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Gadsden County school officials introduce new plans to better student education following complaints

A decaying Havana Elementary School located within Gadsden County, Florida. The property has been abandoned and been under new ownership.
Anna Jones
A decaying Havana Elementary School located within Gadsden County, Florida. The property has been abandoned and been under new ownership.

Shaia Simmons is a former Gadsden County school teacher. She taught for more than 15 years and is now calling for the school board to address a range of issues-- such low student reading levels, employee pay, building maintenance, and an overall lack of communication about federal funding.

According to state education records, the district has only spent about $500,000 out of more than $33 million of federal emergency relief money. The district has until September of this year to spend about $7 million dollars, and September of next year to spend the rest.

"Everything is not bad in Gadsden County, they're hardworking individuals from the top to the bottom," said Simmons. "All across the spectrum from parents to employees to students, it is not a dark situation, but it is cloudy. I believe that together we can change that.”

The district did not say how it is planning to spend the money. In its statement, it stated its overall goals are to get a better student data tracking system and improve the quality of its early learning and voluntary pre-kindergarten programs.

Simmons has also raised concerns about the state of the district’s schools. Many are over 50 years old. In a statement, a district spokesperson says the school district is planning to consolidate four older schools with construction beginning as early as this summer. Stewart Street, George Munroe, Gadsden Elementary Schools and James A. Shanks Middle will be merged into one, 65-million-dollar K-8 school.

Julie Jackson has raised her children in Gadsden County. Her youngest child is a senior at Gadsden County High school. She believes part of the disconnect between the district and parents, is on the parental side. She says hardly any parents attend school meetings.

“I don't really speak with a lot of parents to really know how involved they are but I do know from what I see," said Jackson. "It's not a lot of parents there. I went to a meeting one time, and it had to be maybe 15 parents out of all those kids that are at that school, 15 parents. It was that bad. It was not a good look.”

According to the state’s education records, 7 of the 10 schools in Gadsden County received a letter grade of a “C” or below for the 2022-2023 school year. The current starting teacher pay is presently at 44, 334—next-to-last in the state. The district says its working to boost that figure, and to recruit faculty from high performing schools into the county.

Adrian Andrews is a multimedia journalist with WFSU Public Media. He is a Gadsden County native and a first-generation college graduate from Florida A&M University. Adrian is also a military veteran, ending his career as a Florida Army National Guard Non-Comissioned Officer.

Adrian has experience in print writing, digital content creation, documentary, and film production. He has spent the last four years on the staff of several award-winning publications such as The Famuan, Gadsden County News Corp, and Cumulus Media before joining the WFSU news team.