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A weekend interview with ...



Christoff ... Chris Christoff, principal of Crews Lake Middle School, one of two new schools opening in Pasco County. Christoff talked with reporter Jeff Solochek about what it's like to get a brand new school ready for the first day of classes.

How different is it to open a school on the first day for a brand new school as opposed to a school that has been running for years?

First of all, the biggest difference obviously is that in the existing schools all of your routines are down pat - how parents enter the car loop, how buses enter the bus loop, what kids do when they get off the bus, what kids do when they get out of their vehicles. We're going to have to be vigilant as a staff to be out there and literally escort people in this door. Because we have a very, very specific way in which we want kids to enter the building. And we have a very specific way we want vehicles to approach the building, to make it safe for everybody.

How do you get people to know that ahead of time?

I'm putting out a very, very comprehensive newsletter that is going to be sent out ... which is mainly just about the things you need to know about Crews Lake Middle School for Day One. Obviously we will also be going over that extensively at orientation. ... You do have that one day when you have the majority of your parents and students show up. And we're having a nighttime one as well. ... So hopefully 85-90 percent of our parents and students will understand our basic policies prior to them coming here. But that's the biggest difference. For example, at Seven Springs, they knew because they had siblings there. The only ones we had to work with specifically was sixth graders. The seventh and eighth graders, they knew. They knew where the bus loop was, they knew where to go in the morning, they knew where breakfast was. Here that's all new.

Once you get past dropping kids off, what happens next? You have a whole day with a brand new staff and a lot of kids, many of whom probably have never seen each other before.

And that is going to be a challenge to us, trying to do some things as a faculty and as a student body to do some team building. Because we're having kids come from Hudson and River Ridge that potentially could be eighth graders that don't know the other eighth graders who are going to be here. So we're going to do some specific things. First of all, we're going to bring them all down to the gymnasium as a grade level, one at a time, to talk to them about some of our basic procedural operations at this school, so they understand that this is the way this school operates as compared to where they were last year. ... Then we're asking our teams to do some specific skill building, team building, with the kids. Because what you don't want to have is those things where, 'I'm still a Knight,' or 'I'm still a Cougar.' Because we're all Raiders now. ...

Are there any things you see as being potential stumbling blocks during the first couple of days?

I'm going to tell you that I was pleasantly surprised how smooth the opening of this school has gone. That probably is a credit to the fact that the school was ready for us to move into in June. So our educational facility inspector, he scheduled our deliveries to come in in a nice pattern. In other words, when we moved in in June that first week we had all our desks come in. He gave us for or five days to put them together, have some community support, get them in classrooms. The next week when we were done with that, the next big thing came. So we pretty much have all the computers ready for students and staff. ... Furniture is in classrooms. Overhead projectors are in classrooms. I think that made it a lot earlier than for some other schools where the facility wasn't ready as soon. So we've had a lot of time to work on the procedural things that, if you don't have that time, things can go awry. ...

After that (first day), it's just a matter of building school spirit from the ground up.

We've gone with a theme here, kind of a nautical theme. So we've done some purposeful things to make kids kind of want to buy in to our mascot. ... These kids have the opportunity to set traditions that not a lot of kids get to do. I mean, I never went to a brand new school. I went to a school that was already done. The school song was already written. These kids had a hand in actually picking the school mascot. What kinds of festivals are we going to do? There's things that each school does that are unique to that school. Well, this is a blank slate. They can decide what we're going to do and what defines us as a school. That's a pretty unique opportunity.

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