Tomorrow morning, Fort Myers Beach Elementary hosts an open house from 9 – 10 AM followed by a pool party from 10 – 11 AM for all new and returning students and their families, giving them an opportunity to meet their teachers, see their classrooms, and maybe even get to know each other a little bit. This ‘meet and greet’ helps allay some of the little ones’ fears of the unknown, and helps orient all the students and their parents to what will be a huge part of their lives for the next ten months. And when the bell rings in the new school year next Wednesday morning, new Principal Jeff Dobbins will be ready for all of them.
Working in the Lee County School District for the past 33 years in both teaching and administrative positions, Dobbins brings an amalgam of knowledge, skills, success, experience and first-day-of-school enthusiasm to his new job.
Graduating from Central Michigan University in 1982, Dobbins landed his first teaching position in Sante Fe, New Mexico working with gifted and challenged students for two years. In 1984, Jeff came to Sanibel on vacation with his folks. When the vacation was over, his parents went back to Michigan, but Jeff stayed behind. His love affair with the beach and the Gulf of Mexico had begun. He decided to settle here, and in 1985, Lee County School District hired him.
History with Lee County Schools
Dobbins first gig here was at Suncoast Elementary School, where the district had a program in place for students at risk. “I was there for about five years, then went to Villas Elementary, where again I taught students with special needs. I was there for about seven years. I went from there to the district office where I became a staffing specialist for the Exceptional Student Education program. After being a staffing specialist for about six years, Dobbins became the Assistant Principal at Orangewood Elementary and worked his magic for 3 years there. He enjoyed the Assistant position because, as he says, “I got to be involved in every aspect of school. And that’s where your learning comes in as far as the puzzle pieces to running a school. It’s like a great mentoring program and we’ve all had those. We’ve got dynamic administrators in our district.”
After Orangewood, Jeff was promoted to Principal at Sunshine Elementary School. “I left a school that had approximately 750 students, and went to one with 1100 students and 142 staff. That was a big jump out of the gate.” But Dobbins attributes much of his success there to Dr. Linda Levine Brown, an assistant principal at the school. “She was such a mentor to me. She knew the school. She went out of her way to help me become successful there. I would have to say, as far as my being actively involved in a school, her support was directly related to my success.”
After 7 years at Sunshine, Jeff became principal at Villas Elementary. “We built staff morale, we transformed the facility from A to Z. It was a palace for kids to come to and for teachers to come to work. Moms and dads were proud to come to the school.”
From there, Dobbins went back to the district office for about a year. “I was the Principal on Assignment for the Teacher Fund – an awesome grant that puts teacher leaders in our schools.” Basically designed to help teachers hone their craft, the program places Professional Development Resource Specialists in the schools to help the teachers develop and implement strategies for success with their students. Long-time Beach School teacher Kathy Brindise held this position at our school for the past few years, up until her retirement this year. “One of the teacher leaders I had at Villas Elementary, Carrie Wood, is going to be filling that position at Beach School,” Jeff tells us. “She’s great with data and strategies and has a low key, nonintrusive approach, which I think fits in well with the beach.
“This district and the school board has allowed me to do some really great things for kids and teachers and communities, so I feel very blessed. I have worked with great people like Carl Brunnick, former Beach School principal, and Helen Davis Martin – Coordinator of the Teacher Incentive Fund – an absolutely brilliant woman.” Dobbins also speaks highly of our Superintendent of Schools, Greg Adkins, who he feels was a great choice for the job. “I have worked with him on and off throughout my career in the district. He walked into the position with the skill set necessary to hit the ground running.”
Beach School Focus
As far as getting ready for this new school year, Dobbins is focusing on a few key areas, student and staff safety being one of them. “We’re moving the security fencing closer to the building, and the entrance has been redesigned so that everyone will have to report to the office in order to access the rest of the school.” Jeff and his staff will be instituting a new, tightened-up supervision plan as well. Many of the students participate in afterschool programs around town; where they go and with whom will be fully documented from here on out. Further, all classroom doors will be locked while in session. These extra measures may not have been necessary in years past, but things have changed in recent times, and the district is sensitive to heightened concerns for the students and staff safety at all the schools.
Jeff’s overriding philosophy is doing whatever is best for each child. “All the teachers and staff view all the students, not just their own classes, as their own. All means all. We will continue the great teaching that goes on in this school and all the successful programs and activities. My main goal is to support our teachers, our kids, our community. We’re here to continue to be that shining star that the school has been on Fort Myers Beach.”
For all the serious concerns and star-high goals he has set for himself and his staff, Dobbins brings a light-hearted approach to his work. “When I first moved to Lee County, I would come to Fort Myers Beach every Saturday. I love the beach.” His office reflects that love…it’s a cheery, inviting place, festooned with beach-themed accents carried out all over the campus. Art teacher Holly Nichols has painted a beautiful mural in the office. Seahorses, starfish, water and sunshine… Everyone visiting our school will feel welcomed, island-style.
Dobbins is not concerned about dealing with beach traffic on his daily commute. “It takes me about fifteen minutes to get here. Traffic going home is going to be a bit of bear, but I look at it like this: To me, there are three forms of traffic – I-4 traffic, State Road 82 traffic, and there’s beach traffic – beach traffic is by far the most entertaining.”
Jeff Dobbins has the education, experience and an exceptionally positive approach to education that bodes well for our community. About a week and half before school let out this year, Jeff had the opportunity to spend time meeting some of the parents, the kids, and getting a feel for the school.
“It feels like home.”