Summer fun is over, and school is back in session. But there are plenty of new and exciting things in Palm Beach County public schools this year, including GPS-equipped buses, charter schools and extended hours.
An an estimated 183,000 students return for the first day of school Monday, Here's a look at what they'll find:
Palm Beach County will unveil 110 new school buses this year, which will serve mostly the central and north area.
These will be the first buses equipped with GPS technology, spokeswoman Natalia Powers said. The district plans eventually to have GPS in its entire fleet, which can be monitored for the district's transportation compounds.
"If we get a call from a parent concerned, or if there's a bus down and the driver calls dispatch, we'll be able to pinpoint the exact location," she said. "We'll be able to see if the buses are running on time and make any necessary adjustments."
The buses also will have cameras.
Charter school growth has been explosive, and 10 more plan to open this fall, bringing the total to 55. They are funded by public dollars but are not run by the school district.
Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA, one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing operators, is doubling its portfolio in Palm Beach County from three to six schools. The new schools are Renaissance Charter School of Central Palm, west of Lake Worth; Renaissance Charter School at Cypress in West Palm Beach and Renaissance Charter School at Wellington.
Two smaller operators also are expanding in Palm Beach County. Champs Charter School is opening its first two schools in the county, in Delray Beach and Riviera Beach. Franklin Academy, which already has a location in Boynton Beach, is opening a school in Palm Beach Gardens.
Other schools planned are Eagle Arts Academy in Wellington, Palm Beach Maritime Academy High School in West Palm Beach, Transitions Elementary in West Palm Beach and Inspired 2 Think Virtual Charter School, which will be online only.
No traditional schools are opening in Palm Beach County, but some are getting new programs and one is dramatically changing its focus.
North Palm Beach Elementary will become the district's first K-8 school and will be renamed North Palm Beach Conservatory, with an orchestral and performing arts focus. The school has a new state-of-the-art building that includes three instrumental music suites, an art studio, a dance studio and performing arts.
"From the 2,000 square feet of hydroponic gardens to wireless technology and enhanced performance areas, we are very excited about our facility," Principal Teresa Stoupas said.
Boynton Beach High, which already has a strong arts program, is opening up seats to students throughout the south part of the county for dance, visual arts, theater and digital media. The idea is to make is a south version of the popular Dreyfoos School of the Arts, although unlike Dreyfoos, it will continue to have a boundary of neighborhood students.
Wellington High is starting a four-year Fire Academy for students looking for the beginning training to be a firefighter or paramedic.
Forest Hill High in West Palm Beach and Suncoast High in Riviera Beach are adding International Baccalaureate programs, which offer students college-level work.
Young, aspiring attorneys can choose a pre-law academy at Loggers Run Middle, west of Boca Raton. Frontier Elementary in rural Loxahatchee is offering an environmental and animal science academy.
It's time to learn a new acronym; say goodbye FCAT. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is being replaced by the Florida Standards Assessment, or FSA.
The new test has been created to better align with national standards known as Common Core.
Writing will no longer be a separate test, but will be included in an English/Language Arts assessment, which also will focus on nonfiction reading. For the math portion, students will work deeper in fewer topics.
Like the FCAT, the third-grade test still will be used for promotion to fourth grade, and the 10th-grade test will be required for graduation. Schools still will get letter grades, but there will be no penalties or required improvement plans during the first year of the new exam.
Schools are hoping students like their fruits, because they're getting more of them this year. Instead of a half cup of fruit, students will get a full cup this year, due to changes in federal guidelines, Powers said.
Also starting this year, all the bread products will have 51 percent or more whole grains, and the sodium level is being reduced.
Lunch prices are being increased by a dime, to $1.95 for elementary students and $2.20 for middle and high schools students. Palm Beach County provides free breakfast to all students.
Students at 25 schools will have to go in earlier, stay later, or both. The state is requiring an extra hour for 25 elementary schools that performed among the lowest 300 in the state, to allow extra reading instruction. Only students who scored a Level 5 on last year's FCAT at those schools are exempt.
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