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In the upcoming school year, balancing county classroom numbers, moving forward on plans to construct a new high school and improving school security are a few of the items on Dr. Diana Greene's to-do list.
East County Wednesday, Apr. 20, 2016 4 years ago

Manatee County School District needs more Greene

Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene says passing half-cent sales tax is key to funding better education.
by: Amanda Sebastiano Staff Writer

Even if she stays up late binge watching "Sons of Anarchy" on Netflix with her son, Joshua, or has over-exerted herself playing tennis the night before, Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene is ready each morning.

Between shuffling visits to county classrooms, meetings with her senior leadership team and chatting with parents at the grand opening of businesses, the Heritage Harbour resident turns her focus to the biggest issues facing Manatee County schools.

She said those pressing issues are crowded East County classrooms, passing a half-cent sales tax to fund new construction projects, beefing up school security and bringing classrooms up to date with new technology.

Those are just a few of the projects Greene hopes to address in the 2016-2017 school year. Nearly one year after being sworn in as superintendent May 27, Greene is planning for the next school year.

The school board plans to extend her contract, which expires in June, for four more years. 

"She has continued to prove herself in this role," school board Vice-Chairman Charlie Kennedy said. "She's doing an excellent job so far. I'm so glad we didn't lose her to Hillsborough County. We made the right move hiring her."

Now that the school district has its Long Range Master Plan, which consultant DeJong-Richter presented in January, Greene wants to bring those plans to life.

"The plan is broken up into phases," Greene said. "Building a new high school is part of every phase, because that will take us a few years to plan and build. That school needs to alleviate the stress of Braden River and Lakewood Ranch high schools. I know those schools are crowded."

To further help balance crowded schools in eastern Manatee County, the district is continuing renovations on a school that hasn't received any cosmetic improvements in 30 years, William H. Bashaw Elementary.

The school is undergoing more than $10 million in renovations, which began last year. Greene has been meeting with the school board to propose a new item on that school's makeover checklist, adding a wing to house more classrooms.

"We're anticipating growth there, with all the growth that's happening in the eastern parts of the county," Greene said. "The hope is that more classrooms and an improved look will draw students from other schools to the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) school."

To fund other projects, including a new high school apparently planned for Parrish that will lower student counts at over-capacity schools, the district must pass the half-cent sales tax.

"That tax alone brings in $30 to $32 million per year for the district," Greene said. "We have to reinstate it before it expires in 2017. My plan is to get it on the ballot in November, so we can start moving forward and building schools for growth."

Greene plans to work with the school board to better educate the public about that tax and show them how those dollars would be used. Posting information on the district's website is just one tool officials plan to utilize to inform residents.

One use of the revenue brought in from the tax would be beefing up school security.

Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools, along with other county schools, have received an increased number of security threats this school year.

The district received nine threats against schools countywide in one month.

"We'll continue to evaluate schools to look at ways to better secure campuses," Greene said. "A major focus of money coming in is to touch schools that need renovations, such as additional fencing and cameras, to build up their security. A main goal of the district always is to keep our students safe."

Greene didn't comment on whether she will revisit bringing school resource officers to elementary school campuses. That issue hasn't been addressed since former Superintendent Rick Mills spearheaded the initiative in 2014.

As she prepares for her second school year as superintendent, Greene is also focused on expanding the Digital Classrooms Plan. One classroom per middle school is receiving a technology upgrade with the nearly $1 million grant the district received from the state's Department of Education in December. 

Carlos E. Haile and R. Dan Nolan middle schools are among the 10 schools in the county that received the upgrade. Those renovated spaces are available for tours, and Greene hopes to have the new technology in place by the end of the month, so teachers can start learning how to use the equipment before summer break.

Middle school students aren't the only ones who should be using new technology though, Greene said. 

She plans to bring other grade levels up to speed with new touch-screen devices, projectors and other tools in the near future, if the funding is available.

"Technology engages them," Greene said. "We are a global society that uses social media and technology every day. Classrooms should reflect that. Students don't want to power down when they get to school. Improving technology is just one of many things we're working on next year."

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