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Teacher prepares for new attempt to build drama throughout schools

The former county teacher of the year would like to see arts programs at all the county's schools.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


Once again, Dennis Caltagirone is taking his show on the road.

Caltagirone, who started the drama program at Springstead High and more recently at the arts-oriented Chocachatti Elementary, will start another this fall at Fox Chapel Middle School.

Caltagirone, 57, said his ultimate goal is to see arts programs thriving at every school in the county. "I'm 31 years in the business. I feel it's my prerogative and my responsibility to start as many of these programs as I can," Caltagirone said.

"I'd like to be the Johnny Appleseed of the arts."

To that end, he says Fox Chapel might not be his last stop. In two years, the county expects to open its fourth high school. And Caltagirone wants to be there to christen its drama program. Already, he's been involved in designing the school's theater and planning its curriculum.

Caltagirone spent 14 years at Springstead, building the drama program almost from the ground up. He even lobbied the state Legislature for the $300,000 start-up grant that led to the construction of the school's 450-seat theater. In 1992, while at Springstead, he was named Hernando County's teacher of the year.

But two years ago he left Springstead for Chocachatti, a school built largely around the arts with drama, dance, visual and performing arts classes. It is also Hernando's only magnet school, meaning it draws kids not just from its neighborhood but from all over the county.

When Chocachatti opened, Caltagirone declared that he loved the school. And his comment in the St. Petersburg Times about the high quality of its faculty -- that there are no "dullards" there -- didn't sit well with teachers at other schools.

At Chocachatti, he helped produce a number of shows, ranging from Cats to A Midsummer Night's Dream. His wife, Lee, who teaches dance there and who choreographed some of the performances, plans to remain at Chocachatti.

Caltagirone still says Chocachatti's is the finest group of teachers he's ever worked with. "It's been an incredible journey," he said. But now he wants to bring drama to a new stage.

Chocachatti principal Michael Tellone said he will hire a new drama teacher, though he hasn't posted the job yet. Tellone credited Caltagirone for getting the school's drama program off to a strong start. But he isn't worried about its future.

"I take changes in stride. It always seems to work out. There might be a bump in the road, but after you have passed over it, there's a new avenue, a new direction perhaps," Tellone said.

Already, Caltagirone has a show (he wouldn't identify) in mind for Fox Chapel's first production. He wants to start an after-school theater program and is thinking about a musical. "Once I get started, I integrate all over the campus," he said.

Fox Chapel principal Dave Schoelles says drama will give students an opportunity to discover and show off their talents. Sixth- and seventh-graders can get up to nine weeks of drama as part of their rotating wheel of electives. Eighth-graders will have the option of taking a full semester of drama.

Schoelles and Caltagirone have discussed the drama teacher's desire to move into the new high school when it opens in 2003. Schoelles, whose wife, Tizzy, is slated to be the new high school's principal, is comfortable with the idea, even if it means Caltagirone stays at Fox Chapel for only two years.

"I'm thrilled to death to have him," Schoelles said. "Any time you have the opportunity to have a person aboard who is outstanding in their field, you want them."

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