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Denham Oaks' big day // READY FOR THE CHALLENGE

When Denham Oaks Elementary School finally opens Tuesday after months of delays and legal wrangling, the school's principal will find herself facing the toughest challenge of her career.

Ruth Biggs wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'm a person who likes change and challenges," she said, "and I've got a lot now."

Actually, she has about 600 challenges awaiting her. That's the number of students who will be attending classes at Denham Oaks.

Biggs and her staff of more than 50 educators will have to quickly adjust Denham Oaks' students to a regular school schedule after two months of double-sessions.

"It's a nice, small number of students for us to work with right now," Biggs said. "Which is good, because that number will grow rapidly."

Biggs and her staff are relishing the chance to abandon the spare rooms and closets of Lake Myrtle Elementary and move into their own building.

"It feels wonderful," Biggs said. "We'll finally have our own school. It's very exciting, and we're very ready."

Biggs can't wait to get into the new school; it beats the closet she has worked out of since school began in September. She shares space in her closet-office with a shelf of supplies.

And when she finally settles into her new office, hanging on the wall will be a framed poem she wrote as a fourth-grader at Azalea Elementary School in St. Petersburg.

"I wrote an essay saying I wanted to be a teacher," she said. "I even drew a picture of myself as a teacher.

"I've always thought of myself as a helper. I like to help people; that's why I became a teacher."

Twenty-three years later, Biggs has risen through the ranks of administration.

Her career began in Hillsborough County, where she spent three years teaching at Cleveland Elementary.

She then moved to Pasco County, where she was a counselor for three years at West Zephyrhills Elementary and Hudson Elementary.

Then she moved into administration, taking over as assistant principal at Sanders Elementary for eight years. She then became a district supervisor for four years.

She spent the last five years as principal at Shady Hills Elementary before taking on the Denham Oaks' job, a challenge Biggs said is quite unlike taking over an established school.

"We're starting from scratch," she said. "We need to get people working cooperatively together. We need to get people together and focused on goals. Also, getting to know each other is a major challenge, as is getting to know families and children.

"We've got our work cut out for us."

Biggs believes that as an administrator her job is still teaching. Not just instructing students, but also teaching and working with her educational staff to teach the children.

"A principal is a teacher,"she said. "I teach every day. I still consider myself a teacher."