HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — August is officially here, which means the upcoming school year isn’t far behind!

Huntsville City Schools (HCS) will welcome students back to the classroom Wednesday, August 2 and HCS Superintendent Dr. Clarence Sutton says the no. 1 priority for the year will be student success.

“It’s always going to be about students, that’s our mission – to inspire, to engage, and to empower all students. That will be the forefront of everything we do,” stated Dr. Sutton. 

As he gets ready to tackle his first year as superintendent for HCS, he says there are several areas that need improvement.

“We want to improve our support to teachers and staff – we’re working on that. We want to support our community engagement and we want to support our communications,” Dr. Sutton said. 

Teacher retention post-COVID-19 has been an issue across the U.S. Dr. Sutton tells News 19 his district isn’t immune to that…but they’re working to fix it.

“I think we lost maybe about 200 teachers and staff…and when I say teachers, I mean certified and classified personnel,” Dr. Sutton said. “We’ve filled the majority of those spots. I think we’re really looking for less than 20 vacancies. The main thing our teachers want is support. We really worked this summer as a leadership team and as a community…how do we support our teachers where we’re making it simple for them. Let’s get back to the basics!”

Campus safety and security is something on the minds of many who have kids headed back to school. The superintendent says his district has the largest security force in North Alabama protecting their students.

“We have our own school security officers who support our school. We’re almost 66 people designated to support that. We also put weapon detector systems in our schools to be preventative though. It’s not to hopefully catch anyone, we just want to be preventative,” said Dr. Sutton.