Volusia County Schools Superintendent Carmen Balgobin's first day of school began about an hour before dawn.
Surrounded by her cabinet members, Balgobin started her "Tour of Schools" on Monday, Aug. 14, at the district's transportation hub in Daytona Beach, waving to bus drivers as they left on their school routes.
"We want to welcome all of our students and their families as they return to Volusia County Public Schools," Balgobin said.
The district has two overriding commitments, Balgobin said. The district's number one priority, she said, is the safety and security of every single student and staff member on campus. The second commitment, she said, is quality teaching and learning.
In 2022, VCS began the school year with 256 classroom vacancies. This year, Balgobin said, the district has 97.
"However, I do want to remind and let all of our parents know that every single classroom is covered by a certified teacher," she said.
Last year, if classroom vacancies had been less than 100, that would have been cause for celebration, School Board member Carl Persis said. A total of 97 vacancies spread over its almost 70 public schools is manageable, he said.
"We want a qualified, certified teacher for every child in every classroom," Persis said. "So we're still working to achieve that goal, but it seems like we're almost there."
To fill classroom vacancies, the district has hired 55 interns from its apprentice program with Daytona State College and brought in 60 teachers through an international exchange program while continuing recruitment.
"We're so excited about that program, because it will provide our students not only the opportunity to receive quality instruction, because these are certified teachers, but also that culture exchange," Balgobin said.
Persis said the school year is off to a safe start.
"That's the most important thing," he said. "And just seeing the excitement, seeing the smiles on the kids' faces."
He also hopes to see an improved achievement level in reading and math for students in kindergarten through third grade this year. Those students had some of the most significant learning losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's critical that they gain that foundation by the time they get to third grade," he said. "So I'm really hoping that there's a strong emphasis to help build that foundation that they didn't have, so they can be successful after."