There were two firsts Monday: the first day of summer school for Broward County Public Schools, and the first time superintendent Robert Runcie made a public appearance and took questions from reporters since he was indicted for allegedly lying to a grand jury.
Runcie toured Hollywood Hills High School, Bair Middle School, and Wilton Manors Elementary School, joined by School Board members Debbi Hixon, Donna Korn, Sarah Leonardi, and Dr. Rosalind Osgood. Hixon and Leonardi have been openly antagonistic to Runcie during School Board meetings, but there was little, if any, awkwardness as everyone seemed to concentrate on the importance of promoting summer school.
In a normal summer, between 8,000 to 10,000 students enroll in summer session. This year, more than 45,000 already have enrolled, and it’s all about the so-called Covid Slide. During the school year, the district identified more than 50,000 kids who weren’t making the grade.
“This is an opportunity to get them on track, it’s an opportunity for them to re-integrate back into school, to rekindle those relationships with their friends, their teachers,” Runcie said at a news conference.
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During the pandemic, many of the usual enrichment activities were canceled or done remotely. This summer, they’re back and in person.
“So we wanna make sure we’re not just doing our core academic learning but whether it’s STEM or other electives that everybody has a great experience across the board while you’re here this summer,” said Daniel Most, principal of Hollywood Hills High School, to students in a chemistry class.
There’s a reason for that.
“Because we know when kids have those kinds of activities, it helps them to also flourish academically, it gives them a reason and a purpose to also wake up and go to school each day with engagement and enthusiasm,” Runcie said.
Some of the students told the educators they were sitting in a classroom for the first time in more than a year, having opted for at-home distance learning.
Runcie said that can take a severe emotional toll, so the district has expanded mental health outreach into the summer months.
“And I’m a firm believer that in order to have great academic outcomes, you need to be able to tend to the social and emotional needs of children first, because if I have issues and concerns either at school or things that are going on outside of school, it becomes very difficult for me to be present and engaged,” Runcie explained.
Summer school is happening at 96 of the district’s schools.
During the news conference, Runcie addressed the elephant in the room by saying he had nothing new to report about the indictment, saying that everyone knows where he stands. Runcie has pleaded not guilty.
The embattled superintendent said he would work until his last day in August and said programs introduced during his tenure would continue to serve students long after he’s gone.
He also said whoever succeeds him should have one crucial character trait.
“The most important thing is you have to have an enormous love and passion for seeing students succeed,” Runcie said.