TAMPA — About two dozen fifth-graders and their parents gathered in the media center of Sulphur Springs Elementary School last week for a "chat and chew" to learn how the Hillsborough County School District plans to transition the C-rated school to a K-8 community school beginning in the fall.
Over slices of cheese pizza, assistant principal for student affairs Adam Fleischmann explained the curriculum, new bell times and technology that current fifth-graders will experience when they return to the renamed Sulphur Springs K-8 Community School in August as sixth-graders. The district will phase in one new grade each year, so that by the 2017-18 school year, Sulphur Springs will operate fully as a K-8 school.
A new two-story school building will accommodate the students. Groundbreaking is expected in November, Fleischmann said, for a middle school pod that will be wired for technology. There is also discussion that the building will house a gymnasium or other large multipurpose room, which the current campus is lacking.
"The kids are excited and there's a lot of positive energy," Fleischmann said of the reaction to the planned community school. He stood in for principal Julie Scardino, who could not attend the meeting because of illness.
When students return in August, they will be greeted with an 8 a.m. start and a 3:15 p.m. dismissal. The schedule will provide an extra 30 minutes of tutoring time for students who need help in math or reading, or enrichment time for students who do not.
Classes for sixth-graders will be held in the current fifth-grade pod and a STEM curriculum will be taught throughout five subjects: language arts, reading, math, science and social studies. There also will be quarterly rotations of art, music, technology and physical education. Each sixth-grade class will last 50 minutes.
The school has also received a Project Innovation grant to equip each sixth-grader with either a laptop or tablet during the school day.
The nonprofit Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise worked with the school district to introduce the community school concept. Educators think the structure allows for greater student continuity and fosters meaningful relationships among students, teachers and parents.
"The middle school years are important because it gets students ready for high school," Fleischmann said to parents. "We're committed to making sure your students are emotionally and academically ready for high school."
The school also plans to work with Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation to offer track, basketball, volleyball and soccer teams. Leadership clubs are also planned based on student interest. The YMCA will continue its after-school program, but current plans are to have the sixth-graders transported off campus, where they can take part in special-interest clubs.
Organizers said they want students to feel a sense of ownership and will seek student input before finalizing clubs.
Parents at the meeting seemed to appreciate the benefits and convenience of the community school concept.
"I love it," said Kenyanta Thrash, whose son, Damon Beasley, is a current fifth-grader. "They will get more learning and tutoring."
"I like that they're adding a grade each year and there won't be kids from other schools," said parent Jessica Wadyka, who also attended Sulphur Springs Elementary.
All fifth-grade students who are already zoned to attend Sulphur Springs are expected to return for sixth grade. In Wadyka's case, her son was already accepted to a different middle school as part of the district's school choice program.
"Now we're going to see where we'll go," she said. "But I think it's a great option for students and parents."
Fleischmann said he wants parents to be thoroughly informed about the change, and that he and principal Scardino welcome questions from parents.
"This is going to be a fantastic opportunity for the kids."
Contact Candace Rotolo at [email protected]