Derrick Brooks walked a little taller going to a high school that was just 6 years old in Pensacola. The paint on the walls was a little fresher than that of other schools in town, the floors a little less scuffed.
The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer legend reminisced about his high school years last week as he stood outside a new school building in north Tampa that bore his name:
Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School.
Around him, workers pushed wheelbarrows and brooms while teachers aligned books on new library shelves. The gym's parquet floor smelled of fresh lacquer. After five years in a windowless former Circuit City building, the Hillsborough County charter school reopens Tuesday in a 67,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art campus that underwent a $15 million renovation.
A giant facade of curved gleaming glass serves as the school's entrance, filling the school with sunlight.
"I see opportunity. I feel humility knowing we have an opportunity to impact society for generations to come," Brooks said. "What excites me is the kids coming through those doors and their stories. … Could be the next president. Could be a doctor who cures cancer. Could be a pro athlete. Could be more teachers."
During his playing days, Brooks took about 35 students on field trips for years around the nation and world but wanted to help more teens. In 2005, he and the family of developer Edward DeBartolo combined their charitable organizations to create Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School. The goal was to open a publicly funded school that would provide a college-prep atmosphere with a rigorous curriculum that included advanced placement and dual-enrollment classes.
The school started with 183 students in 2007 but has grown to 335, half of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
Its trajectory hasn't always been smooth. In 2008, the school slipped from a C to a D, prompting the school district to review its charter contract. But the school rebounded, posting A's over the past two years.
Last year, every single graduate was accepted into postsecondary studies, and the Washington Post labeled it one of the nation's "most challenging high schools."
"As you can see, our mascot is the Phoenix," principal Kristine Bennett said, pointing to a mural of a fierce orange bird covered in flames rising from the back wall of the gym.
On a tour of the not-quite-finished school at 10948 N Central Ave., Bennett showed off the glass-walled media center that used to be the entrance to City Life Church, which occupied the building before moving.
The campus, which will be wired for Wi-Fi, will stock 300 Kindles in the library that will be loaded with the school's curriculum for a student to check out if he or she can't afford a textbook.
"No excuses," Bennett said.
Two technology labs will include 50 computers while all five school departments will have a mobile cart that will include 25 laptops each. Four Mac Mini computers will help students with photo and yearbook projects while a cart of 25 iPads can also be checked out by teachers for students' use.
"It's really a college prep environment," Bennett said.
The cafeteria includes a shaded outdoor seating area that has been named the Lee Roy Selmon Terrace, after the late Buccaneer great who was involved in the school. The new Brooks DeBartolo also includes a fitness center, large band room, two science labs, TV studio, college and resource center and 23 regular size classrooms — plenty of room to grow for just 21 teachers. Classroom space jumped from about 630 square feet at the old campus to 900 square feet.
Ten classrooms are equipped with digital Promethean "chalkboards."
"It's very exciting to be at a school that's built to be state of the art and was built with teachers and students in mind," said Nathan Sturtzel, an English and journalism teacher and the school's baseball coach.
"I think environment is crucial to a school to bring together an identity that we own this place and give us a sense of community."
Justin George can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3368.