Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene answers your back-to-school questions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The school bell rings for the new school year Monday in Duval County. Students and parents will see some major changes when they head through the doors.

In the meantime, educators continue to fight to get money to fix what are literally crumbling schools and build new ones.

The school board and City Council are fighting over when a half-cent sales tax should be put on the ballot -- this year or next -- to raise the money to pay to fix those problems.

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene appeared on "The Morning Show" and said getting the money to fix those problems sooner than later is one of her most immediate challenges.

“We just informed our board that we have HVAC systems that are going down,” Greene said. “We’re in this sort of heatwave, and when our air conditioners have to really work overtime, it’s putting a huge strain. But we are very fortunate to have an outstanding maintenance department. They are working 24/7 to ensure that Monday morning all of our schools will be up and ready to go.”

Greene added that when air conditioners don’t work it affects the students' ability to learn and the teachers' ability to effectively do their jobs.

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Got questions about your student’s school? We want to hear them. That’s why we’ve set up a new way for you to connect with us. It’s called 4 Your Info. Here’s how it works: share your questions and if yours is chosen, we'll find the answers. Visit News4Jax.com/4YI .

“It affects students, whether the classroom is overly uncomfortable,” Greene said. “The students are more focused on how to remain cool and so are teachers and support staff. It is a situation that can’t be overlooked or just thought of as, ‘Well, when I was in school, I didn’t have any air conditioning.’ We’re just in a very different time.”

Many parents who contacted us through our 4 Your Info tool expressed concern about student safety.

When students and parents walk through the door Monday they will notice changes. Those changes allow school officials to know who is in the building at all times

“We have made sure that all of our buildings have a buzzer system. And so, parents need to make sure that, one, when they buzz in that they have their driver’s license on them,” Greene said. “Because we now have a new visitor check-in system, so that our schools are able to take a driver's license and run it through a system to ensure the people we are letting on our campus don’t have criminal records that say they cannot be around students. We’re just making sure that every point that we can ensure one more level of safety and security for our students we’re going to move forward.”

That same system adds new protections to help better identify students.

“It will make badges for all of our students. So, when you’re on campus, the personnel there knows that that person is supposed to be on campus. When we have visitors, it will make a badge with their picture on it. So that if they’re not an employee or a student we also know that they are supposed to be there,” Greene said.

And all students will have access to mental health counseling and a new initiative called Wellness Wednesdays.

“Wellness Wednesday came about through the commissioner state board rule that all secondary students -- these are students in grades sixth through twelve -- have five hours of mental health training," Green explained. "We used our early release Wednesdays -- we have them once a month -- and we’re calling them Wellness Wednesdays. And our district is creating lessons and resources for our teachers to provide that support for students. Our goal is that students will be able to support one another as well as know where they can get free resources of immediate support for themselves.”

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