.

New fencing has been installed at Branford High School, as well as other sites, to enhance student safety. -Photo by Jeffry Boatright

Workers race against time to have schools ready for the 2018-19 school year.
-Photo by Jeffry Boatright