Among the new international teachers at FCHS are middle school English and language arts teacher Ritche Bigcas, right, and Randy Bayaoa, middle school math teacher. [ David Adlerstein  | The Times ]
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FCHS opens with teaching slots largely filled

With the opening of school last week, the signs are that the teacher crisis shortage that has swept like a hurricane through Florida has largely missed Franklin County.

It’s not perfect, there are still some gaps and shifts that have had to be made at Franklin County Schools, but for the most part the classrooms are filled with educators eager to satisfy the curiosities of energetic kids.

An outreach that began back in February to find teachers through an international recruiting program is a key part of what has made the difference at Franklin County Schools, said Danielle Rosson. principal at Franklin County.

“Otherwise I would be in the same situation as the rest of Florida,” she said. “I knew we had to do something and think above the box.”

She and Karen Peddie, the former human resource director who retired at the end of last school year, set about to find teachers through a recruiting program of teachers from other countries, and ended up reviewing 200 resumes, which were then narrowed down to 30 interviewees.

The school offered jobs to six teachers, five of whom were able to secure visas, with the last one slated to arrive Sunday.

The other four all arrived several weeks ago, and were able to secure housing throughout Apalachicola and Carrabelle, thanks in part to the efforts of a retired teacher and community members who worked to find yearly leases in a tight market.

The teachers, all of whom are from the Philippines, have extensive teaching experience, such as Ritche Bigcas, with 12 years experience and a masters degree, who will be teaching middle school English and Language Arts.

Randy Bayaoa, with 22 years experience and a masters in math, has been assigned middle school math. Elaine Velasco, with 10 years experience, including an assignment in Thailand, and a holder of a masters in elementary education, will be teaching third grade. Jobelyn Patagan, with a bachelors and seven years experience, is teaching first grade. Celeste Rossillo, with a masters in special education, is handling ESE for grades three through five.

“We picked the best of the best,” Rosson said.

Each will be paid a wage equivalent to the American trained teachers, based on education and experience, and each will have to pay out of their own pocket for their housing and other living costs.

The principal said she expects it may be an adjustment for some to adapt to an American classroom where students may be less compliant than those in their native countries, where educators are frequently accorded a great deal of respect.

Bus driver Steve Hansen reviews bus attendance with sophomore volunteer Thamia Thomas as the bus prepares to take kids home after school to Apalachicola. Hansen, from Carrabelle, is a retired manager with UPS in northern Ohio, and a Navy veteran. “I like to keep busy,” said Hansen. [ David Adlerstein   | The Times ]

These teachers are far from the other changes that have set the roster for the new school year at Franklin.

Jessica Brattain, a former bureau chief with the Florida Department of Education, has been brought in as assistant principal for the elementary school grades. She is a former teacher with the Wakulla County schools, and holds a masters in elementary educational leadership. She replaces Karen Ward, who has stepped into the role of elementary school guidance counselor.

Jaime Duhart, who had been assistant principal for the secondary grades, has left, and her position will now be filled by Tara Klink, a 2006 Apalachicola High School grad, last year’s district Teacher of the Year and the holder of a brand new masters degree in education from the University of West Florida.

The two dean roles are filled with two former classroom teachers, Scott Collins for elementary and Christy Thompson for secondary school.

The Junior ROTC program that had been run in conjunction with Wakulla County, and was headed up by Kevin Cox, will now have a different format, and be under the leadership of St. George Island’s Christopher Anderson, a retired Air Force colonel.

The program will no longer be affiliated with Wakulla, which had sent over two of its instructors on a regular basis, with mixed results.

The program is now called Cadet Core, dedicated to instilling the same values of discipline and honor, and is looking to work closely with Tyndall Air Force Base, Rosson said.

“I have kids begging to be in that class now,” she said.

APA081723_news_schoolstarts2 Heading the new Cadet Core program, which is the successor to the Junior ROTC program, is a retired Air Force colonel Chris Anderson, who lives on St. George Island. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]

One new face in a classroom at the school, but certainly not new to the entire Franklin County community, is that of Denise Butler. The former classroom teacher, principal and school board member, now an energetic grandmother, will be teaching fourth graders, making sure these students have a highly qualified certified teacher steering their educations.

Patty Dempsey, a longtime teacher in the younger grades, has decided to slow down and work as a paraprofessional. Stacy DeVaughn, who had been teaching adult education at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, is now at the school providing resources for ESE.

Tara Ward, who had been teaching middle school at the ABC School, has transferred to the Franklin County Schools, where she is teaching civics and American history.

Leigh Smith is now teaching sixth grade English and is a middle school instructional coach. Katrina Ham, a former district Teacher of the Year, is now an elementary instructional coach and an interventionist. Callie Nichols will now be teaching one period, with the rest of her role dedicated to working as high school instructional coach, and with MTSS, a program that integrates data and instruction to support students’ social, emotional and behavior needs.

The pre-kindergarten and alternative school programs have been moved to the main campus, Rosson said.

The school is still looking for a seventh grade science teacher, and up until last week needed a geometry teacher, but that candidate agreed to take the job.

“I think we have the right people in the right place,” said Rosson.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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