By Suzanne Schmidt
It is easy to see the difference in Wesley Chapel High School since Carin Nettles took over as principal this school year.
“She has a very positive energy,” Bernaldo said. “I have never seen a principal who attended PTSA meetings, but she is at every one. She gives us her full support. She is also at most of the student events at the school. It shows she really cares. I get the sense she really enjoys her job and these kids.”
When starting the school year, Nettles not only had to tackle learning about the school, the staff and the students, she also had to come in to try to inspire the faculty to not let the D grade let them down. She used New Orleans as an example since they went through devastation during Hurricane Katrina but now they are back better than ever.
“It is one of the first years the school was graded a D school,” Nettles said. “I flipped it around so we could get started on the right foot. I want us to come back even better than we were before. I pointed out that the D does not mean devastation, our D means dedication, drive and determination.”
Nettles said she never loses sight of the fact that she is here for the students.
“We want to produce exceptional young adults and in order to do that we have to build relationships with them,” Nettles said. “There is an amazing group of kids attending this school. I have never been around so many truly wonderful kids.”
Nettles decided to make reading the main focus academically this year. There are four strands in reading on the FCAT tests- reference and research, compare and contrast, main idea and words and phrases.
“We have had pre- and post-tests this year and we rewarded the class with the highest proficiency and the class who showed the most improvement,” Nettles said. “We also have all the teachers adding some reading activity to their classes so they either have a daily quiz question or some other activity.”
The school grades will not be coming out until November instead of the usual time in July because there are more factors being used to determine the grade than before.
Another program she started this year many parents and students are utilizing are the boot camps in math, writing, ACT and science. The school is also offering tutoring sessions with teachers to help students with math, English and reading.
Bernaldo said she loves the free boot camps.
“She brought in the ACT boot camp and that was great,” Bernaldo said. “My daughter, Katie, took it and it really helped her. There is such a focus on academics now that it is refreshing.”
The students who retook the FCAT the second time around also impressed Nettles with 41 percent passing the reading tests and 44 percent passing the math test.
“I have never seen such a high percentage of students do so well,” Nettles said. “The kids who were struggling were able to knock it out of the park. Usually maybe you see at most 20 percent passing the retakes.”
Nettles also changed the way students, teachers and school related personnel are recognized by adopting a more TMZ approach with cameras, lights and microphones thrust into the face of the unsuspecting winner.
“We always recognized people before, but I changed the titles and the way we let them know they won,” Nettles said. “We barge into the classroom and all the kids and teachers are always shocked. We give them this huge check that says they are priceless and we throw confetti at them. They get a T-shirt and give them a card. It is nice because they get recognition in front of their peers and friends.”
One of the most important things to Nettles is to stay visible and let the kids know she is available for them.
“I am in the classrooms a lot and I try to go down to all of the lunches,” Nettles said. “That is the best time because the kids have free time and they can talk to you. They have great ideas and they tell me a lot of things about what they want the school to be like. I want them to feel comfortable talking to me.”
Through talking to the students, Nettles has learned some things they wanted to see changed like the color of the paint on the walls.
“Everything was all gray before,” Nettles said. “We painted the front office and the cafeteria blue. It creates a nice atmosphere that I think the kids appreciate.”
Cathie Schwan, PTSA member, said she loves the work Nettles is doing.
“I like how she has been very open and accessible to the students and the parents,” Schwan said. “She is a wonderful person and she has done a lot of things for the high school.”
While taking a physical education class at Pine View Middle School, Nettles found her path, which lead her all the way to becoming the principal last August.
“I knew I wanted to work with kids since I went to school at Pine View Middle School,” Nettles said. “A teacher named Patsy Little came into my P.E. class looking for volunteers to work with the physically impaired kids. From that point on, I knew I wanted to help kids.”
Nettles started her career at River Ridge Middle School where she was a varying exceptional education teacher for three years before she moved on to be a teacher at J.W. Mitchell High School where she eventually became an assistant principal.
“I learned that a lot of people see a wheelchair and all the assistant tech devices and they are scared of it,” Nettles said. “I started feeling like I wanted to do more. I felt like I had a deeper desire to do something on a larger scale. That is what led me here.”
For more information, visit the school’s revamped Web site at wch.pasco.k12.fl.us.