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At Weeki Wachee High, opening week goes well

WEEKI WACHEE

The electronic tones signaled a change of classes at Weeki Wachee High School, and soon students were buzzing past the principal as he stood smack in the middle of a first-floor breezeway. "There's plenty of space, and everything is flowing," principal Dennis McGeehan said. A couple of moments later, the breezeway emptied — followed by silence.

The opening of the Hernando school district's newest school last week went about as smoothly as that change of classes Thursday afternoon, McGeehan said.

The $41 million project was finished on time and on budget. Students quickly got the lay of the campus, which has a capacity of 1,575 students. Transportation problems were few.

The size of the student body certainly helped, McGeehan said. The home of the Hornets gets to ease into its first year, opening with only freshmen and sophomores who will feed into the upper classes over the next two years. Enrollment hovered around 580 by Thursday.

About 10 cars sat in the student parking lot. That helped with the traffic flow as bus drivers and parents got used to the loops around the massive school with architecture reminiscent of a Brooksville bungalow.

The first week at Weeki Wachee was a stark contrast to the opening of Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill in 2007. That school opened with all grades at one time, plus a center for gifted students, and was overcrowded from the first day. Afternoon dismissal brought gridlock.

The Weeki Wachee High contractor, Skanska USA, is working on finishing touches at the school. Workers on Thursday installed wiring for the stadium press box. The just-surfaced tennis courts still lack white lines and nets. The track needs lanes.

Beyond that, though, the punch list is relatively short, McGeehan said. A malfunctioning electronic door lock here, a leaky pipe there.

Teachers are still working on getting the television studio up and running. Once that happens, the school's morning announcement show will be broadcast into classrooms through projectors mounted to the ceilings.

McGeehan was a teacher at Springstead High when it opened in 1976. He recalls how some features, such as the football stadium, came later. Central High was still being retrofitted with technology when he left as principal last year. It makes him all the more appreciative of a turnkey school.

He is pleased, too, with the level of parental involvement so far, especially as the school works to get the fine arts and junior varsity sports programs started.

The employees who spent months preparing for the first day probably deserve the most credit, he said.

"To see it come together so smoothly speaks volumes for our staff."

A few minutes after the start of fourth period in Room 346 on Thursday, the students moved from desks to the engineering stations.

The lab is equipped with about a dozen stations that offer hands-on lessons in areas such as hydraulics, pneumatics and robotics. Software on computers at each station prompts students how to navigate the day's lesson.

At one station, sophomore Fernando Ramirez and a partner had to complete an on-screen lesson to get acquainted with manipulator drives and other basic robotic parts before they could power up the nearby robotic arm.

Ramirez picked the course as an elective.

"I thought it would be interesting, help me explore technology," Ramirez said. "It's pretty cool."

The Spring Hill teen attended Springstead last year and says he was also cool with switching schools. About half of Weeki Wachee's 10th-graders came from Central, half from Springstead, both of which were overcrowded. Ramirez has buddies at both schools.

"I was actually pretty happy coming to a new school with all my friends coming together now," he said.

Steve Stora helped build the pre-engineering program from the ground up after transferring from his post as a technology lab teacher at Powell Middle School.

Asked why he transferred to the new school, he replied: "Look around you."

Over in the gymnasium, freshman Kelly Cooper sat in the bleachers chatting with friends. Cooper, of Spring Hill, figured she was bound for Central and admitted some initial hesitancy about heading to the new school.

Now she's enjoying graphic design and business courses.

"I realized it was a much better opportunity to come here, so I was really happy," she said.

Cooper, who might play volleyball, said she felt a little lukewarm about the Hornets as Weeki Wachee's mascot. Then her dad offered some insight into the insect.

"I get it now," she said. "They're kind of aggressive and territorial."

Freshman Marcus Applefield got a feel for his new territory last week when he stepped onto the football field for the first time. Weeki Wachee has a later start time — 9:15 a.m. — and the team has been practicing before school.

"Step up," Applefield recalled telling himself as he walked onto the field. "Show some people how to play in the new school."

He knows it's a big deal to be a member of the school's first team.

"I feel a sense of history, like I have to set the pace," he said.

The first home football game is Sept. 9 and will be a battle of brand-new schools. The visitors: the Fivay High Falcons from Hudson.

Applefield is confident the Hornets will be ready.

"We're coming together," he said. "We're like a family."

At Weeki Wachee High, opening week goes well 08/28/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 5:16pm]

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