Monday, September 25, 2023

Blue Lake Prepares for Opening and Boca Schools Drop a Grade

Students will benefit most from Boca Raton’s new elementary school, but the city won’t be far behind.

I joined a tour Wednesday morning of Blue Lake Elementary, which is just south of Don Estridge Middle School near Spanish River Boulevard and Military Trail. When it opens next month, Blue Lake—the 11th campus in the city—will cap a major upgrade to Boca Raton’s public school system.

Money from the 2016 sales-tax surcharge financed the rebuild and expansion of Addison Mizner and Verde elementaries to K-8 campuses. It also paid for increased capacity at high schools out west that has helped to ease crowding at Boca Raton High School.

The city council made Blue Lake possible by donating the land, which was part of the former IBM headquarters. School district officials had planned to build the school elsewhere, but the deal to donate the land fell through. Construction money was already in the district’s budget.

Those three campuses will relieve crowding at elementary schools, addressing an issue that arose several years ago. Blue Lake itself will be one more drawing card for young families.

Among other things, Blue Lake will feature a robotics lab. In art class, students can go outside—in a secured location—to sketch the lake for which the school is named. The art room has a kiln. The cafeteria is across a hall from the main entrance, so students can go from drop-off to breakfast. All classrooms for younger students have their own bathrooms.

Seth Moldovan is Blue Lake’s principal. He also opened the new Verde School. He talked about how much work went into making the campus enjoyable for students and faculty. Halls are wide. Classrooms are inviting. A photo montage will depict the property’s history to 1930. Everything feels cheery. “There’s light everywhere,” Moldovan said. “There will be more than enough places to play outside.”

Other important features reflect the reality of American public education in 2022. Each staff member will have a panic button that goes to the main office, the school district and the police department. Teachers can lock reinforced doors. On a lighter note, Moldovan has assured parents that Blue Lake has gates to keep any alligators in the lake away from the campus.

Blue Lake can hold roughly 950 students. It will open with about 200 fewer, to see how families responds to new boundaries created at other schools with Blue Lake’s opening. Some families within the zone who could keep sending their children elsewhere might reconsider when they see Blue Lake.

In addition to the campus, Moldovan plans to offer another draw. Blue Lake, he said, will offer the rigorous Cambridge Academy curriculum in all grades. 

The timetable for opening Blue Lake on Aug. 10 is tight. Furniture is supposed to arrive in nine days. The media center is supposed to get $150,000 worth of books four days later. Move-in day is scheduled for Aug. 4.

School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri, who represents Boca Raton, praised the council again Wednesday for the donation of land. He also thanked City Manager Leif Ahnell and city staff for “cutting through so much red tape that saved us time. They’ve been terrific.”

Moldovan is “humbled and honored” to open a second campus, something most principals never get to enjoy. You wish that every student could experience something as wonderful as Blue Lake, Addison Mizner or Verde. Credit the voters, Barbieri and the Boca Raton City Council for making it happen.

Boca schools lose perfect A grade streak

Speaking of schools, Boca Raton no longer can say that every school in the city has an A grade from the state.

The state suspended school and district grades for 2019-20 after the pandemic closed campuses for the final three months of the academic year. Palm Beach County, like many districts, opted out of giving grades for the 2020-21 year.

Grades for the past year just came out. Of the nine zoned schools in Boca Raton, seven repeated the A grade they had received in 2019. Boca Raton and J.C. Mitchell elementary schools dropped from A to B. Outside the city, West Boca and Olympic Heights high schools retained their A grades. So did West Boca’s elementary and middle schools.

In Delray Beach, only Banyan Creek Elementary got an A, the same grade it received in 2019. But Orchard View, Pine Grove and Spady elementaries improved from C to B. Plumosa School of the Arts and Village Academy stayed at C.

Carver Middle got another C. Atlantic High School got a C in 2019 but raised that to a B last year.

Palm Beach County was one of only two large districts in Florida to get an A. The other was Miami-Dade County. In November, the district is asking voters to extend a property tax that helps to finance the operating budget.

Regulators consider losing railroad quiet zones

railroad crossing sign
Photo by Jan Sents on Unsplash

Boca Raton and Delray Beach residents who live near the Florida East Coast Railway tracks should pay attention to what’s happening in Broward County.

Because of all the fatalities involving Brightline trains, the Federal Railway Administration is considering whether to suspend the countywide “quiet zone” along the tracks. Regulators allow trains in those areas to blow horns only for emergencies if crossings have adequate safety improvements.

FRA officials speculate that the absence of horns might have contributed to the fatalities. Investigations of every crash, however, have found that drivers were at fault for driving around gates or that people had sought to commit suicide. Horns didn’t seem to be the issue.

Quiet zones in Broward and Palm Beach counties were the tradeoff for neighbors from all those new Brightline trains—as many as 36 each day. Regulators may not remove the zone, but I would expect elected officials in Boca Raton—where Brightline expects to open its station next year—and Delray Beach to follow developments in Broward. If that quiet zone goes away there, it could go away here.

Brightline drops Disney Springs plans

Brightline West Palm Beach Station; photo courtesy of Brightline

In other Brightline news, the company has dropped plans for a station at Disney Springs. In addition to the station at Orlando International Airport, the company will build one at the Orange County Convention Center and at another location near Disney World but not on Disney property.

The link between Cocoa Beach and Orlando is supposed to be finished this year. Brightline expects to start service between South Florida and Orlando early next year.

FAU fundraising foundation sets new record

Photo by Alex Dolce

Philanthropy continues at a high level in Boca Raton.

Florida Atlantic University announced that its fundraising foundation set a record for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The foundation raised nearly $83 million, compared to $57 million for the previous year. Much of the difference was the $28 million donation toward scholarships for medical students. That was the largest gift in FAU’s history. Meanwhile, Boca Raton Regional Hospital received its 45th gift of at least $1 million toward the $250 million Keeping The Promise capital campaign. It comes from Debbie Newman Bernstein, who was inspired to make her second gift toward the campaign by the care her father received from Boca Regional nurses. The campaign has raised $230 million.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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