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Community helps fulfill Odessa Elementary's wish list

TRINITY — When it opened last month, Odessa Elementary School boasted a wide variety of the latest available technology.

Just not everything that other nearby schools have.

Although the school received the same $1.1 million in capital start-up funds as other formerly new elementary schools, Odessa leaders quickly discovered that the amount doesn't go as far as it did when, say, Gulf Trace or Double Branch debuted in 2007-08.

Even Connerton Elementary, which also opened in August, found itself in a better position than Odessa because it was able to bring equipment and materials from the now-closed Sanders Elementary.

"We don't have the items that other schools were able to get immediately with regard to technology," Odessa principal Teresa Love said. "We don't have what the kids are leaving behind. That is one reason we are being so aggressive with our fundraising."

On the wish list are such things as document cameras, backup disk drives for teachers and wireless projectors that make classroom white boards interactive.

Even before the school registered a single student, it established a Parent-Teacher Organization to jump start its efforts for technology and a playground, which no new Pasco County schools get. They're not required for the curriculum and so the district doesn't include them in construction plans or budgets.

If schools want them — and most do — the district supports the construction with some money, but expects the school community to pay for the rest.

"I immediately saw the need for PTO involvement," Love said.

The group started meeting in the spring to plan a fall golf tournament, scheduled for Oct. 23, and also to begin a capital campaign. The goal is to collect $121,000 for two playgrounds — one basic and one for students with special needs — and another $64,986 for technology.

"The bulk of it that is needed is here at the school," PTO president Dana Kistler said. "We're just trying to put the finishing touches on our technology."

Here's where the school got lucky.

Beck Construction, which built Odessa Elementary, donated $5,000 to kick off the fundraising effort.

Then along came Trinity developer Adam Smith Enterprises, which prides itself on having strong community schools. As he did with the other new Trinity schools, Adam Smith vice president Lew Friedland called the principal and asked what his company could do special for Odessa.

"They said, 'The problem is we don't have start-up funds for some of the things that the other schools in Trinity have,' " Friedland said. "I said, 'I wonder whether or not some of the residents in Trinity would be able to help.' "

He contacted some business leaders, who contributed a few thousand dollars. He sent out letters to civic organizations and homeowner groups, detailing the situation and asking for financial support.

And he pledged that Adam Smith Enterprises would match every dollar raised.

"If everybody contributes a little, we can get them on par with what everybody else has," Friedland said.

Already, Kistler said, the school has collected more than $7,000 through the campaign. She said she hoped the golf tournament will clear about $25,000 for the school.

Other initiatives in the works include the sale of engraved bricks on the school walkway for $50 and even an "opt-out" fund raiser in which parents can contribute to the school (suggested amount $50 for one student, $35 for siblings in the school) in exchange for receiving no other requests for donations or sales.

Connerton, by contrast, has not begun its fundraisers for its playground yet. It hasn't formed its PTO and has yet to forge a partnership with the developers of the surrounding community.

"Our situation was a little bit different than Odessa's," principal Anna Falcone said. "Even though we weren't given the same amount of money that schools traditionally got, we brought a lot with us."

That alleviated some of the immediate need, Falcone said, allowing the school to take more time before seeking extra money.

The leaders of both schools acknowledged that they're fortunate to be working in areas that can financially support them as needed. Trinity and Land O'Lakes have long traditions of parent and business involvement in schools.

If the schools had opened in less affluent communities, there's no telling what the schools might have done to fill the gaps. Some schools struggle to get parents to show up for teacher conferences, much less PTO meetings or fundraisers.

"I just hope from the PTO standpoint we never take that for granted," Kistler said.

Odessa leaders have said they hope to have all the new equipment in place before the end of the school year in June.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Community helps fulfill Odessa Elementary's wish list 09/04/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 4, 2010 1:13pm]
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