Teachers are already back and students return Aug. 22-23 to schools in Hillsborough and Pasco counties
By B.C. Manion
As students head to their first day of classes at schools across Lutz and Land O’ Lakes, they’ll find plenty of changes afoot.
The first day of classes in Pasco County Schools is Aug. 22 and school begins in Hillsborough County Public Schools the following day.
Some changes the students will encounter are countywide. For instance, public school students will be learning science from new textbooks in Pasco County. Meanwhile, their Hillsborough County counterparts will be getting out of school an hour earlier on Mondays to give teachers time for planning.
On the Hillsborough County side of Lutz, a new charter school called Lutz Preparatory begins operation this year at 17951 N. US 41, in the former home of Berean Academy. Lutz Prep will serve pre-kindergarten through fifth-graders initially, but eventually plans to serve students through high school.
Berean ceased operations last year, but some Berean families have formed the nucleus of a new school, called Trinity Preparatory School, which is set to begin classes in September at 125 Country Club Drive in north Tampa.
Learning Gate, another charter school in Lutz, plans to expand its program into high school, beginning with a freshman class this year.
Along those lines, it has leased a building at 15316 N. Florida Avenue, where it will house grades seven through nine this school year. In the coming years, it plans to add a high school campus.
Plenty of changes also are happening in Land O’ Lakes, where construction has begun on the new Imagine School at Land O’ Lakes at 3020 Sunlake Boulevard. The school, which opened in 2008, is slated to operate at 17901 Hunting Bow Circle until mid-year when school officials expect to make the move to the school’s new 43,000-square-foot home.
Meanwhile, at nearby Charles S. Rushe Middle School, 18654 Mentmore Blvd., students will see a new face on campus, as Assistant Principal Ron Bruno joins the administrative team led by Principal David Salerno.
Rushe officials are emphasizing the need to stay positive, despite an economy that’s been tough on families, said Assistant Principal Ron Michalak. “We’re trying to keep as upbeat as we possibly can.”
The pressures are real, Michalak said. “You can feel it in the air.”
The school wants to do its part to counter the stress.
“We’re trying to keep as upbeat as we possibly can,” Michalak said.
Academy at the Lakes, a private independent school on Collier Parkway for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, expects to have a record attendance this year – with an anticipated enrollment exceeding 400.
Meanwhile, Connerton Elementary at 9300 Flourish Drive in Land O’ Lakes, will continue its quest to embed the use of technology in its daily delivery of instruction, said Principal Anna Falcone.
The kids love it, she said.
“The students are very savvy,” she said.
In fact, they are so tuned in that when a substitute teacher doesn’t know how to use a particular technological device, the kids often step in to help.
On another front, the school is eager to open its new playground this year, Falcone said.
At Pine View Elementary, 5333 Parkway Blvd., more students will get a chance to become Student of the Month this year, said Principal Judith Cash. This year, each teacher will get to name a student of the month.
The school also is launching a new Patriot Pride program, which recognizes students for exhibiting the character traits of being positive, respectful, inspired and dedicated to excellence.
And, the school plans to have a Principal Pride Wall, honoring students for excellence in academics, social behavior and work habits.
Pine View Elementary students will probably have a bit more fun this school year, too, as new cement squares have been poured – to accommodate hopscotch and four square.
At Pine View Middle School, 5334 Parkway Blvd., teachers will benefit from a technology upgrade, said Principal Jennifer Crosby. “We put in new overhead projectors.”
In Odessa, on the Hillsborough side of the community, Walker Middle School has been transformed into Walker Middle Magnet for International Studies, where enrollment is based on a lottery system.
The school, at 8282 N. Mobley Road in Odessa, is working toward gaining authorization as an International Baccalaureate Studies Middle Years Program, a process that takes three years.
Not too far away, students at Odessa Elementary in Trinity will be studying the habits of ospreys, said Principal Theresa Love. A pole has been installed and the ingredients of a nest have been collected in an attempt to entice an osprey to locate there. She thinks the project could turn out to be very educational for children.
Meanwhile, as children gear up for the first day of classes, Jason Petry, the new principal at Lake Myrtle Elementary is eager to experience being in the leadership role in a new school year.
Petry said his excitement has been growing daily, as teachers return to the school and share their ideas with him. He said he is fortunate to have followed an excellent principal.
“There’s an awesome culture at this school. It’s a family-oriented culture,” Petry said.
Across the county, when Pasco Middle School students return to school next week, they’ll be heading back to a campus that has a brand new feel, thanks to a massive makeover.
The reconstruction project, funded by Penny for Pasco, has involved renovating existing classrooms, constructing a new main building and courtyard and making wide scale improvements, said Kim Anderson, principal of the school at 13925 14th St. in Dade City.
The auditorium, which has been closed during construction, has been renovated and is available now for school and community use.
Anderson said everywhere she goes around the community she runs into people who are excited about her school’s new look, and the reopening of the auditorium.
Pasco High, at 36850 SR 52, also is putting on the final touches in a total renovation of the campus, said Principal Patrick Reedy. It, too, was paid for with Penny for Pasco funds.
The high school also is initiating a new program aimed at helping ninth-graders make the transition into high school. The program is called “Navigating the Ninth-Grade Nation,” Reedy said, noting it helps students feel at home.
“It’s a tough year, moving from middle school to high school,” Reedy said.
The high school also has added a program that aims to help students who are “kind of on the bubble of being” in honors programs, Reedy said. That program is called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) and it seeks to help students build self-confidence and to develop skills they need to be successful in honors programs.
The school, known for doing a good job of preventing high school dropouts, also will continue to emphasize the need to engage students in activities outside of the classroom Reedy said.
When that happens, students tend to be motivated to perform better academically, he said.
“We push a connection,” Reedy said, whether it be through athletics, agricultural, or other programs.
Reedy said he appreciates the extra efforts of his staff.
“I have so many people (staff members) who are involved on so many levels,” Reedy said.
Pasco Middle and Pasco High are just two of many schools throughout the community where public school students will encounter changes as they return to school in Pasco County Schools on Monday.
At Rodney B. Cox Elementary, Principal Yvonne Reins said the school will continue to emphasize the development of its students’ writing skills.
The school has been successful with its students, which Reins said is a result of professional development for teachers at every level, starting in kindergarten.
“We do a lot of analyzing of the students’ papers,” Reins said. After analyzing the papers, the teachers have conferences with students and give them feedback on their writing.
There’s a new leader at the helm of San Antonio Elementary, with Principal Kay Coe assuming that role.
The principal said she plans to focus on grade-level collaboration and also will encourage students to take advantage of the school’s new walking trail. “We’re instituting a walking club.”
Coe said she’s pleased to be working at a school, where the community is so welcoming.
At West Zephyrhills Elementary, students will be working with new technology, said Principal Emily Keene.
The school was retrofitted over the summer, creating a much greater potential for integrating technology with daily instruction, Keene said. Now, teachers have the world at their fingertips, when it comes to tapping into a rich supply of educational materials that can help bring lessons to life.
At Chester W. Taylor Elementary, another Zephyrhills school, a “Boo Hoo” breakfast will be held on the first day of classes for parents and their children who will be attending their first day of school.
The idea is to help make that separation a bit easier for them, said Assistant Principal Kathy Kaburis.
The principal at Woodland Elementary, another Zephyrhills school, is initiating a new them this year with an emphasis on preparing students for college.
“Every one of my students, regardless of what their current situation is now, they can go to college. It is possible,” said Principal Kimberly Poe.
Roughly three-quarters of her students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
She wants to make sure they know that they, too, can go to college.
It’s never too early to begin exposing children to that possibility, said Poe, who was the first in her family to graduate from college.
There’s no need to wait until middle or high school to begin talking up college, Poe said. “I think it starts now.”
Zephryhills High, which remains under the direction of Principal Steve Van Gorden, will be initiating a dropout prevention program that provides intense help to a group of about 60 students.
At the other end of the spectrum, the school continues to aggressively push its Advanced Placement program, Van Gorden said.
Additionally, it will increase its emphasis on helping ninth-graders make the transition into high school, by assigning them to teams.
Research has shown that students are more successful in school when they learn in an environment that fosters stronger relationships.
The school also is expanding its health academy to include an emergency medical responder component, in addition to its certified nursing assisting program.
The idea is to help students get a head start and to increase their earning power throughout their career, he said.
“We’re really being aggressive in our AP program. We have a 2-3 year plan.”
The school also plans to expand its weight room.
At Wesley Chapel High, still under the direction of Principal Carin Nettles, the business and Diversified Cooperative Training programs were cut because of a lack of student interest in the programs.
The school’s highly acclaimed television production classes and its automotive classes are popular choices with students, Nettles said.
Wiregrass Ranch High is adding an Academy of Medical Professions, which will include the Certified Nursing Assisting Program and the Emergency Medical Responder program.
The Pasco-Hernando Community College campus which will be built next to Wiregrass High and the Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, now under construction, are expected to open the door to many new possibilities for students when those facilities are opened.