A new school, a new leader, a new vision: Lee County principal builds school from scratch amid teacher shortages

Reporter: Kellie Miller
Published: Updated:

A lack of respect, not making a livable wage, and the need for better support are just a few things driving teachers to leave the education field. But children still need a place to learn and someone at the chalkboard teaching them.

‘Wink Investigates’ reporter Kellie Miller takes us inside Lee County’s newest middle school and learns how the principal plans to recruit and retain teachers.

“Some people told me that opening a building is the greatest and most stressful part that you’ll ever do, and they are 100% right,” Dr. Joseph Restino said.

Restino became the principal of Middle School QQ in Lehigh Acres on February 7. The school doesn’t have an official name yet, but it’s set to open in August for 900 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Restino has to recruit about 40 teachers before August. That doesn’t sound like a huge number, but it is when you take into account the district-wide shortages. Right now, there are about 200 open teacher positions in Lee County.

“I can’t do it alone. I need help,” Restino said. “I want to build something great with the community, with the teachers that apply, with the families, everyone.”

Restino is recruiting teachers through various online platforms and hosting hiring events. In the meantime, he’s working to spread his education philosophy throughout the community. As principal, he plans to focus on shared-decision making.

“The schools that I’ve worked at where you have that shared vision and that shared-decision making, there has been very little turnover,” he said.

Researchers at Brown University report a steady decline in teachers’ sense of control over instructional decisions. But, Restino is working to ensure his teachers feel empowered to make their own decisions. In fact, he said he’s had many candidates ask about his vision when it comes to math, but he’s allowing his new hires to develop concrete plans.

“I actually said, I want you to help me develop that vision…At the expense of having something concrete, I am offering you the ability to help me develop something amazing.”

Prior to becoming principal of Middle School QQ, Restino was the assistant principal at Harns Marsh Middle School. He worked closely with Alex Dworzanski, who encouraged him to take on a bigger role. Restino hopes to establish strong relationships with his staff members, provide professional development opportunities, and offer a fresh start for educators looking to grow.

“I truly believe that people want to come to work, in general, and want to know that they make a difference,” Restino said. “And there is some sort of mobility that they can be making and that they have this feeling that they are not being told what to do, they are being consulted on and moving forward as a team.”

The Lee County School district is sending a team to recruit teachers from Puerto Rico on Mar. 24 and 25. The district’s annual spring recruitment fair is on April 29.

If you are interested in working at Middle School QQ, or any other Lee County school, you can visit leeschools.net/careers.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.