Safety is a mantra as a new school year opens and the mantra extends from school sites to the transportation of students.

The Gulf County School Board on Tuesday approved the purchase of cameras for 23 school buses, the number representing the bulk of the active fleet.

“They should be installed in about a month,” said Diana Dykes, the district’s supervisor for transportation.

She added that the district has some aging buses which transportation personnel deemed not having the remaining life span for installation of cameras, but those were strictly emergency buses.

She added that students will be traveling, nearly without exception, on buses with working cameras once the cameras arrived.

The district is spending nearly $71,000 to purchase and install the cameras.

Many current school buses have the protective domes implying a working camera, but none currently have any camera.

District officials have long sought to have cameras installed in order to reduce mischief and problems on bus routes.

“I’m very happy they’ll be installed within a month,” said board member Cindy Belin. “That is great.”

In addition, the four new buses the district is purchasing this year, with a delivery date of December, will come with the working cameras already installed.

The school year began with several other safety measures in place with more school “hardening” to come.

A deputy sheriff is now assigned to each school site, with vehicle, and there is no a drug canine at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

“They know it is there,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton.

Additionally, entrance into each school now flows directly into the front office, a particular issue in the past at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

“We do have safe schools and we are vigilant to keep them that way,” Norton said.


PSJES ‘at capacity’

With the current physical plant at Port St. Joe Elementary “at capacity,” Norton said district officials needed to consider future solutions to handle growth at the school.

The board has already approved the creation of a fifth kindergarten class; the grade currently has more than 90 students.

In addition, the fifth-grade classes are also at state-mandated class-size limits.

Norton said he and staff are already examining how to expand classroom space, even it is means bringing in modular buildings.

Carvings out parts of the school nurse’s office and possibly a maintenance room have also been considered.

“It is a growing school,” Norton said. “We are going to need to look and consider what we are going to have to do in the future.

“That is one of our biggest concerns we do not have a solution for.”

Overall, with the possible exception of Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, enrollment on the first day was trending in a positive direction, Norton said.

“Port St. Joe Elementary and Wewahitchka Elementary are growing schools,” he said, adding that Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School was nearly on the same pace as last year even though a large senior class graduated earlier this year.


‘In God We Trust’

Another new addition at each school and district office entrance this year is the state and school district motto, “In God We Trust,” prominently displayed.

School legislation passed by state lawmakers earlier this year mandated the prominent display of the motto.

The district has long had “In God We Trust” as a motto, but the phrase now adorns each school entrance as well as over the front door to the district offices.



New school signs

The board also approved spending $114,000 for new LED signs at each school.

The first to go up will be the sign at State 71 and River Road in Wewahitchka.

The new signs will provide a host of information about upcoming school and community events as well as time and temperature.

“We will be able to market our schools well,” Norton said.