Nearly 70,000 students expected to start school on Monday

The summer is officially over for Osceola County’s 69,500 public school students who go back to school Monday.

New school start and release times are perhaps the biggest change at the Osceola County School District’s 69 schools.

The School Board approved the new bell schedules in February to align with the three-tiered system that already exists in nearby counties. High schools start classes at 7:20 a.m., elementary schools at 8:20 a.m. and middle schools at 9:20 a.m.

The district expects to save about $2 million annually with the new standardized school start and release times in place, which allow bus drivers to make more runs.

The district is now offering a school enrichment program called “Before the Bell” at eight middle schools to help parents who need to drop their children offer earlier. The YMCA will offer a similar program at the other four middle schools. Both programs cost about $20 per week, per child and provide homework help and other academic support to students.  

“This is much like the Extended Learning program that we’ve always had for elementary students,” said district spokeswoman Dana Schafer.

Two new schools, Harmony Middle and NeoCity Academy, will open Monday.

Growth in the Narcoossee area necessitated the middle school, which means Harmony Community School now only serves elementary students.

The K-8 school was bursting at the seams last year, said Superintendent Debra Pace.

Each school can now offer a wider range of academic programming and equipment for students, from computer labs to playing fields, she said.

“It’s going to expand opportunities for our middle school students and our elementary school students,” Pace said.

NeoCity Academy will open in its new location at the county’s NeoCity technology park off U.S. Highway 192. The STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) magnet school, operated from a temporary location at Gateway High School last year with a single freshman class. With those students moving on to 10th grade, a new ninth grade class will come in this academic year.

The new high-tech high school looks and operates more like a private technological company than a school.

Students must apply to get into the school and can choose from three concentrations; engineering, biodesign and cyber security. Many classes are taught by industry professionals and students are assessed mostly by demonstrating their mastery of a subject not by taking traditional multiple choice tests. It’s referred to as project-based learning.