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Plenty of good going on at Wharton and Sickles

(ran NTP edition)

Bobi Kollmeier is not one of the parents calling Sickles High School to ask about the fights or inquire about the school's safety.

She doesn't have to. She works there as a volunteer four days a week. In between answering the telephones in the main office, she talked about the school she loves, for its open classrooms, spacious media center, beautiful campus and mostly successful sports teams.

"My daughter's doing fine in all her subjects," Kollmeier said. "She loves the block scheduling, because she'll be able to take more classes to help her in what she wants to major in when she gets to college."

"The block scheduling's great," agreed her daughter, Tia Rasmussen.

Tia plans to be a veterinarian, but is taking a great interest in the civil engineering classes she takes at Sickles, the only high school locally to offer that program.

"The teachers are really nice and most of them are good," she added. "The fights aren't all that's happening. There's a lot of good things going on."

Across town, in New Tampa, principal Mitch Muley, too, talks about the positive things happening at Wharton High School, also in the news recently for student unrest.

Holding up one of two trophies in the main office, he lamented that only slight news coverage was given to the boys and girls swimming teams, which recently won national division crowns.

And his school is open, he said, as he walked the major hallway to the cafeteria, where hundreds of students of all backgrounds blended easily on Thursday.

"People don't really want to read about the good things," he said. "If there's a fire, what do we do? We run to watch. It's just human nature."

At both schools, there is considerable frustration with the news media.

"The Dow Jones was losing hundreds of points, but they didn't interrupt the news for that," Muley said. But they did for the disturbance at Wharton.

"We have nothing to hide here, but they've got to let it go," Muley said.

"They've got to let us work through our problems. It's like being tried in the paper. They don't give us breathing room."

Muley would like to see reports about the positive things at his school, he said. Like the Little School day care program, through which students at Wharton work with 3- and 4-year-olds to learn about child care.

Or that most of the 1,600 students at the school get along and are working to get a good education. The incident at Wharton that made prime-time news, he added, stemmed from a neighborhood fight that spilled over into the school.

"The news makes the school sound a lot worse than it is," said Sean Newman, 17, of Cross Creek.

"I like the teachers and the staff. Everybody's really nice. It's a new school and it's an exciting school. I think it's just a few students ruining it for the rest of the school."

At Sickles, principal David Smith is philosophical about the incidents that have put his school in the news, among them a cafeteria brawl and the attack of a student athlete in a school restroom.

Not in the news, he and other administrators said, is that technology classes are full and that soon 255 students will be able to log on simultaneously to the Internet.

Are tensions rising because Sickles is hundreds of students overcapacity?

"No, I will not put this on overcrowding," said Smith, whose school has seven portables and expects 38 by next year, when it gets a senior class. "Do I wish we had a room for every teacher? Yes, I do. But that's not the issue here. The issue is we have not weeded out all the thugs."

The good news, he said, is that students are working hard to build a community out of groups of children coming from different neighborhoods and schools, including rivals Leto, Gaither and Jefferson. Student government is growing, he said, and so are the Key Club and other extracurricular activities and sports.

"Those things will give students a sense of community and pride," he said. "But thugs do not have pride in anything other than thuggery, and thugs I will eliminate."