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Construction well underway on Pasco’s first magnet school

— Lindsey Davis, awake watching television at midnight anyway, decided to get a head start on the application process for Pasco County’s first magnet school.

So at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Davis’ 7-year-old son Grant became the first student to apply to Sanders Memorial Elementary, a STEAM magnet school scheduled to open in August.

Davis is keeping her fingers crossed because she believes Grant would thrive in the school that will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

“He’s definitely the science child, the arts child,” Davis said.

There’s no advantage to being first in line because the school district will use a lottery-style system to determine who wins the slots, but Davis said it was a relief to get the application in and know that Grant was officially part of the mix.

Although the order in which applications are received is irrelevant, Grant does fall under at least one of the preference categories that will give some students extra weight in the selection process. He attends Oakstead Elementary. Current students at Oakstead and at Connerton Elementary will be given preference because both those schools are in need of relief from crowding.

The application period continues through Jan. 15. Parents must apply online and can do so by visiting the school district’s website at www.pascoschools.org and clicking on the Sanders Memorial banner. The district plans to notify parents of whether their child was accepted by Feb. 6.

Unlike other Pasco elementary schools, Sanders won’t have attendance boundaries, and parents of students throughout Pasco County can apply.

Davis was among five parents who joined school board member Cynthia Armstrong, school district staff and the media for a news conference and tour of the 14-acre Sanders construction site Monday morning.

“Today marks the beginning of expanded educational choices for our students in the Pasco district,” Superintendent Kurt Browning said. “As a district, we know that we need and we must compete for the students we serve.”

Browning said providing more educational options was one of his campaign pledges when he ran for superintendent in 2012, and he noted that since he was elected the district has added academically rigorous Cambridge programs at Pasco High and Pasco Middle.

Browning said he also has established an educational choice work group to prepare short-term and long-term plans for expanding other opportunities for students.

The district is expecting the Sanders STEAM magnet program to be a popular option for students and parents. By 10:15 a.m. Monday, just 15 minutes before the news conference began, the district had received 198 applications. By Tuesday afternoon, that had grown to 650, Browning told the school board Tuesday evening.

“The school is almost full if we stopped (taking applications) now,” Browning said. “But we are not. We are staying open until Jan. 15.”

Principal Jason Petry said his vision for the school revolves around the four Cs — collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity.

Petry is transferring into the position from Lake Myrtle Elementary, where he has been principal since 2011. The hiring of teachers has not begun, but the district wants the teaching staff selected by March, Browning said.

Sanders Memorial is both an old school and a new school, and the tour reflected that. The original Sanders opened more than 60 years ago, but many of the buildings on campus were demolished after the school closed in 2010 and its students moved to the newly opened Connerton Elementary.

The district always planned to rebuild Sanders, but it was more recently that the decision was made to make it a magnet school.

Four buildings are being renovated, while three new ones are under construction, including a two-story classroom building, an administration building and a one-story structure that will house the music room, art room and cafeteria. The school will be built for 762 students. Ajax Building Corp. is the construction firm overseeing the project.

The school’s design aims to incorporate its STEAM theme, said Ted Williamson of the architectural firm Williamson Dacar Associates. Students will have space to collaborate on long-term projects and places to store them.

“This site is an excellent site for this program because we have the wetlands over there to the east,” Williamson said. “So we’re incorporating an environmental center where the teachers can utilize that in teaching.”

A portion of the buildings’ structure also will be exposed so students can see how a building is constructed. Mechanical rooms near the classrooms will have windows so students can peer in at the mechanical units and see “what’s actually functioning,” Williamson said.

Board member Armstrong liked what she saw.

“I think there’s going to be a great demand for it,” she said. “We’re planning to hit a home run out of the park with this school.”

Dawn Pacy was another of the parents who joined the tour as she tried to decide whether to submit an application for her 5-year-old son, A.J., a kindergartener at Imagine School at Land O’ Lakes.

She said Imagine, a charter school, is a good school, but she was impressed with what she saw and heard about the magnet school and thought it might work well for A.J.

“My son likes all the gadgets and stuff,” she said.

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