Crews are kicking it into high gear at Wiregrass Elementary School to ensure the school is ready to open for students on Aug. 15.
The new school, at 29732 Wiregrass School Road in Wesley Chapel, will have its “first” first day of school, and Principal Steve Williams said he and his staff can’t wait.
“This is going to be a fantastic school. It’s going to be an outside-the-box kind of school. It’s going to be a school that doesn’t necessarily do things the way everybody else does, because we are pushing for incredible outcomes. Intentional outcomes,” Williams said.
The school was built to relieve crowding at other nearby schools. As of Aug. 4, its enrollment was 505 students, but that number has been increasing every day, the principal said.
“We certainly anticipate that this is going to be a growing school. There’s a lot of subdivisions being built,” he said.
Williams said the school has features he thinks will help to make it special.
There’s an area called Wiregrass Court, an inclusive play area for children and a park.
There are other differences, too.
“We’re trying to push what the definition of learning spaces look like. So, we don’t have a media center. We have what we call The Wiregrass Innovation Factory. That’s where you have the large space with technology and books, and opportunities to collaborate and create,” the principal said.
Each grade level team also has its own “Local innovation Factory,” tailored to each age group.
“It looks different. It feels different. It’s got great technology in it. In addition, it’s got some furniture. It’s got a maker space. It’s got some instructional materials. Ultimately, you’ll have two 65-inch TVs, plus an interactive whiteboard, all with wireless technology,” Williams said.
The school’s staff was set to report to work on Aug. 8, but some teachers dropped in earlier to unpack boxes and arrange their classrooms.
“We’ve opened these past two days — yesterday and today — for staff that wanted to move in,” Williams said on Aug. 4. “For most of them, this is their very first time being on this campus. They’re here to drink it all in and to move stuff,” he said.
“They’ve been very, very excited and I understand it, because I’ve been excited, too,” the principal added.
Robin Kestenbaum, who teaches first grade, loves the idea of helping to launch the new school.
“I honestly felt like a little first-grader, getting ready for the first day of the school,” she said.
Kestenbaum, a teacher for 17 years, said she has taught in Massachusetts and Tennessee, and on the east coast of Florida. Most recently, she taught at Pine View Elementary.
The beginning of every school year is exciting, she said, but that’s especially true this year.
“I have to be honest with you, this is one of the most exciting for me, personally,” Kestenbaum said.
Third-grade teacher Maria Pita brought a crew along to help her move in. Her husband was there, and so was her daughter and her daughter’s friend. And, another daughter was expected to arrive to join in, too.
The teacher previously taught at Pasco Elementary.
“It’s going to be a whole new adventure,” Pita said, who taught at Pasco Elementary last year.
Music teachers Heather Croucher and Christine Reed are also delighted to help open Wiregrass Elementary. Croucher, who taught at Denham Oaks Elementary, will be at Wiregrass Elementary five days a week. Reed will be Wiregrass Elementary for two days a week and Pine View Elementary for three days a week.
“We’re excited about all of the new stuff that we have,” Croucher said. The music department also has two rooms, she said. “This is our music suite.”
“That’s S-W-E-E-T,” Reed added.
“We’re looking forward to doing lots of musicals here,” Croucher said, including “maybe a xylophone group, and maybe even utilizing that outdoor area for some recitals.”
The school has four things it is focusing on, Williams said. Those are: Safety pursued. Learning focused. People valued. And, outcome driven.
“All of our conversations and all of our systems are all based around those four things,” he said.
In learning focused, for instance, “this first year we’re doing a lot of conversations about students owning their own learning and what does that look like?” the principal said.
“How do we help our student to own their own learning? Of course, that looks different at kindergarten than it does at fifth grade,” the principal said.
Helping kids “own” their own learning can mean that different kids will be doing different things in the room at the same time — aiming for the same learning goal, but coming at it from different paths, he explained.
The goal is to prepare students leaving the elementary school to be successful in middle school, said Williams, who previously was the director of teaching and learning for Pasco County Schools. Before that, he was the principal at Sunlake High School and worked in other roles.
When the opportunity to lead Wiregrass Elementary came along, Williams said he was pleased to accept the role.
“One of my professional goals was always to open a school as principal,” he said. “This has been the chance to cast a vision, to hire the staff, to buy the materials, to do everything from the ground up.”
Published August 10, 2016