TAMPA — Jonathan Grantham won’t start until June his job as principal of a new school that will combine Turner Elementary and Bartels Middle, but he got a jump-start Thursday night when he met with dozens of parents to answer their questions and hear their concerns.
The two meetings were requested by some parents who said they had not been kept in the loop when the district was making the decision to create one of the district’s few combined schools serving students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“Our issue was they excluded us on the front end,” parent Enaye Englenton said.
About 30 parents met with Grantham in the Live Oak Preserve neighborhood near the two schools, located on Imperial Boulevard in New Tampa. Later in the evening, about 100 parents stayed after a school music program to ask questions of Grantham and several other Hillsborough County school district officials, including Deputy Superintendent Cathy Valdes, facilities chief Chris Farkas and school board member Cindy Stuart.
Grantham was appointed last week to lead Turner-Bartels K-8 School, the Hillsborough County school district’s third school that combines elementary and middle schools. He has served as principal of Roland Park K-8 Magnet School for the last two years.
“K-8’s can work,” he said. “Give me a shot.”
The schools already have been working together. Last school year, the crowded New Tampa elementary school moved its fourth-grade classes next door to the middle school, where there was more than enough space. This school year, fifth-graders moved over to Bartels.
Bartels currently serves 850 students and Turner serves 1,133, according to February enrollment figures. Turner was built to house 1,000.
District officials said merging the schools accommodates population growth in that area and at the overflowing Turner and provides students a seamless transition from elementary to middle school.
Grantham and district staff were able to give the parents more answers Thursday than were previously available: The school day for all grades will last from 8:45 a.m. to 3:35 p.m., transportation has been revamped so students of all grades will ride the same buses and four assistant principals will be named to serve under Grantham.
Grantham said he will start emailing parents on his first official day on the job, June 9, to seek their input on decisions that still have to be made.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, I understand that,” Grantham said. “We will get this right. When the school opens, it’ll look like it’s been operating as a K-8 for a long time.”
The curriculum for all grades will be infused with STEM curriculum – science, technology, engineering and math. Teachers, who will keep their jobs, will receive STEM training over the summer.
Kelley Fry, who has two children who attend Turner, said she was originally concerned because parents weren’t involved in planning the merger but said meeting Grantham put her at ease.
“He gives me confidence things are going to be OK,” she said.
Kim Whitehead, who has children in first grade and pre-K at Turner, said she was also pleased with the combined school’s future principal.
“I’m for K-8,” she said. “The STEM program is awesome.”
Englenton said she, too, feels better now that parents have gotten a chance to meet with Grantham.
“Moving forward, we’re going to see a lot more inclusion of parent voices,” she said.