Breeze Newspapers | By Meghan Bradbury | June 23, 2022
Community engagement, learning and workplace environment, and educational excellence are key goals of the new superintendent of Lee County Schools.
Dr. Christopher Bernier told the School Board during a workshop Monday that it’s important for him to be as visible as possible, as interaction with employees and the community is vital for the success of students.
To get there, he is committed to listening, learning and planning, he added.
The prime objective of his “entry plan?”
Making sure that, as the superintendent, he is knowledgeable and fully aware of the community’s need — all stakeholders.
This will foster college- and career-ready children who have the ability to go out and make livings to support their community, as well as create a system that is world class so companies and others do not hesitate when given the opportunity to come to Southwest Florida.
“We do drive the economic engine,” Bernier said.
There will be an open letter to the community from the superintendent sharing his appreciation for the opportunity to serve the district, while also inviting employees and community members to engage in the work ahead.
“This is an amazing opportunity for me,” Bernier said, adding that board members have shared they are worried he is doing too much and asking if he is finding ways to unplug and relax. “I do have to learn to pace myself, but right now that is not an option.”
He told the board to stop worrying about their superintendent.
“I am exhausted, but strangely energized at the same time,” Bernier said, adding that his entry plan is the beginning of what he expects of himself consistently as the superintendent.
The letter is important, as there needs to be collaboration because the work cannot be done alone.
“You have set a beautiful culture for a team to follow in your core values .. unwavering commitment to students and achievement,” Bernier said. “The goal is to listen, learn and then plan in order to lead students to success.”
The three areas of his goals are in alignment with the district’s core values, which is grounded in his belief in students. All children should be afforded to grow academically, socially and emotionally and be celebrated, nurtured and loved, he said.
“These core values must be embedded in our work as living examples to our students,” Bernier said.
The other core values include excellence, integrity, high expectations, accountability and professionalism.
Bernier said his entry plan goal includes legitimate community engagement, which is underway this month with the district’s equity plan, as well as pre-work concerning the proximity plan, which would allow children to attend schools closer to home.
“This is not a listening tour. It is the beginning of a community engagement process and commitment that I will be out with the community asking critical questions of what is working, what isn’t working and what keeps you up at night,” he said, adding that it is different from a board member’s perspective and parents’.
“All voices are incredibly important,” he said.
The second goal, learning and workforce environment, will include the culture of particular areas of the district that may have leaders that have not been provided all the training they need to be successful. Bernier said it’s about creating a workplace and culture for students first, and all individuals working for the district, beginning with safety.
“If you don’t have the basic needs of an individual met, it’s very hard to meet the needs of anyone,” he said.
With educational excellence, Bernier is targeting graduation rates that need to be improved, as well as improving the number of students who have achieved subject proficiency in the district.
The board provided its full support of his plan.
Board member Gwyn Gittens asked if Bernier could share his calendar, so the board could attend community engagement meetings.
“I am more than happy to provide access to my calendar, so you know exactly what I am doing,” Bernier said.
He said on Fridays he sits down and writes what he has accomplished that week, what he is happy with and what he wishes he could do better. Bernier suggested that he could share with the board on Monday mornings what had transpired for him the previous week.
“I will continue to say it out loud. As we commit and create equitable instructional processes that meet the academic, social and emotional needs of every learner in our care, I really want to focus on the last three words — in our care. We are a local parent when we have someone else’s child, but that doesn’t prevent us, nor should stop us, from communicating with parents and guardians to ensure that as we’re developing young people academically, socially and emotionally that we are working in concert with their values and their beliefs,” he said.
Bernier said when they put academic plans together with counselors to get students in ninth grade across that stage their senior year, they do that with parental permission.
“These are deep core beliefs of my own. I love having this job and I love working with all of you. I look forward with what we are going to accomplish going into the future,” he said.