Advertisement
  1. Education

Students, staff, parents celebrate opening of two new schools in Pasco

Bryce Navarro, left, a junior at Cypress Creek High School, helps fellow student Michae’la Davis and her mother, Valarie White, with the registration process Monday, the first day of classes.
Published Aug. 16, 2017

After months of anticipation, Pasco County's two newest schools made their debuts Monday to largely rave reviews.

Both Cypress Creek Middle-High School in Wesley Chapel and Bexley Elementary School in Land O'Lakes rose to ease crowding at nearby schools, where subdivision growth pushed the student populations beyond capacity.

Even with the new schools' arrival, other campuses continued to grow, with overall district enrollment expected to increase by 1,600 children — largely along the State Road 54 corridor.

Students, parents and staffers at both Cypress Creek and Bexley cheered their high-tech, pristinely clean new digs, and welcomed the opportunity to create a school culture.

"We're going to get our pictures on the wall as the first graduating class. It's cool," Cypress Creek junior Jack Ward said after posing for a photo in the entrance.

His mom, Mollyana Ward, said she had no qualms about having her youngest son transfer from Wiregrass Ranch High to Cypress Creek. Some families fought the move as the School Board drew new attendance zones to accommodate the new site on Old Pasco Road.

"All of our kids go through school, and they all will come out the way they're supposed to come out," she said, noting that her oldest son graduated from Wesley Chapel High, her middle son from Wiregrass Ranch. "I don't worry about it. It's a good addition to the community."

The Wards arrived at Cypress Creek after the sun had risen, and after many who showed up in the dark to get an early run at obtaining an updated course schedule and figuring out which was Building 4 — or 2, or 5.

Junior Bryce Navarro, 16, was the first student to get to school, ready to volunteer guiding others to the proper locations.

"I'm pretty excited to be here," said Bryce, still sleepy-eyed but otherwise raring to go.

He said he considered applying for school choice back to Wesley Chapel High, where many of his friends remained. But as his mom, Parent-Teacher-Student Association president Johanna Navarro, said, "He has the opportunity to leave a legacy here."

Principal Carin Hetzler-Nettles and her staff were keenly aware of such high expectations as they greeted everyone on the humid morning. She said her main objective was to create a community where students couldn't tell their parents which teacher they liked the best, because they liked them all so much.

"It's a lot of work. It takes a village, that's for sure," she said. "The kids have to have a great first day."

Not to be lost in the shuffle were the middle-schoolers, some of whom looked tiny in the courtyard beside the upperclassmen. But it wasn't meant to be a problem. (You could hear some of the older girls cooing, "Oh, look at the cute sixth-graders.")

Sixth-grader Sanaia Johnson, 11, said she had no concerns being on a bigger campus, with bigger kids all around.

"I'm okay with it," she said, noting the middle school will be in different buildings from the high school.

"They won't be messed with," said freshman Peyton Petry, 14.

The school had only minor issues on its first run — the class bell didn't ring in the courtyard and some classrooms couldn't hear the morning announcements. But the buses ran on time, and the kids and adults were largely enthusiastic. (Only one was seen crying in a stairwell.)

"Once we put kids' success as our foremost foundation and building block, everything else will take care of itself," said Tico Hernandez, the school's graduation enhancement coach.

Bexley Elementary had a similar positive vibe on its first day, which began two hours later.

Seven-year-old Natalie Groen was more than eager to get to her second-grade classroom.

"When are they going to let us in?" she asked her mom, Sarah Kilmartin, as students and their families lined up early at the front entrance.

For her part, Kilmartin was more than happy to have some extra time.

"I'm a little nervous. She's my one and only," she said as parents around her snapped photos of their kids with cellphones. "We've been looking around, finding people we know, which makes it a little easier."

At 9:25 a.m., they finally opened the school gate.

"It's good; it's really good," superintendent Kurt Browning said as he greeted students. "There's an energy leading up to today that I've not experienced before — with the new schools, of course, but also with the improvement of school grades overall."

"I'm so excited after working on this project for five or six months," principal Viki Wolin said. "And finally working with all these families, well, it just gives me goose bumps."

Wolin was expecting 703 students on the first day, but the school has seats for 900. There's also open space on campus to hold another building and 10 portable classrooms.

Kindergarten teacher Shannon Grove said she was especially excited with the interconnectedness of the classrooms, meant to foster collaboration among teachers in the kindergarten pod.

"We're able to draw on each other's strengths," Grove said, adding that new technology would be useful to help keep students engaged.

On the agenda for the first day: an assortment of team-building and ice-breaker activities, along with some lessons on basic procedures, such as raising your hand before speaking.

Some, like Shoshana Bonilla, 5, took right to it, unruffled by the activity going on around her. Others, like Claire Ellinger, 5, were more apprehensive and shed a few tears.

"It's okay, baby," said her mom, Megan Ellinger, her own eyes welling up as she rubbed her daughter's back.

Lucky for them, there were some familiar faces from the neighborhood — primarily fourth-graders Reese VanBrocklin and Kinley Walek — who came to offer some support.

"We're trying to make Claire feel better," Kinley said.

"They're super excited about Bexley and doubly excited about a new school," said Candiss Walek, who came to drop off her son, kindergartener Jace Walek, before finding Kinley's classroom. "It's an absolutely amazing school. The staff and faculty are amazing and organized, which is really amazing because the first day of school can be traumatic."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Pasco County school district is considering adopting a policy for student medical marijuana use on district property. [Getty Images]
    The rule will not change the district’s current approach to the touchy topic.
  2. Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, 55, is now in his 11th year leading the fourth largest school district in the nation. Miami Herald
    The charismatic leader of the nation’s fourth-largest school district has a complicated legacy. He almost took over the Pinellas County School District in 2008.
  3. Alachua County school superintendent Karen Clarke welcomes the crowd at a "listening session" Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 to discuss changes in the Florida's education standards. A similar session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Jefferson High, 4401 W Cypress St. in Tampa. The Florida Channel
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  4. The Pinellas School Board recognized James Krull as the district's bus Driver of the Year at its meeting Tuesday. From left are board members Bill Dudley, Eileen Long, Carol Cook, Rene Flowers, Krull, and board members Nicole Carr, Joanne Lentino and Lisa Cane. Pinellas County Schools
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  5. In this image from a telecast by The Florida Channel, Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks to a Gainesville crowd that came to discuss revisions to the state's education standards this past week. “We’re going to end up with the world’s best standards,” Corcoran said. The Florida Channel
    The effort, ordered by Gov. Ron DeSantis, aims to transform the way students learn in public schools. A “listening session” is set for Tampa’s Jefferson High.
  6. Darcy Krueger, 17, models the jumpsuit she wore the night she was denied entrance to the Tampa Bay Homeschool Homecoming dance. Courtesy of Jennie Ellis Photography
    The organizer who wouldn’t let the 17-year-old into the dance said the rules require girls to wear dresses, not pants. But the teen and her mother say it doesn’t mention jumpsuits.
  7. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times  Florida Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr., R- Hialeah; Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, watch the passage of the school voucher bill Tuesday in the Florida House.
    The new program, designed to eliminate waiting lists for tax credit scholarships, is likely to be challenged in court.
  8. A research group has raised concerns that Florida's plan to track student social media usage and collect other data will compromise children's privacy.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  9. Left to Right: Hospitality panel members Viviana Leyva, Steve Westphal and Jeff Gigante talk about the needs of the hospitality industry in Tampa Bay region during a kickoff of the University of South Florida Hospitality Leadership Program last month. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Restaurant and hotel owners say they have a need for finding and keeping talented workers.
  10. Sigfredo Garcia rubs his eyes as he prepares to hear the closing arguments on Thursday in his trial on charges he killed Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel in 2014. The case went to the jury later in the day, and they will resume deliberations Friday. Tallahassee Democrat
    Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel was killed in 2014. Prosecutors blame his ex-wife, but only the hitman and his girlfriend stand trial.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement