TAMPA — Today, the hallways and classrooms at 200-plus Hillsborough County public schools will fill again with more than 200,000 students and 15,000 teachers.
It's a benchmark year — new and tougher state education standards are fully in place at all grade levels for the first time, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is history, and more district elementary schools get a security officer.
Here's a sampling of big changes coming this year to the country's eighth-largest school district.
Security: Under phase one of a $4.5 million four-year plan, the district hired two security specialists and 20 mobile officers — each working a number of the district's 150-plus elementary school campuses this year. Nineteen schools already had them.
The school board will decide on hiring more during the next three years under a plan hatched after the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre.
The new community school officers already are on the job, getting their bearings for the start of school.
They are school district employees and don't have arrest powers like those of Hillsborough deputies and Tampa police officers assigned to middle and high schools.
New faces: Students at 12 schools will see new faces in the principal's office this year. And more than 900 new teachers will occupy classrooms in the district.
New principals are Ire Carolina, Just Elementary; Rhonda McMahon, Canella Elementary; Jennifer McCrystal, Bryan Elementary; Cristina Fernandez, Mendenhall Elementary; Deborah Anderson, Mitchell Elementary; Mary Freitas, Lennard High; Danielle Shotwell, Riverview High; Angela Vickers, North Tampa Alternative; Paul Gansemer, Brewster Technical Center; Dallas Jackson, Sligh Middle; Darrell Faber, Eisenhower Middle; and Shannon Butler, Orange Grove Middle.
Fernandez, previously an assistant principal at Egypt Lake Elementary, officially started at Mendenhall Elementary on July 1.
Fernandez, who speaks Spanish, said Mendenhall is a perfect fit: It has a large Hispanic enrollment, and 35 percent of the students are still learning English. Mendenhall has a grade of C from the Florida Department of Education.
“Mendenhall is a hidden gem,” Fernandez said. “I want to keep the culture of the school but bump it up and make it even better.”
New standards: A new set of expectations in language arts and math will be fully in place in all Florida schools this year.
The Florida Standards are based on the Common Core State Standards, adopted by most states and the District of Columbia and adopted by Florida in 2010. Replacing the Next Generation Sunshine Standards, the new benchmarks were designed to emphasize critical-thinking skills and allow for comparisons state to state.
All district educators have been trained in the new standards after two years phasing it in.
With new standards comes a new test, the Florida Standards Assessment, replacing the FCAT in the spring.
Longer day: Students in 26 Hillsborough elementary schools will have an hour more of reading instruction than typically required in Florida.
They landed on the state's list of 300-plus schools with the lowest reading scores.
Last school year, 11 Hillsborough schools had a longer school day. Seven of these stayed on the list: James, Just, Oak Park, Potter, Shaw, Sheehy and Sulphur Springs. Nineteen were added: Reddick, Kimbell, Bryan, Clair-Mel, Cleveland, Lockhart Magnet, Cypress Creek, DeSoto, Dunbar Magnet, Edison, Miles, Mort, Robles, Trapnell, Washington, West Tampa and Witter, along with charter schools Village of Excellence Academy and New Springs Elementary.
New school: Hillsborough will open a new school on Tuesday for the first time in several years — the $14.3 million J. Vince Thompson Elementary, at 2020 E. Shell Point Road, Ruskin. Adjacent to Lennard High School, Thompson will serve more than 700 students in kindergarten through the fifth grade. It was built to address population growth.
Thompson is the first county public school to be Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design-certified, designed to use energy and all resources more efficiently. The school is laid out so natural light floods into all of the classrooms, so no room lights are needed on a sunny day, said Chris Farkas, the district's chief facilities officer.
“Everything there is going well,” Farkas said. “We got it all done in time for everybody to come back.”
Students at other schools will notice some changes, too: McDonald Elementary and Hill Middle were fully renovated with infrastructure updates such as air-conditioning systems and paint.