FORT MYERS, Fla. — Just eight days after Dr. Christopher Bernier was sworn in as the new Superintendent of the School District of Lee County, tragedy struck inside a classroom several states away.
Like many in the country, Bernier was glued to the coverage of the school shooting in Uvalde, TX.
“It became very crystal clear to me what that superintendent was doing and how I never wanted to be in that position,” Bernier said.
With students set to return to school this week, Bernier is letting parents know that safety is at the top of his mind.
“We worked very diligently to look into what happened there to make sure that our policies and procedures are in place,” Bernier said.
“We’re doing additional training of staff and principals. We are being extra diligent about entry and exits to our school buildings. And making sure gates and other secondary means of the entrance are locked.”
The district is also bringing in an outside group to audit the safety procedures.
Bernier started as a teacher in Orange County, FL more than three decades ago.
He later served as a Principal and Associate Superintendent in the same district.
He spent the last three years as the Chief of Staff of the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, NV, the fifth largest district in the country.
Aside from safety, Bernier wants parents to know they are welcome back inside schools.
Back in February, before Bernier was sworn in, the district opened up the schools to parents and guardians once again.
Bernier says this year there will be even more access, which he believes will help rebuild trust between the community and the classrooms.
“Our parents have a voice now, again, in our schools,” said Bernier.
“We want them open and welcoming and give our parents the opportunity to re-engage without school buildings the way it was prior to the pandemic.”
The 2022-23 school year will begin with some challenges.
The district still needs 69 bus drivers along with around 200 new teachers.
Though, Bernier says there are dozens of potential hires going through the hiring process right now.
“There are people that want to do this work,” said Bernier.
“We had 450 here in the last two weeks who are new teachers. About 50% of them are career changers. We welcome those individuals. We welcome the Governor’s order on veterans. It just gives us an opportunity to get creative in filling our vacancies and making sure that all of our children have a certified educator in front of them.”