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New Odessa Elementary offers a peek before opening day

ODESSA — Frazier Grade headed into his third-grade classroom, family in tow, holding a shopping bag loaded with supplies.

His teacher for the year, Nicole Gleichowski, smiled warmly at her first visitor for meet-the-teacher day at Odessa Elementary School.

"I'm Mrs. G," she said, offering that it would be fine not to try saying her full name. "I didn't even learn to pronounce it until a year after I was married."

Frazier grinned. He checked out the room, even got to pick out his desk, as his mom and dad filled out papers and asked questions, and his brother, Miller, waited for his chance to meet his first-grade teacher.

"I like my classroom a lot," Frazier, who attended Trinity Elementary last year, concluded after a few minutes. "I like that it's different, and it has more space. I think I might be liking to learn in this classroom."

Families for Pasco County's newest elementary school lined the sidewalk by 8:05 a.m. Wednesday hoping to get a jump on the chance to meet their teachers, check out their classrooms and get bus and other information before classes begin next week. A similar scene played out at schools all across the county.

District officials were hopeful that most of the parents who had not yet registered their children for school would show up on this day, so they'd have a better read on exactly how many students to expect. That number is more critical this year than ever before, as every classroom must meet strict student-teacher ratios under the 2002 class-size reduction amendment.

Frazier's third-grade class was already two students over. His brother Miller's class had just one more than the 18 allowed.

Odessa principal Teresa Love said that her school actually looked as if it will surpass the caps (18 for grades K-3 and 22 for grades 4-5) in every single room on the first day. She already has received two additional teachers and has asked the district to close the school for choice applications.

"The district will support us in allowing us to have more teachers," Love said. "But we want to make sure everyone shows up, first."

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said her administrative team will begin poring over enrollment and attendance data after the first day of classes. Some schools might be over their caps, she said, but others might be under.

After getting a better sense of the full picture, the district will move teachers through transfers and hiring.

"We will be class-size compliant by October, when they take the count," Fiorentino said.

Some Odessa parents also had concerns about the traffic safety leading to the school. To get to the school, drivers must turn at an intersection without a traffic signal on State Road 54.

"I am worried about the fact there is no light there," said Laura Cornelius, as she waited in line for bus route information for her kindergartner, Leo. "They're going to have to put a light there. Otherwise, some buses are going to get creamed."

PTO secretary Pam Mooney said she hoped the community would come together to press for some sort of solution, perhaps flashing lights or a deputy to control traffic when buses arrive and leave daily.

"We are very concerned about the traffic on 54," Mooney said.

Fiorentino said she got a call from the Florida Department of Transportation early Wednesday, in which officials pledged to expedite the addition of a traffic light at nearby Trinity Boulevard and SR 54, and also to move up a turn lane extension into Community Drive, which leads to the school.

Despite these issues, parents and students were mostly thrilled to have the chance to see their school and meet their teachers.

"I'm half excited and half kind of nervous," second-grader Daelynn Benitez said after meeting her teacher, Joshua Crabtree. "I get to be with some of my friends I used to have in my other school. But I also have some new friends that I haven't met yet."

Crabtree shared that he was equally pleased to have the chance to meet his students and parents.

"It's valuable to see them before school starts," he said. "We get to make a bond with the parents and kids. It just helps ease the tension."

Classes resume Monday for all Pasco public schools.

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.

New Odessa Elementary offers a peek before opening day 08/11/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 8:44pm]
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