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North High gears up for new year
August 9, 2017

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Schools open Thursday and North Fort Myers High School is among those gearing up in hope of another stellar year.

North Fort Myers High School principal Debbie Diggs saw a lot of great things in her first year at the helm.The school's ROTC program won a national championship, it was again named one of the most challenging schools in the nation, and the sports programs, including the softball team, went deep into the regional and state playoffs.

Diggs, who became the fifth principal in six years at the school when she took over last year, has worked to provide stability, allowing the school to continue to move forward.

"This time last year I was only a couple days on the job, so it's definitely a different feel coming in after a whole year," Diggs said. "We have amazing staff and the kids are phenomenal and I'm looking forward to a great second year."

Last year was her first as a head principal. The first year allowed her to get to know the staff, kids, parents and community, giving her the background knowledge she needs to help the school move ahead.

Teachers arrived Thursday ahead of the school's open house Saturday and the first day of school on Aug. 10.

Diggs said that while the elementary and middle schools are making some significant changes, the high schools will continue to make sure students have what they need to graduate.

"We're looking at the data and making sure kids progress in their academics. As an arts school, for us, it's working with the kids to develop and refine those artistic skills," Diggs said.

And even before the first bell, things were getting done. The open house was particularly notable as the Red Knight Foundation held a ribbon cutting in front of the auditorium to commemorate the installation of pavers.

Brad Branson, NFM alum, foundation member and former NBA player, performed the dedication.

"The Foundation has been selling bricks which people can do dedications on to raise money to redo the lighting and sound for the auditorium," Diggs said. "We just installed them this week."

Once school starts, Diggs has set a goal to put North, which was ranked 104th among the most challenging high schools in the country (up four spots from the previous year), into the top 100.

Oddly enough, the school got a "B" grade from the state, another thing Diggs wants to improve.

"I'm ready to break that 100 mark, but I'll take improvement. The two grading systems are totally different. The state looks for specific assessments. The way the rating systems are is where you're going to fall," Diggs said.

Last year, more than half the senior class graduated summa cum laude, with a weighted GPA of 4 or higher. The school also produced two National Merit Scholars, a graduate who will attend MIT and the national championship ROTC Raider team

Diggs said among the other goals this year are to get a few state and national championships in athletics and ROTC, as well as improved performance on state, national and international assessment exams, and more students being accepted at the top colleges.

Most important, she wants her students to follow their passions wherever they may lead.

"I also want kids to find their passion and enjoy high school in a productive way. If we can get that accomplished, we've done a good job," Diggs said. "We have a lot of good things in the wings."

By setting the new school year's start date on Thursday, schools will be able to finish their mid-term exams in time for the start of the Christmas recess, according to Lee County School Board member Mary Fischer.

"It's better for the kids because they take their final before break. Otherwise, they take their finals right after break and that doesn't work for the kids," Fischer said.

Fischer said all schools are working hard to be ready for that first day.

"The principals and staff have worked hard all summer to prepare. It looks like we're organized, the teachers have done advanced training and their expectations have been set out," Fischer said. "It's all hands on deck. We have to be there for the new people who come to the district. Everybody is out there ready to roll."

Also among them is Shelley Markgraf, Caloosa Elementary principal.

She said she hopes students do just as well this year as last, when the school increased its state grade from a "C" to an "A," especially in reading, where the district will aid in getting more children up to speed.

"Our reading plan is going to be different. All our kids will be grouped and taught based on their levels. The district has given us a plan for each student," Markgraf said. "For the 90-minute reading core they will go to a different teacher for level-specific instruction. We're excited about that."

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