By ANNA AVGOUSTIS
USFSP Student Reporter
CLEARWATER – The backpack rests just inside the office at Sandy Lane Elementary School.
It belongs to a third grader who once threatened to bring a gun to school in the backpack.
There was no gun, but part of her penalty requires her to check her backpack in the office every morning.
The office is in a D-grade school, where many students struggle academically and have disciplinary issues.
Georgene Votzakis, 54, has worked in the office for 21 years. She is only the bookkeeper and secretary, but she gets sucked into the issues of the school.
“It’s a demographic issue. There’s not enough parental involvement. Our kids are left to fend for themselves,” said Votzakis.
Votzakis grew up in Gary, Indiana, in a traditional Greek household. She attended Purdue University Calumet, where she received a bachelor’s in early childhood development.
In 1988, she moved to Florida to marry her husband, Nick Votzakis.
In a typical day, Votzakis makes calls to find substitute teachers, orders supplies for teachers and assists them with any issues they may have, and works on payroll paperwork.
In Votzakis’ office, both students and faculty are regulars.
The front office clerk stepped inside to share a story of a student who showed up late because he had to walk to school by himself. His parents were still asleep, he said.
“To be honest, this is a calm day,” said Votzakis.
On her computer, she typed into a program that looked like it hadn’t been updated in many years.
Later on, a teacher called to ask her how to reset the emergency lock-down button after a student pressed it. Unfazed, Votzakis called the police and unlocked the doors.
“She is our go-to for any time there is an issue. She does more than her job title for sure,” said Julie Brewster, the school’s assistant principal.
The school has been rated a D school four times in the last six years. In the 2014-2015 year it dropped to a F, and in 2015-2016 it rose to a C.
Sandy Lane is a Title 1 school, where 40% or more of its students are considered low-income.
This qualifies the school for extra funds and students receive additional instruction to help them meet state requirements.
Sandy Lane is one of eight schools in what the county school district calls its “transformation zone” because students there have a record of poor performance.
This fall the curriculum at Sandy Lane was expanded to include what the district calls a Conservatory for the Arts. All the students there get instruction in music, dance and other arts.
“We have a lot of resources that can really help families,” said Votzakis.