This has been a long time coming.
Since 2018, to be exact.
Ever since Wendell Krinn Technical High opened in New Port Richey — replacing Ridgewood High — there’s been a need for a technical school on Pasco County’s east side.
Soon, that need will be served.
Pasco County Schools is spending $70 million on Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation, a school that will feature leading-edge programs on an ultra-modern campus.
Being built in the rapidly growing community of Wesley Chapel, the new high school is set to open this August, for the 2022-2023 school year.
The STEM (science, technical, engineering and mathematics) high school will feature a curriculum that allows students to earn a standard diploma, while having the opportunity to earn industry certifications.
Dee Dee Johnson, Kirkland Ranch’s inaugural principal, said this type of school has been needed on the east side of the county for a long time.
The campus gives students a chance to attain a well-rounded education, while also exploring programs that might not be their exact focus.
Students will have access to trade and technical programs such as automotive maintenance and repair, including diesel; biomedical sciences; building trades and construction technology; cybersecurity; digital media and multimedia design; engineering and robotics, welding; electricity; and, patient care technology.
Kirkland Ranch is opening with freshmen and sophomores, but will be adding junior and senior classes.
Both school and district leaders are enthused about the new opportunities that Kirkland will provide.
“We’re excited about the whole experience for those students,” said Dr. Kim Moore, assistant superintendent for Career and Innovative Programs.
The school’s STEM focus “is integrated into everything because STEM is a mindset. The programs will all have interconnection,” Moore said.
Kirkland Ranch has been designed to foster collaboration among students.
Several programs are deliberately located close to each other to make it easier for students from various programs to bring their work together.
“Engineering needs to understand the trades of building and construction, just like electrical needs to, as well,” Johnson said. “Honestly, we’re excited about how all of the programs can collaborate and work together. I think that’s really cool because that’s how it will work in the real world. We’re excited to see what every program can build and create.”
The school district also is excited to have a diesel automotive program, one that can and will work on its school buses.
“They’ll be able to service our own vehicles — which is just about one of the coolest things the school system will have,” Moore said.
Pasco County Schools is taking full advantage of the county’s unprecedented growth, especially in the Wesley Chapel area.
With the abundance of nearby construction projects — on buildings, roadways and other infrastructure — there’s plenty of opportunity for technical jobs. Those are the kinds of jobs that will be easily accessible to students who receive training and can become certified before leaving high school.
“Think about it,” Moore said. “Large employers like the hospitals coming in right there in Wesley Chapel will need everything from doctors to nurses to biomedical to technicians. But those large businesses will need buildings; jobs that will go to welders and construction and engineers. Those businesses might have vehicles, in which our students will be prepared to work on those mechanically.
“A lot of strategy went into selecting career fields and programs at Kirkland Ranch — that way it would meet the needs locally,” Moore said.
“We took a comprehensive local needs assessment that focused on the jobs needed in Pasco, especially right nearby in Wesley Chapel. We’ll have ready a pool of employees right here in Pasco County that will attract even more businesses.”
Kirkland Ranch is set to be completed this summer, with students expected to have a chance to tour the building sometime in July, Johnson said.
“Everything is on track, which is amazing in what we’re facing (with supply chains) at this time,” Johnson added.
Anticipation is growing and the excitement is palpable, as school and district leaders prepare to welcome the first students to Kirkland Ranch.
“If I was in high school again, I would have gone to this school,” Moore said, with a laugh. “I would have loved to have gone to a school like Kirkland Ranch.”
Interested in enrolling?
The Pasco County Pathways second enrollment period runs through April 18. For more information on Kirkland Ranch, its programs and enrollment, visit KRAI.pasco.k12.fl.us/.
Published April 13, 2022
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