SPRING HILL — Both Explorer K-8 and its principal, Dominick Ferello, are new to Hernando County. And both are just about ready for the swarm of students heading their way.
"I never thought in my dreams I'd get a brand-new school," Ferello said, recalling his interviews in the spring for a principal's position in the Hernando County School District. He came aboard in February after serving as a school administrator in Broward County.
"This is the culmination of a career,'' he said. "I consider this a gift, to open this."
Before the doors open to students on Aug. 18, Ferello said there are "standard housekeeping things," to do, such as scheduling and making sure the facility is ready.
Ferello will have a varied population of students from kindergarten to eighth grade. Explorer K-8 will be also house the Quest Academy for Gifted Education, a center school for exceptional student education, including profoundly mentally disabled and medically fragile students, as well as the district's gifted students, and a home for the neighborhood's general education students.
"What a great place for a student to develop an understanding of diversity," he said. The school is a "microcosm of the world."
The $54.8-million facility off of Northcliffe Boulevard is huge, measuring 295,000 square feet. From one end to the other, Ferello said, it's a quarter-mile.
He is trying to keep movement to a minimum. He has kindergarten through second grade on the first floor of one side of the school. Third and fourth grades will be on the second floor of the same side of the building.
Fifth grade will be on the first floor at the school's opposite end. Ferello said he would ease sixth-graders into middle school with only two class changes. They will be on the second floor above the fifth-graders. This end of the school has a third floor, which will house the seventh- and eighth-graders.
Ferello has a faculty of about 100 teachers and expects them and the administrators to contribute to the school's reading success. During morning reading time, he plans to provide extra doses of reading to students by utilizing special teachers, physical education teachers, assistant principals and guidance counselors. He intends to do the same thing. Ferello has a reading education background.
"I hired a staff that's committed to being part of this team," he said. "I'm just expecting all teachers to be reading teachers."
One of the challenges Ferello said he faces is maximizing space. "Even though this is huge, 1,800 kids are coming here," he said. The classrooms are big, so he will have some team teaching going on.
Another issue is traffic control, especially the first week of school when he expects more parents to bring their children to school rather than have them ride the buses. He asks that parents allow for extra time and to please be patient.
Ferello's vision for Explorer K-8 is to make the school "a place where all stakeholders are involved in decision making. I want community, staff, parents, children and business partners (involved) so that everybody has a sense of buying in."
In determining a theme for the school, Ferello came up with one idea and invited teachers to work with it. Finally, Ferello said, one of the teachers offered, "Explore today. Conquer tomorrow."
That was it.
"Kids will remember that," Ferello said.