The Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board heard reports Monday, Aug. 9 from Royal Palm Beach High School Principal Dr. Jesús Armas and Crestwood Middle School Principal Dr. Stephanie Nance. Both noted that they were glad to be starting the new school year with in-school learning after a year of largely remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the uncertainty over COVID-19, Armas said his faculty is excited to start the new school year.
“We had our week back with the teachers, and they are as excited as they’ve ever been,” Armas said. “We got last-minute guidance on how to handle masks and how they’re doing things, so we gave it to the staff, and they’re going to go with it and make it work.”
He noted that there is still construction going on at the RPBHS campus as they start the new school year.
“Ours is supposed to be done in October. We know that in construction, that usually means November,” Armas said. “Fortunately, the big concern for us was doing the lights in every single room and making them bigger.”
That involved taking everything out of every room and then moving it all back in.
“The one good thing about the pandemic was because we had so few students on campus, that became easier,” he said. “Fortunately, we’re done with that, and we won’t have to displace students.”
Armas added that most of the air conditioning upgrades are in place.
“We feel good about the rest of the construction,” he said. “Hopefully, it won’t impact the students as much as it would have last year had we had all 2,400 students.”
He said enrollment at RPBHS is projected at more than 2,400 students this year.
“We are right now at 2,414,” he said. “That’s the highest we’ve had in 12 years. Of course, that number will change.”
His big question is what happened to the students who disappeared last year.
“The question is not, ‘Are we going to get them back?’ or ‘How soon are we going to get them back?’” he said. “We’ll get them back. The question is when. We don’t want to lose instruction time. That’s a big deal — get them back and get them going.”
Armas said the school is fortunate to have federal COVID-19 money coming in.
“We received a lot of money, and to our leadership’s credit, I think they’ve done a good job of distributing the money and making it categorical,” he said, adding that six additional staff positions have been added due to that money, which will go to ensure that some of the lagging students will be brought up to speed so they can graduate.
He expects that Royal Palm Beach High School will have about 91 percent its seniors graduating.
“When you think about all of the challenges that we faced, obviously our faculty did a great job, but so did our kids in managing at-home learning and all of that craziness,” he said. “We feel really good about that. We think it will be another school record.”
Crestwood’s Nance reported that her enrollment as of that day was 779, which is near the projected number of 793.
Crestwood is finishing up modernization projects in time for the new school year.
“Your penny at work,” she said. “We have upgrades at the school.”
She added that she is very excited to have in-person learning again at the school.
“At the same time, we are very mindful of the uptick of COVID-19 cases, so our team has been working very hard from day one that we are maintaining social distancing guidelines and our cleaning protocols. All of those components are in place,” Nance said.
In other business, Dr. Bill Thallemer was tapped to serve as the board’s chair for the new year, and Brittany Lee will serve as vice chair.