The Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board received a special presentation on Monday, Oct. 7 from Cypress Trails Elementary School staff and students, followed by a presentation on school safety by Palm Beach County School District Police Chief Frank Kitzerow.
“We have about 450 students and are the only Title I elementary school in the village,” Cypress Trails Principal Bruce Saulter said. “Once again, we are very proud to be an A-rated school. We have now been an A for four consecutive years, and we are one of only two Title I schools that have been an A for four straight years.”
Saulter explained that expectations for the school are to be safe, respectful and responsible. They measure this through school district surveys, and some highlighted findings included that 95 percent of teachers are satisfied working at Cypress Trails, 98 percent of parents feel their child is safe at school and 92 percent of fifth graders feel socially accepted at the school.
“Tonight, we are excited to announce a new initiative to give our students a voice,” Saulter said. “Our Safe Schools Ambassadors (SSA) are a group of fourth and fifth graders. We have some of our ambassadors here tonight.”
The SSA students are trained and empowered to intervene when they see an issue and prevent fights before they occur. Students do not physically break up fights, but instead are armed with communication skills.
First to speak was Amanda Delgado, who pointed to a picture of her holding a poster that read “self-love.”
“I think that self-love is very important. A good mindset equals good grades and good thinking,” said Delgado, who added that her goal is to prevent bullying. “That’s really important to me. I’m super grateful and thankful that I’m able to be in this program.”
Isaiah Ezumba explained how he uses his new skills both in and out of school.
“I was in a bounce house, and it was pretty fun, but I saw some kids fighting,” Ezumba said. “I said, ‘Hey, everybody, it’s Fortnite over there.’ They all stopped fighting.”
In doing so, he used the skill of distraction to stop a situation from escalating.
The Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative is also having an impact on the younger grades, with many third graders asking to start an anti-bullying club.
David Fernandez has shown that he knows how to lead by example and has developed a reputation for fist-bumping younger kids as a morning welcome.
“I started giving fist-bumps as I saw kids having a frown, and I started to think about ways to make them happy,” Fernandez said. “One day I was eating breakfast, and a kid who was feeling sad all day, he came up to me and gave me the fist-bump.”
Saulter spoke of how the school is using both Title I and sales surtax funding to make improvements.
“The first and best place to invest Title I dollars is in positions, and we utilize them very strategically,” he said.
The school is able to fund a full-time reading resource teacher, daytime academic tutors, and morning and afternoon teacher tutors to provide academic support.
Structural improvements to the school include new flooring, new bathrooms, new ceiling tiles and furniture. The new desks allow students to complete work by writing on the desks with dry erase markers instead of wasting paper. The air conditioning system was upgraded, and the light fixtures will be switched to LEDs over the next year.
Last year, the school showed a loss in math and science, so the staff started the 2019-20 school year ready to help the students. A part of this plan includes the use of Title I funds to cover field trips to Lion Country Safari. This is new for Cypress Trails, and the school has fostered a unique partnership with the facility.
“This year, [we] wanted to partner together to find more unique ways to be able to enhance the STEM learning experience,” said Kristyn Kelley, education and outreach manager for Lion Country Safari. “We wanted them to do more hands-on projects and be advocates for wildlife and conservation, because these are going to be our next generation of leaders.”
Also at the meeting, Kitzerow followed up with a presentation on Senate Bill 7030, implementing additional safety procedures after last year’s deadly school shooting in Broward County.
Despite having worked previously in Washington, D.C., and as police chief in Jupiter, Kitzerow said that what he is doing now is the most important part of his career.
“I’m really proud of what we are doing,” he said. “It reminds us of the importance of what it is we contribute every day to provide opportunities for students to be safe and do the things that they really love to do. We don’t take that for granted for a moment.”
Kitzerow also serves as the school safety specialist for Palm Beach County. He has hired 130 new police officers in the last 15 months.
“Some people think safety is putting an officer on every campus — which we do — but it’s more than that. It’s prevention, intervention, diversion, safety-security, unified command, reunification, training administration and technology,” he said.
Kitzerow also emphasized that during situations like the recent lockdown at Crestwood Middle School, parents should follow the plan in place.
“Please don’t respond to the school when we go into a code red,” he said. “We have a very strong toolbox. We hope we don’t have to open it, but if we do, we are ready, trained and capable to deal with it.”
In other business, Lisa Ryan was introduced as the new alternate for the board. She brings more than 20 years of experience in education to her role and expressed excitement for the upcoming year.