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Students, Security, and Staff Among School Year's Newest Changes


Kevin Christian, APR, CPRC, Public Relations Director

352.671.7555 ◊ FAX: 352.671.7735 ◊ CELL: 352.840.3265






MARION COUNTY – A projected 42,861 students will attend Marion County Public Schools this year with Monday marking the first day of class.


Attendance usually peaks in October when official student counts are taken for funding reasons. Declining enrollment could mean the district has 320 fewer students than last year.


New teachers started their orientation back in July while returning teachers headed back to their classrooms this past Monday.  To date, the district has hired more than 380 employees, including 248 new teachers at every grade level.  As of today, 74 teaching positions remain open including elementary, secondary and Exceptional Student Education (ESE). Last year, the district hired over 250 new teachers, including positions funded by a voter-renewed referendum for art, music, physical education, library media, school safety, and vocational programs.


Security also takes on a higher profile this year thanks to the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, a new state law requiring armed security on every public school campus.  This means 56 School Resource Officers, or SROs, return to cover every elementary, middle and high school in Marion County.  Some high schools will have two SROs because of higher enrollment numbers: Belleview, Forest, Lake Weir, Vanguard and West Port.  The district’s new police force also adds additional law enforcement officers to the roster. Single-access point fencing, additional surveillance cameras, and more behind-the-scenes security measures also enhance campus security district-wide this year.


A digital online enrollment process offers convenient steps for parents and families to enroll new students in school.  This process saves time and only requires an in-person school visit to physically present required records like birth certificates and proof of residency.  This new online option greatly reduces the time it takes to enroll a new student.  Visit and click the “Student Enrollment” tabs for more information.


Around the district, 10 schools have new principals this year thanks to leadership changes made by Superintendent Dr. Heidi Maier and her team.  Of these, four are first-time principals (noted with double asterisks**) and five are home-grown leaders who graduated from Marion County Public Schools:

  • Belleview-Santos Elementary – Kim White** (Vanguard High graduate)
  • East Marion Elementary – Kendra Hamby
  • Evergreen Elementary - Ashley Kemp** (Belleview High graduate)
  • Fort McCoy School (K-8) – Jennifer Fisher** (Belleview High graduate)
  • Lake Weir High – Colleen Wade
  • Madison Street Academy – John Kerley
  • Marion Oaks Elementary – Lisa Dreher**
  • Marion Technical Institute (MTI) – Jennifer Beasley (Dunnellon High graduate)
  • Oakcrest Elementary – Cathy Balius (Vanguard High graduate)
  • Romeo Elementary – Suzette Parker

The district continues operating three main areas to best serve students, staff, and the community.  Each of these areas includes a director for reporting, supervision and improved communication. 


Area 1 schools include: Anthony, Dr. NH Jones, East Marion, Evergreen, Fessenden, Fort McCoy (K-8), Madison Street, Oakcrest, Ocala Springs, Reddick-Collier, Sparr, and Wyomina Park Elementary schools; Howard and North Marion Middle schools, and North Marion and Vanguard High schools. Melissa Kinard supervises these schools.


Area 2 schools include: Belleview, Belleview-Santos, Eighth Street, Emerald Shores, Greenway, Harbour View, Legacy, Maplewood, Stanton-Weirsdale, and Ward-Highlands Elementary schools; Belleview, Fort King, Lake Weir, and Osceola Middle schools; and Belleview, Forest, and Lake Weir High schools. Ryan Bennett supervises these schools.


Area 3 schools include: College Park, Dunnellon, Hammett Bowen Jr., Marion Oaks, Romeo, Saddlewood, Shady Hill, South Ocala, and Sunrise Elementary schools; Dunnellon, Horizon Academy, and Liberty Middle schools; Dunnellon and West Port High schools; Hillcrest School, Marion Technical College and Marion Technical Institute. Ben Whitehouse supervises these schools.


Eleven elementary schools are Differentiated Accountability schools this year based on their academic performance:  Anthony, Belleview, College Park, East Marion, Emerald Shores, Evergreen, Fessenden, Greenway, Oakcrest, Reddick-Collier, and Wyomina Park. These schools will offer one extra hour of academic instruction each day. 


Most elementary schools operate 7:45AM-2:05PM daily. Middle schools range from 7:45AM – 3:50PM.  High schools vary from 7:40AM – 3:40PM.


Elementary schools also offer “stagger start” for kindergarten students, meaning one third of students report to school either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.  On Thursday, August 15, all kindergarten students report to class.  Staggering times like this gives students more personal time with their teacher to make the adjustment to school easier.


Students, especially seventh graders, must have their immunizations up-to-date by August 12 as required by Florida law. Otherwise, they are not allowed in class on the first day. Last year, 178 seventh graders lacked proper immunizations and were not allowed to attend first-day classes. Outreach efforts to reduce this number started back in the spring with in-school clinics and continued this past weekend with phone calls and immunization clinics for incoming seventh graders.


To date, parents have submitted over 7,824 applications for their students to use “School Choice” options for reassignment to out-of-area schools. Criteria are strict and not everyone who applies receives approval.


Marion Afterschool Programs enrollment (formerly called Extended Day) is already at 2,819 students.  The popular program offers adult supervision of students before and after school.  As of today, 30 of 38 MAP sites already have waiting lists before school even starts.


Meal prices remain unchanged -- $1.75 for students (middle & high) and $2.75 for adults. Nearly 67 percent of students district-wide are eligible for free and reduced meal plans.


Technology continues to be interactive for enhanced communication.  For example, parents can sign up for and use “Family Access” for complete 24/7 access to student grades, attendance records, and other important academic information.  Parents can register at one school with a valid photo ID and access all their children’s records with a single convenient sign-on.


The district’s award-winning “Community Reads!” website continues offering parents and families of elementary students additional resources and activities they can work on with their students long after the regular school day is over.  Users should visit and “look for the book” icon at the top center of the page.  Clicking this icon takes them to the “Community Reads!” area where they can choose more information by grade level.


Peachjar e-flyer service also continues at every school, further reducing the number of printed-paper flyers and promoting green efforts district-wide. Last year, the district avoided handling 1.35 million pieces of paper by sending 2,610 e-flyers, saved 154 trees, and sent hundreds of e-flyers to over 22,564 parent email addresses.  Since starting the Peachjar program four years ago, the district has avoided 6.7 million paper flyers and saved 805 trees.


Marion County Public Schools’ complete calendar and other valuable information can be found at


Regarding bus transportation, many buses are late the first few days of school due to unexpected student riders and loading times.  Students must ride the bus in the morning to ride in the afternoon.  As well, local drivers should stop for flashing red lights on school buses and slow down for flashing yellow lights in school zones. Otherwise, the blue lights of law enforcement may hand out hefty fines. Most importantly, observing these lights helps keep students safe.


Meantime, here are some things to consider about Marion County Public Schools’ bus transportation program:

  • Anticipating 160 new buses this year, the first of a 10-year plan to replace the entire fleet
  • 69th largest public schools bus fleet nationwide
  • 54% of students ride buses (24,000 students)
  • 278 buses on road daily
  • 100% of buses with GPS
  • 82% of buses have seat belts
  • 90% of buses use digital cameras
  • 1,088 bus routes
  • 3,300 bus stops
  • 35,117 bus miles daily
  • 3 million bus miles annually
  • 6,461 gallons of diesel fuel used daily
  • 16 million gallons of diesel fuel used annually
  • $1.6 million annual diesel bill
  • $9,240 average daily cost to operate diesel bus fleet

For more information, contact my office directly.

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