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Larger-than-expected waiting list pushes Nature Coast Technical High to its limits

BROOKSVILLE — The potential for more students at Nature Coast Technical High School is much higher than the School Board originally thought when it voted Monday to allow students on the waiting list to attend.

That list now stands at 264 students, principal Toni-Ann Noyes said Friday. That includes 129 freshmen.

That's more than four times the 65 total students board member Pat Fagan mentioned during Monday's meeting.

The list includes 51 sophomores, 47 juniors and 25 seniors. Noyes said she was given direction this week that the freshmen should be admitted, too.

"Right now we feel comfortable we can do it" without bringing portables onto the California Street campus, said Noyes, who begins her first year as principal at Nature Coast when classes resume in Hernando County on Monday morning.

Noyes on Friday did not have the number of students from the wait list who registered this week.

There is little room for more bodies, though.

Nature Coast had an enrollment of 1,488 as of Thursday, Noyes said. The school's permanent design capacity is 1,231 students, so officially it's overcrowded.

But creative administrators can use every nook and cranny to stretch that capacity. Nature Coast, for example, has resource rooms that aren't counted in the design capacity but can be used as classroom space.

"That's how you can get a feel of not being overcrowded even though on paper it is," said Amber Wheeler, the district's manager of planning and growth management.

Noyes said she's already getting creative. She expects to have so-called floating teachers, instructors without set classrooms. A social studies teacher, for example, will teach in the school's chorus room.

The district's 10-day student count will be critical, Noyes said. That is true in every school during every year because student populations are largely settled after two weeks of classes and administrators find out how far their projected enrollment is from the actual number of students who will attend.

That number will be even more telling at Nature Coast this year as students on the waiting list continue to step forward. The more students come from other schools, the more teachers and staff will come with them.

The school's vocational programs — from cosmetology to information technology — are full or nearly so, Noyes said.

"(Students from the wait list) may not be able to go into the programs they requested this year, but we can enroll them in general education," Noyes said.

As staffers made calls to students this week, Noyes worked with the school's career specialist to find out which programs could take more students. Staffers had already worked out a master schedule and the influx of students will require changes.

That's one of the reasons some students are saying no thanks, Noyes said. The vocational tracks typically take at least two years to complete, so many juniors and seniors don't want to move to Nature Coast if they can't get into their desired program.

The majority of students will likely be freshmen and sophomores who have time to wait for a vocational track, and juniors and seniors who want to take only general courses, Noyes said.

Her guidance staff is handling the last-minute change of plans well, she said.

"They've very calm and cool, dealing with one situation at a time," she said.

Assistant superintendent Sonya Jackson, who is overseeing the admissions process, did not return calls for comment Friday.

Fagan was surprised when told by a reporter Friday about the actual number on the waiting list. "It would have been nice to have known," he said.

Fagan made the motion Monday to raise Nature Coast's attendance cap to make room for students on the waiting list.

The goal was to be fair after the board voted to allow 12 out-of-county students back into the school. Those students had been admitted despite a policy forbidding nonresident students from attending Hernando's magnet schools. An investigation into how that happened is ongoing, board attorney Paul Carland said.

Eight students appealed and were denied in June. Two families sued, and the board decided Monday to head off a potentially costly court battle and future legal challenges by allowing all 12 ineligible students back into the school.

There were no staff members in the board room Monday to answer questions about the waiting list or the school's capacity.

"That's what happens when you make hasty decisions," said Sandy Nicholson, the lone member to oppose Fagan's motion, when told by a reporter Friday about the larger waiting list.

Board member James Yant said there would have been more discussion about staffing levels if board members had realized the actual number of students.

But Yant said he still would have voted to raise the cap and admit the students unless staff told the board it was impossible to accommodate them.

Still, as a former guidance counselor at Hernando High, Yant said he knows what Noyes and her employees are going through.

"I know it's traumatic," Yant said. "All I can do is apologize for that."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Larger-than-expected waiting list pushes Nature Coast Technical High to its limits 08/21/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 7:29pm]
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