With students throughout Hillsborough County now back to school for the 2018-19 school year the same day this issue is scheduled to arrive in your mailbox, there are many changes that make this school year different from last. Here are five things that are new since your students were on campus last spring:
1. School Security
In the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting on Valentine’s Day of this year, a new state law requires armed security on every public school campus.
While the law has changed, it won’t appear much different from what’s already been in place on most New Tampa public school campuses.
Freedom and Wharton high schools, Benito and Liberty middle schools and Turner/Bartels K-8 school will continue to have a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) deputy or Tampa Police Department (TPD) officer on campus.
At our area’s six elementary schools, one TPD officer or HCSO deputy will be assigned to each school. Previously, one officer served multiple campuses.
While it is planned to have an armed school security officer at every elementary school, employed by Hillsborough County Public Schools, the school district says it will take time to hire and train the necessary personnel, so elementary school campuses will have law enforcement officers from the local agencies to “fill that temporary gap and ensure the safety of our schools,” according to a statement provided by the Hillsborough School District.
What may be different, though, is the fear felt by parents as they send their kids back to school.
Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International is a national professional organization for educators that has surveyed attitudes toward public education every year since 1969. This year’s poll finds that one in three parents fear for their child’s physical safety at school. PDK describes that as, “a sharp increase from 2013, when just 12 percent said they were fearful.”
Wendy Arroyo, whose two children attend Wharton and Benito, says she believes the school campuses are safe but, in the back of her mind, “There’s always a little bit of fear that something might happen today,” she says. “Unfortunately, that’s the reality that we live in now.”
Local principals say their campuses are continually monitored for safety and improved as opportunities are recognized, with some improvements being provided by the district and some coming out of school budgets.
“We have always tried to secure our campus in every way, shape and form, from every angle,” says Benito principal John Sanders. He and other local principals say they continue to do that on an ongoing basis.
2. Bell Times
Every school in New Tampa has a new schedule this year. Elementary schools start at 7:40 a.m. and finish at 1:55 p.m., middle schools start at 9:25 a.m. and finish at 4:20 p.m., and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. and finish at 3:25 p.m.
The biggest change is at Turner/Bartels K-8 School, which starts at 7:40 a.m. and finishes at 2:35 p.m. this year.
Last year, Turner/Bartels’ school hours were 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“It’s a huge change for our families,” says principal Cindy Land. “It’s bittersweet. Parents are excited because their younger kids will be able to participate in after-school activities, but older kids are used to the later (start and end) times.”
Parents of students at all schools are making changes in their routines to accommodate the new schedules. Elementary and middle schools have before- and after-school care, called HOST (Hillsborough Out of School Time) to help working parents who need to drop off or pick up their children outside of their school’s hours.
“Drop off doesn’t happen until 9 a.m. now,” explains Benito principal Sanders. “HOST starts at 7 a.m., but if you’re not in HOST, you can’t walk in or be dropped off until 9 a.m.”
3. Newly Assigned Schools
A major boundary shift has happened, with students living in several New Tampa neighborhoods heading to different schools this fall. Students living in Cory Lake Isles and Arbor Greene who previously attended Pride Elementary have been reassigned to Hunter’s Green Elementary (HGE).
School records show that, as of the end of July, 250 students are now enrolled at HGE who were previously at Pride. Many students who were reassigned from Pride were given the opportunity to stay there using the school district’s “school choice” applications. The number of students who chose to do that will not be available until after school starts.
“People are very excited,” says HGE principal Gaye Holt. “It’s been a very positive transition.”
Meanwhile, residents of the Morgan Creek apartments neat I-75, who were previously assigned to HGE, have been reassigned to Clark, which is a couple of miles closer to Morgan Creek residents.
Residents of K-Bar Ranch and Addison Park apartments in Cross Creek have been moved from Heritage to Pride.
More than 550 students who were bused to Clark and HGE from the area surrounding the University of South Florida now attend schools in their own neighborhoods, which created space at both HGE and Clark to accept students from Pride and make room for the expected growth in K-Bar Ranch.
4. Fewer Buses, More Cars?
Expect to see a few less school buses on the roads in New Tampa for the 2018-19 school year, as many students have been reassigned to schools closer to their homes. Hillsborough County Schools doesn’t provide buses to students who live less than two miles from their assigned school.
Hunter’s Green has prepared for the change – with just four school buses on campus this year, compared to 10 last year – by doing some construction to accommodate the expected increase in car traffic and those students who will be walking and biking.
Drop-off and pick-up car line traffic will now enter HGE via Cross Creek Blvd. A new roadway circle that accommodates cars two-deep was constructed to aid in the lineup of traffic, especially for the afternoon pick-up line.
Designed to minimize traffic impacts along Cross Creek Blvd., Principal Gaye Holt says the new path is expected to accommodate 110 vehicles in the car line at once.
5. Wharton’s “New” Principal
A new principal who is a familiar face to many locals has taken the helm at Wharton High, which suffered some negative publicity last year about student safety at the school.
Mike Rowan was the principal at King High on N. 56th St. until he officially became the principal at Wharton on July 1.
Rowan is a resident of Pebble Creek and a parent of a student who graduated from Wharton this past spring. When the school first opened in 1997, becoming New Tampa’s first high school, Rowan was a social studies teacher and soccer coach. In 2006, he was named assistant principal for administration (APA) at Wharton. He served in that capacity for five years before being named the principal at King.