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School district's new high school signals mammoth growth for South County

Conor Der, an 8th-grader at Literacy Leadership Technology Academy, and his grandmother, Sue Parker of Brandon, speak to Amber Dickerson, manager of planning and siting for Hillsborough County Public Schools, about his options for high school. The county held a community meeting Wednesday at Beth Shield Middle School in Ruskin to speak to parents about the new school, slated to open in August 2020. CRYSTAL OWENS | Special to the Times
Published Jul. 22, 2018

RUSKIN — An informational meeting held Wednesday in Ruskin to address parental concerns about a new high school will be the first of many in the next two decades as south Hillsborough County growth increases at a rapid pace.

The new high school, slated to open August 2020 on the north side of Balm Road and east of U.S. 301, will absorb about 1,969 students from East Bay, Lennard, Newsome and Durant high schools. The school, situated on 52 acres, will be the first new high school opening in Hillsborough County in 10 years.

However, projections recently released in the Hillsborough County Schools Long Range School Planning Study show that by 2032 at least 10,222 students will need accommodations.

Within less than 10 years, desks will be needed for more than 8,000 more students in the area, the study shows.

"We are tracking the growth and what we're tracking is that in three to five years we're putting the majority of the growth in the new high school, so we know we're going to need new capacity. That's either through an addition or a new high school in the next five to 10 years," said Amber Dickerson, planning and siting manager for Hillsborough County Public Schools.

Parents who attended the informational meeting at Beth Shields Middle School on Wednesday were overall optimistic at the idea of their children attending a new high school. As construction on new subdivisions in the area continues — evident by the bulldozers and construction barrels lining U.S. 301 for miles — some parents welcome a reprieve from the commute.

Greg Hughley, who lives in the Ayersworth Glen subdivision, drives his 14-year-old son about seven miles to Lennard High School. He welcomes what will soon be in his backyard but also smaller class sizes for his son.

"The overcrowding is really the main reason … But the thrill of it is, it's a new school. It's a new start. He's never been to a new school, so he's looking forward to it," Hughley said.

East Bay High School is at capacity and Lennard will be at capacity within the next year, according to county estimates. If the county school board approves boundary line changes to accommodate the new high school this fall, about 1,216 Lennard students and 740 East Bay students will be affected. Durant and Newsome high schools are projected to move about six students each to the new high school.

"Those numbers are high because it includes the seniors that usually the [school] board decides will not move," Dickerson said. "So that includes all of the grades."

Hillsborough County is projected to grow at an annual rate of 1.3 percent through 2045, adding 22,000 new residents each year. It's estimated that an average of 10,000 new homes will be built over the next 15 years with most of this growth anticipated for South County.

Lorraine Duffy-Suarez, general manager of growth management and planning at Hillsborough County Public Schools, said so far the main concern among parents about the new high school is splitting apart siblings. However, most of those parents will likely find accommodation through Florida's new school choice law that allows students to attend any school within the state with available space as long as they meet certain eligibility requirements.

The main concern for parent Eli Mangual, who lives in the Ayersworth Glen subdivision, is splitting apart his nephew and son. His nephew will graduate from Lennard High School in 2021 and will not be impacted by the boundary changes. A grandfathering clause allows any student entering the 10th grade by the 2018-2019 school year to stay with their graduating class. Mangual's son, however, will graduate from Lennard in 2022 and will be moved to the new high school once it's opened.

"The most likely thing is going to be school choice," he said.

A second information meeting is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday (July 26) at Shields Middle School, 15732 Beth Shields Way.

For more information on the boundary changes, visit sdhc.k12.fl.us/doc/251/growth-management/resources/boundary.

Contact Crystal Owens at hillsnews@tampabay.com

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