Four years ago, Osceola High School changed its course.
After being labeled a D school four years in a row, the Warriors went fundamental, embracing a back-to-basics educational philosophy involving strict disciplinary standards and mandatory parent involvement.
Following the dress codes and strict rules wasn't always fun, but 2010 graduate Hillary Hart said it was worth it.
"The teachers and administrators and parents, they're all more involved," said the 18-year-old moments after turning her tassel Tuesday night. "They all care more about us than at a usual school."
On Tuesday, Hart was one of more than 300 seniors from the Seminole school who walked across the stage at Clearwater's Bright House Field, becoming the first high school class to ever graduate from a fundamental school.
"I am so glad I went there," Hart said.
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They started as freshmen without an inkling of what the school would be like.
"I think this class was daring enough to try something here — an experiment that hadn't been tried before," said Dan Evans, an assistant principal hired in 2006-07 to help direct the school's transition.
Back then, only 420 incoming freshmen applied to the school, Evans said. All of them were admitted.
Julie Fields said she picked the school for her daughter, Shelby, because she and her husband liked the emphasis on parental involvement.
"We didn't want our child getting lost in school," Fields said.
Freshman year, many of Shelby's classmates were kicked out for various strikes against the school's rules, she said.
"You either participate in school or you don't go," her husband, Jon Fields, said.
Now, the school boasts a waiting list of some 1,200 applicants, part of the proof of success Evans and the rest of the administration sought when they started the program.
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Not that it has been easy, Evans said.
Being a fundamental high school means learning to straddle a line that isn't so complicated in the earlier grades where parental involvement is an unquestioned strength.
The premise of the fundamental concept requires students to be directly accountable to their parents and teachers for homework completion, for example.
Parents regularly sign off on their kids' homework. If a child doesn't complete his or her work, the school knows about it.
But Osceola didn't want the fundamental concept to interfere with its goal of preparing students for success in college, where student independence is assumed.
"How do you marry high levels of support with engendering independence?" Evans said.
The answer came over time. Evans said the school surrounds ninth- and 10th-graders with the kind of support that distinguishes elementary and middle fundamental schools from traditional schools. Parents were held as accountable as their children were when they didn't meet the school's expectations.
But by the 11th and 12th grades, Evans said, the school placed more responsibility on students for meeting the requirements.
"All of our measures are on the uptick," he said.
The school moved from a D to a C during its first year as a fundamental school. The second year, it moved to a B, though last year it slipped back to a C. FCAT reading scores moved from being 13th among the district's high schools to being No. 3. For the first time in the school's recent memory, it boasts a National Merit Finalist and expects more in the coming years. And though the latest college acceptance rate wasn't available, Evans said anecdotally more kids are going to college.
And, again, there's the waiting list.
Once upon a time, the public perception of Osceola was, " 'Where is that? What is that?' " Evans said. "Now, we're known. We are more popular than ever."
Principal Carol Moore called Tuesday's graduation "historic."
"It's been a community effort," she said.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.