It was the first day of classes for 48,000 students in Collier County public schools, Wednesday. They began lessons at 31 elementary, 10 middle and eight high schools, one virtual school, a Pre-K-12 school and 13 alternative programs.
Superintendent Kamela Patton chose Naples Park Elementary for her annual first day visit. The school is celebrating its 50th year and has a new principal. But Patton had another reason for choosing the small school in North Naples.
“We want parents to look at how great this school is,” Patton said.
Later this year some parents and students will learn about rezoning to this school for the 2023-2024 school year to ease overcrowding at other schools and fill some of the empty classrooms at NPE. Naples Park is one of the smallest elementary schools with about 400 students from North Naples and the Collier County portion of Bonita Springs.
Patton, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, new principal, Chris Marker, and many others greeted students as they walked a red carpet into the front doors. Marker, an administrator for 21 years, most recently as principal of Lake Park Elementary, is excited not only for the first day, but for the entire year.
“Our world is getting back to normal,” he said. “We are an A school and it is our 50th year.”
Getting back to normal is what parents say they are most looking forward to.
“Being able to have lunch with our kids,” said Red Gamso, PTO president, and mother of a second grader and kindergartener.
“Just being able to go on field trips,” added Julie Lynn who has children in first and second grades. “Being able to help the teachers, being involved again.”
“All of the traditional PTO events,” added Jacque Ardoline, whose granddaughter is a first grader. “The Thanksgiving Banquet and Breakfast with Santa and all the other events. We are excited to get those traditions up and running again.”
The PTO moms are also eager to work on 50th year festivities.
“We have some surprises,” Gamso said. “It is going to be a great time.”
Marker plans to work with staff to find many ways to celebrate the five decades. This year’s theme is “A” Magical Time Machine. Kid appropriate music from the 50’s and 60th gently plays from speakers in the hallways. Each semester the music will move to a new decade of sounds. There is talk of possibly digging up the time capsule buried by the school.
“Empowering and bringing staff into the ideas,” Marker said about his plans. “If you get staff buying in, you get a better product.”
Patton is especially excited about two new programs debuting in all elementary schools this year. Fifth graders will learn entrepreneurship while fourth graders will have lessons in engineering. Middle and high schools already have this program. Fifth graders will work on entrepreneurship projects in their technology class where they will work in groups to identify a problem or need and then come up with a solution that they will then market to others. Fourth graders will learn coding and will use a Minecraft program to design an amusement park with a working roller coaster.
“This year our little geniuses will be working on entrepreneurship and engineering, so watch out Shark Tank. They will be inventing things we really need,” Patton exclaimed.
The superintendent ended her first day kick-off with a visit to Mary Kincaid’s second grade classroom. Patton put the kids at ease as she walked around the room chatting with youngsters about the books they read and what they did over the summer.
“I went to India,” Arghya Jain told her.
“I went to North Dakota,” John Lynn said.
“I went to LEGOLAND and went on the Dragon coaster,” Nasimul Wadi said.
“Was it scary?” Patton asked.
“I was brave,” he said.
This is Patton’s 12th and final year as superintendent. She’s looking forward to cherishing every moment, from the first day of school, to the new standards and assessments, to welcoming past students.
“I am looking forward to the full rollout of the alumni association,” she said.
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Naples Park is superintendent’s choice for first day