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Pinellas gets ready to launch a new school, Tech High



Published Oct. 3, 2017

SEMINOLE — The summer camp-like place where generations of high school students escaped to for a few hours of "real world" experience has gone by many names.

The Ag Farm offered three elective classes when it opened on 42 rural acres in 1961: agriculture, cabinetmaking and masonry. It expanded into Seminole Vocational Education Center, or VoTech, in the '70s and was renamed Career Academies of Seminole in 2013 for a 21st century workforce.

The school will soon take on a new identity: Pinellas Technical High School at Seminole, or Tech High, will open in August 2018 as the Pinellas County school district's first full-time technical high school. Tech High students will spend their entire day at the school instead of coming for a few hours a week.

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"We just feel like we're the answer for so many students," said Career Academies of Seminole principal Marti Giancola, who will lead Tech High next year.

Construction is about to begin on a $7.9 million building with 16 classrooms for core academic subjects, kitchen and cafeteria space. The School Board in February approved a total project cost of $10.5 million, which includes renovations to other buildings on the campus. That figure has increased to $13.2 million.

The school hopes to take on 150 freshman and 150 sophomores from around the county for its inaugural year through the district's application process for choice programs, which begins in January. No students will be zoned for the school. Part-time students currently attending CAS will be allowed to stay for one more year so they can finish their industry certifications in 2018-19.

District officials are looking to cap enrollment at 600 students to create a smaller environment, but it could be a hard sell for families looking for a traditional high school experience. Tech High, for example, will not offer any sports, though students can play for their zoned school's team.

Dayton Derkovitz, 14, comes to CAS for its commercial and digital arts program from Seminole High across the street. He'd love to enroll at Tech High, but because his mom is a Seminole High alum, it would be a tough tradition to break.

"I'll try to talk them into it," he said. "When I come here, I'm so happy because the day's gone by so fast because you're doing something that you love."

Passionate students like Derkovitz who have a specific interest in one of six programs would thrive at Tech High, said Mark Hunt, Pinellas' executive director of career, technical and adult education.

"If that's what really interests them and all their waking hours are spent thinking about this, that's the kind of kid we're looking for," Hunt said. "That theme is going to encourage their growth and encourage their ability to develop the skills and interests into a career that already interests them."

Students will spend at least 90 minutes every day in their selected program: building trades and construction design technology, commercial and digital arts, electricity, nursing, veterinary assisting, and game or simulation programming. Tech High will offer dual enrollment programs with Pinellas Technical College and St. Petersburg College. And later, after the program gets going, officials plan on requiring that students complete a capstone project to test their knowledge.

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Arterial busing will be available for students who live mid-county, including those zoned for Clearwater, Dixie Hollins, Largo, Pinellas Park and Seminole high schools.

Chris Juul, who has been teaching the school's commercial and digital arts program for 20 years, once participated in the program as a student at Largo High.

"It's a long time coming," Juul said. "I've seen the school go from being hidden back here to getting some recognition, which is incredible."

There's still a lot to figure out before August: traffic patterns, uniforms, a mascot. But if Tech High is a success, it could open doors for other technical high schools around the county, Giancola said.

"We hope we do a fabulous job and hope they open up more," she said.

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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