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Manatee superintendent focuses on progress in the new school year

From academics to programming and construction, Manatee County Superintendent Cynthia Saunders says she looks forward to a new school year.


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Cynthia Saunders, the superintendent of the School District of Manatee County, was able to get a peek into three schools, including Braden River Elementary School, on the first day of school Aug. 10.

At Braden River Elementary, Saunders visited a fifth grade class as well as the school’s dual language program, which teaches a group of kindergartners and first graders in English and Spanish. 

Saunders spent the first day of school sending off bus drivers from R.G. Matzke Support Center, and visiting Southeast High School, Martha B. King Middle School and Braden River Elementary School. 

“(Students) are so eager to come back,” Saunders said. “They’re so eager to be with their friends, to be in the routine of school and excited about being in school.”

Saunders loves getting to visit classrooms and interacting with teachers, staff and students. 

“Being superintendent, you’re able to experience all of the schools,” she said. “You’re able to go out and see the great things happening, and work with the community to ensure we have one of the strongest educational programs in the state.”

Saunders said one of her goals for this year is to ensure a safe and successful school year. The school year is starting with fewer COVID-19 restrictions in place.

“We still have a lot of safety precautions in place, but it’s nowhere near as strict as it was in the past two years,” Saunders said. “We’re hoping parents will view this as a regular school year and they’ll be more engaged and back in the buildings as they once were before COVID.”

Another goal is a successful transition to teaching the new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking standards. 

“That first year of transition is always an adjustment for the teachers and the students to understand the shifts,” Saunders said. “We’ve done a lot of preparation over the summer with training and staff development.”

Saunders said the district is prepared to adjust to the new standards, and the district will be able to identify any shortcomings or weaknesses with teaching the new standards by the end of the school year. 

This school year, the district also will be implementing new programs and expanding existing programs across the district.

“You can’t just define education as we did 10 years ago,” Saunders said. “If we’re not adapting and changing and bringing in programs that appeal to today’s students, we could very well lose their interest.”

Some of the programs the district is starting or expanding include dual language, aviation, and the Guy Harvey Academy of Arts and Science at Anna Maria Elementary School. 

A group of kindergartners at Myakka City Elementary School will participate in the dual language program, which also is available at Braden River Elementary School. Students in the program learn in English and Spanish. 

The Guy Harvey Academy focuses on marine sciences, conservation and the arts. 

The Aviation Maintenance Technician School at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport will provide Manatee Technical College, Suncoast Technical College, and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee students an opportunity to become aviation mechanics and maintenance technicians. 

“Expanding those (programs), being creative, listening to the needs of the students is going to ensure we have a solid workforce here,” Saunders said. “Our hope is that our students will choose to, even if they go off to college, come back (to Manatee County) because it is a wonderful place to work and raise a family.”

Saunders said the district will be working to keep up with the population growth in Manatee County, especially in the eastern and northern parts of the county. 

The district is expected to finish the renovation of Braden River Middle School, which also had a six-classroom addition constructed on its campus, in November. 

Other schools in East County that can expect to have renovations or additions over the next five years include Tara and Freedom elementary schools, Carlos E. Haile Middle School and Lakewood Ranch High School.

The district also is beginning the process to make the K-8 school in Lakewood Ranch off Uihlein Road and Academic Avenue a reality. 

“We’re preparing for the growth but also making sure all of our existing schools are in the same condition as our new schools,” Saunders said. “Our construction department is doing a tremendous job staying on top of it. With that half cent sales tax, we’re able to keep on top of that.”