Steinbrenner High School getting ready to open

LUTZ — So much is coming together so fast at the brand-new George M. Steinbrenner High School.

It has to. Classes start Tuesday.

Just look in the band room. One recent morning, band director Nicole Conte was rounding up about 80 students to head out to the football field to march.

Then, in what seemed like half a minute, in came two top administrators from district headquarters, movers with three sets of bookshelves, the principal with two more visitors and the band uniform guy wanting everyone's shoe size.

"There's bumps and boxes and all kinds of things happening nonstop," Conte said. Forget about focusing on any one thing for long, she said. It's "orderly chaos."

And yet.

For all the semi-trailer trucks rumbling up to the campus on Lutz-Lake Fern Road, for all the teachers unpacking boxes, and for all the little decisions cropping up late, this school will be ready, administrators say.

"To start something from the ground up has been very rewarding," said principal Brenda Grasso, who came to Steinbrenner High from Gaither.

Indeed, the newness of Steinbrenner High — named for the famed New York Yankees owner and Tampa Bay philanthropist — is what attracted many of the faculty in the first place.

There's the appeal of the $57.1 million facility, the opportunity to work with a hand-picked group of colleagues and the chance to create the school's own traditions.

The school also has its own attractor program, the Kinsman Academy, named for the Ocala stable that George Steinbrenner founded. The academy is geared toward helping students interested in careers in professional sports, though not necessarily as players.

"Not everybody can grow up to be a professional athlete," Grasso said. Rather, the program aims to help prepare them for careers in sports management, marketing, medicine, training, even in the electronics you might find in a Jumbotron.

The school is expected to open with about 1,600 students, nearly a third of whom signed up through the district's school choice program. The first year, there will be no senior class.

But there will be about 80 students coming over from neighboring Martinez Middle School to study Latin, Spanish, French or advanced math.

Of the faculty and staff, about 30 to 35 came with Grasso from Gaither. Faculty members from Gaither head the science, fine arts, English and guidance departments.

Another 35 or so employees came from Sickles, and 10 more came from Freedom. But the school also has drawn teachers and staff members from schools that include Plant, Alonso and Leto, as well as from outside Hillsborough.

"Many of our teachers are veteran teachers," Grasso said. For every job she advertised, she said she got about 100 resumes.

"I came here to follow Ms. Grasso," fine arts department head Don Sizemore said. At Gaither, he said, she allowed him to transform half a teacher work room into an art gallery. "She supports the arts more than any principal I've ever worked for."

This month, even as Steinbrenner's front sidewalk bustled like a loading dock, students began coalescing into the groups, teams and clubs that make up a school community.

The color guard twirled flags on the auditorium stage. The football team ran through conditioning drills on a field at Martinez Middle. Tryouts for volleyball and cheerleading were under way.

Perhaps the first students to take to the campus were the kids in band camp.

They showed up on a Monday. That day, one parent said, it sounded like a bunch of kids noodling around with their instruments, which, essentially, they were.

"By Wednesday, they already sounded like a band," said Cindy Yowell, the president of the school's band boosters.

By Thursday, they showed up, in Warrior shorts, T-shirts and ball caps, at a faculty meeting to play the school's fight song.

And on that Friday, three sophomores, David Dunn, Steven Yowell and David Brangaccio — all 15 and all coming in from their freshman year at Sickles — said the new school looked pretty nice.

"It's cool, because we get brand new text books that aren't torn up or anything, and there's not going to be any gum under the desks, and you get brand new (band) instruments," Dunn said. "And the bathrooms don't look like crap."

While Steinbrenner will draw students from a variety of schools, some went to middle school together at Martinez, so it will be good to see old friends again, Brangaccio said.

There's just one thing. Steinbrenner sits in a complex with McKitrick Elementary and Martinez Middle schools next to the Suncoast Parkway. From a high school student's perspective, it's the middle of nowhere.

There's no place near campus to meet friends, to get a burger or burrito. The nearest convenience store is nearly 3 miles away.

"I guess the only place we could really go to hang out," Steven Yowell said, "is home."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.

>> fast facts

George M. Steinbrenner High School

5575 W Lutz-Lake Fern Road, Lutz, (813) 792-5131

Cost: $57.1 million

Enrollment: About 1,600 (No senior class the first year.)

Capacity: 2,500

Mascot: Warriors

Colors: Navy blue and gold

Basic classrooms: 104

Staff: 75 teachers, five administrators, three counselors,

10 food workers, 21 coaches, 12 custodians.

Steinbrenner High School getting ready to open 08/20/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 20, 2009 5:30am]

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