News

In the third and final installment of our “Back to School” series, we take a look at the Escambia County District.

With more than 40,000 students, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas oversees the largest district in the western Panhandle. And he adds there’s always a special enthusiasm at this time of year, just before the first class bell rings.

Bob Barrett / WUWF News

Steve Box had a dilemma. For over a dozen years Mr. Box has taught choral and piano music at Shoal River Middle School in Crestview, and has been involved in music in Okaloosa County for over 30 years. One day, out of the blue, one of his students came to him and said she had to leave his class. "And she was a very good student, had tried out for all-state and done all the things that choral students do. So I said 'Wow, what's going on? Did I do something? Is somebody bothering you?' Maybe something going on in the class between the boys and girls? You know, middle school things.

In part two of “Back to School,” WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody sits down with Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick, and what that district is facing in the new term.

For one thing, Wyrosdick is looking at higher numbers district-wide when classes kick off August 14.

“We’ll bump close to 29,000 students this year, and maybe go over that,” he says. “Our growth this year, probably in the neighborhood of 550-600 students.”

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson visited Pensacola State College on Monday, meeting with local officials and residents on a number of issues. While there, Nelson had one bit of good news for the area’s military bases.

“BRAC’s not coming; it’s not going to pass in the next [election] cycle,” said Nelson. “So y'all can stop worrying about that.”

Classes resume this week and next in public schools across Florida’s western Panhandle, with the usual challenges that a new school year brings the districts. In the first of our three-part series “Back to School,” Dave Dunwoody spoke with Okaloosa County Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson.

It’s a busy start to the new term. The biggest challenges, says Jackson, are getting rid of 160 portable classrooms on campuses; and 770 more students than in 2016-17 and growing at the rate of 100 per day. That brings the district’s total student population to more than 31,000.  

John Worth / UWF Archaeology Institute

University of West Florida archaeology students and researchers have spent the summer uncovering more details about the 1559 Luna Settlement.

The Tristan de Luna Settlement overlooking Pensacola Bay existed for just two years until 1561.

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Groundbreaking was held Tuesday morning near Milton, for construction of a Native American cultural center that’s due to be opened later this year.

Chief Blue Eyes, tribal leader Tom Nichols, and Dan Helms, an officer with the Santa Rosa County Creeks greeted the audience in both Creek and English on a warm, sunny morning at the construction site on Willard Norris Road.

“We started the tribe in 1990 with three members; today we have over 1,200, I believe,” said Blue Eyes. “We hoped and prayed and worked our tails off to get what we’ve got today.”

Sacred Heart Pediatrics

Part of getting ready for the new school year is making sure students are up to date with their vaccines. While most parents are happy to immunize their children against life threatening diseases, there are still some loud voices in the media spreading doubt about vaccines. 

Center for Research & Economic Opportunity (CREO)

Raising the minimum wage appeals to many in the workforce, but what are the risks of raising it too much, too soon?

Phyllis Pooley, director of special projects with the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement, reviewed a recent study by the University of Washington on the subject and surveyed local labor market data. She discussed her observations with WUWF’s Sandra Averhart.

C-SPAN

The U.S. Senate is immersed in work on reforming healthcare, and at the same time dismantling the Affordable Care Act. And the chamber faces a long road ahead.

Florida’s two senators voted on either side of the measure, as expected. Republican Marco Rubio has been a longtime opponent of ACA.

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

Most people would agree that there’s a deep divide between the right and left in the United States but two University of West Florida researchers want to find out if those ideological differences are reflected in the legislation lawmakers introduce.

This Fall, Dr. Adam Cayton and Dr. Brian Williams of the UWF Department of Government will begin a study to classify specific actions being proposed in legislation.

ECUA

Water and sewer customers with Emerald Coast Utilities Authority could be shelling out more for those services in the near future.

When the board overseeing the agency meets on Thursday, it’s expected to take up a proposed capital improvement fee, $5 per month, to pay for upgrading water and sewer lines throughout the service area.

Lois Benson chairs the ECUA Board.  

Santa Rosa Creek Indian Tribe

If all goes as planned, a Native American cultural center will open near Milton by the end of this year. Groundbreaking is set for August 1 at 10 a.m. at the site, 4750 Willard Norris Road.

Dan Helms, an officer with the Santa Rosa County Creek Indian Tribe, says the center’s main mission is to stem the loss of Native American culture, artifacts and education.

“We have been accumulating, for more than 20 years, records, Census data, deeds, birth certificates, death certificates and all sorts of things that establish Native American bloodlines,” said Helms.

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

About three dozen businesses in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties are getting together to form a private-sector entity, aimed at supporting economic development in the two counties.

First Place Partners has been in the works since last fall. The group’s president is former Gulf Power executive and Pensacola Chamber of commerce Chairman John Hutchinson.

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

The return of passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast appears to be getting some mixed signals among the agencies and groups studying the matter.

Congress on Monday received the final report by the Federal Rail Commission’s Gulf Coast Passenger Rail Working Group, which is said to provide a positive endorsement of the Southern Rail Commission’s long standing call for restoration.

The next step, says Southern Rail Commission Chairman Greg White, is how to pay for it.

No matter where you live, there are scenes that paint the picture of what makes your home what it is. Northwest Florida certainly has its share of scene-setters that put our own stamp on the world.

My wife and I saw one recently behind a house on the north shore of Santa Rosa Island.

cdc.gov

The Florida Department of Health in Escambia County is out with a rabies advisory for the Warrington and Navy Point areas, and is on the lookout for any further such cases.

County Health Director Dr. John Lanza says the cases involved a pair of foxes in separate encounters with humans. The most recent attack resulted in the death of that fox.  As for the fox in the first attack, there is uncertainty.

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

The high cost of going to college is the subject of legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was at the University of West Florida Friday morning.

According to Nelson, student loans are the second-largest debt in America, only behind home mortgage debt.

“And if you took all the credit card debt in the entire United States combined, student loans are larger than that: $1.3 trillion,” said Nelson.

In the final installment of our “Beyond Park East” series, the focus is on dollars and cents in the LGBT community.

Lee Kafeety, the owner of the Cactus Flower Café on 12th Avenue in Pensacola, has been overseeing construction of a bar area in the restaurant. The San Francisco native says as an openly-gay business owner, locating in East Hill, called by some “The Gayborhood,” was something of a no-brainer.

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

Gabriela Cintron, who graduated this Spring with a degree in psychology from the University of West Florida, recently won first place and $2,500 in an Internet contest.

She wrote an original song and created a video to go with it.

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