Principal is more recruiter than tutor
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
SPRING HILL -- Tizzy Schoelles is a woman with a mission.
She has a new high school to fill -- a cool, profession-oriented school with some one-of-a-kind programs such as pre-engineering -- and she clearly loves the notion of starting the place from the ground up.
That's evident as she talks to prospective students about the school's planned wireless computer environment, its still-unavailable cutting-edge video production equipment and the crime scene analysis that will highlight the law enforcement curriculum.
"We're going to do things differently," principal Schoelles says excitedly about Nature Coast Technical High School, which opens in fall 2003.
But as she attempts to recruit about 1,300 students -- a School Board goal to relieve crowding at other high schools without having to create an attendance zone for Nature Coast -- Schoelles also takes great care to let students know that Nature Coast might not be right for them, no offense taken.
Want to join ROTC? Nature Coast won't have it. Bleed Springstead High red, white and blue? Enjoy Springstead. Focused on varsity sports? The school isn't likely to field top teams for a while.
"I'm not going to get to know you. I can't tell you what is best for your future," Schoelles told a group of Springstead students last week, directing the youths to their parents, teachers and counselors for advice.
"But you guys are on the cusp of doing great things," she said, "and you have to think about your future. That's why I'm here today."
Most Americans spend 86,000 hours of their lives working, she told students. So when picking a career, choose one that makes your heart skip a beat. Do what interests you, and what you have an aptitude for, and success is more likely to come, she said.
And know that Nature Coast will have programs that might be able to assist.
Schoelles reviewed the programs, from turf management to information technology, often capturing the excitement of students who had not been paying attention until they heard about something that piqued their curiosity.
One boy pumped his fist at the words "auto mechanic," while a girl nearby perked up at the mention of a working, 14-station cosmetology program.
"I want to go to culinary," freshman Kyle Carver said enthusiastically. "My uncle was a cook, and I want to be a cook, too. I want to go there because I want to get a good education."
Junior Amanda Spencer looked forward to taking courses toward a nursing certificate. Even one year at the school would be better than nothing, she said, because it will allow her to focus on her chosen profession.
"It will give me more of a chance in the career I want than here," she said.
Others had no interest at all.
"I love Springstead," freshman Sharnita Bain explained. "I've grown attached to it."
Freshman Pamela Arnold did not want to give up her school's award-winning band program, in which she plays trumpet. Also, she said, Springstead is close to home and "I have a lot of friends here."
Schoelles has heard that tune again and again.
Not wanting to leave friends behind is the top reason she has received for student disinterest in transferring to Nature Coast. And that's okay, she stressed.
It will leave more room, especially at the junior and senior levels, for teens who are intent on pursuing a specific career that the school offers. She does not expect to turn any upperclassmen away; freshmen will face about a one-in-six chance to attend, and sophomores about one-in-two.
"I think students that follow through, especially upperclassmen, are going to be pretty focused," Schoelles said.
After her presentation, the questions flowed.
Will there be a uniform requirement? No, she answered, just a dress code, and mostly for safety and sanitary reasons.
Will there be an Advanced Placement program? No, but honors classes will be offered, and AP courses can be taken online.
Will there be block scheduling, where students attend only a few of their classes each day but for longer periods of time? Possibly.
Is the school for the college-bound? Yes, a full curriculum is offered, just tailored to vocational and technical themes.
"Everything will be more geared toward your interests," Schoelles said.
After the orientation, the students signed cards saying whether they wanted more information. Schoelles told them she would be in touch with those who said "yes" and those who indicated they were not sure. Those who marked "no" won't be bothered, she said, "unless your parents change your mind for you."
Parent information sessions are scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday in the Springstead cafeteria.
The student selection lottery will not take place until mid January. That's after the staff is selected, so people know exactly what they'll be getting. She plans to hire the staff in October and November.
Construction of the school, south of Brooksville on California Street, south of Powell Road and adjacent to Chocachatti Elementary School, is progressing rapidly and should be complete by May.
One last thing.
Schoelles wants students who come to Nature Coast to be satisfied.
That means they must commit to at least one semester, and they must be full-time students. This isn't going to be an old-fashioned vocational-technical center, where you take academic classes at one place and then go to the center for professional training.
But if the school doesn't meet expectations after a semester, she said, "you will be able to transfer back."
She added quietly: "I don't think you will."
-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111