When it came to the subject of getting students back to the classrooms as soon as possible after Hurricane Michael, Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton did some delegating.
Each school, each principal, each administrative staff, each community had its unique challenges.
So Norton said act accordingly.
“I just asked them to do what they need to do for their school,” Norton said. “This was home rule, right down to the Wewahitchka schools and the Port St. Joe schools.
“I have a strong administrative staff and I told them to do what they needed to do to get the school house going again.”
This is the second week of half-days, but the first with the district again providing transportation and the increase in student numbers reflect that.
Principal Jay Bidwell said roughly 70 percent of students were in school at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School.
At Port St. Joe Elementary, Joni Mock reported a jump of 100 students between Monday and Tuesday, with roughly 434 students in class Tuesday.
That is out of an enrollment of nearly 600.
Principal Josh Dailey said enrollment at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, about 504 prior to Michael, was about 330 on Tuesday.
“The students are in good spirits and we’ve been working on providing them any needed counseling,” Dailey said. “After a week of review, we are moving forward in classes.”
Dailey added that the “biggest game-changer” was moving back to the high school last week after it was deemed structurally safe.
High school students were splitting use of Port St. Joe Elementary School the first week.
The district will remain half-days, Norton said, adding he had no date in mind for the resumption of full days with after-school programs and other extracurricular activities.
Those half days are in the morning, in large measure to allow teachers and other staff to set-up appointments with insurance adjusters and FEMA.
“There are others who have a greater need than being in school,” Dailey said.
Norton said district administrators will consult with state officials before determining a full resumption of school.
Norton added that some of the damage to schools, particularly Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, may render that building unable to be fully opened until after Thanksgiving.
But regardless of a timetable, to say teachers and students are showing eagerness, a determination, to return to school, is evident, principals said.
“The students seem excited to be back and they are doing good,” Bidwell said. “I have all my teachers, but one is commuting from Destin and another is commuting from Tallahassee.
“Another teacher is here but doesn’t have a house. We are getting there.”
And that school has had the most work to do in preparation for students, given classroom destruction, forcing Bidwell and staff into some “creative spacing.”
The junior-senior high school lost at least seven classrooms, so high school and middle school students are sharing the Oscar Redd wing of the school normally used exclusively by the middle school.
Dailey’s staff is also fully back, save one teacher who could not secure housing locally, while Mock said she was lacking just three teachers still dealing with displacement.
And all said that teaching was taking place and forward momentum occurring on curriculum.
“School is going great,” Mock said. “We are excited about the number of students that have returned.
“It’s been awesome.”