Pasco dedicates Connerton Elementary, replacing Sanders (for now)
LAND O' LAKES - Fifth-grader Angelina Rodriguez loves the peaceful courtyards and high-tech classrooms at Connerton Elementary, but finds another feature of the new school especially appealing. "There's no flooding at all," she said. At Angelina's old school, Sanders Memorial Elementary, flooding was a recurring problem whenever rainstorms hit the area. Principal Anna Falcone, who also moved to Connerton along with the entire Sanders student body and some of the staff, doesn't miss the drainage problems, either. At Connerton, which held a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting Monday morning, the water drains fine and covered walkways allow students to move around the campus without getting drenched.All in all, things are going well at the new school, Falcone said. "It has been a fantastic school year," she said of the last two to three months. "Our kids are entrenched in learning." Connerton's dedication ceremony featured the presentation of colors by Cub Scouts, students leading the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem, and a ribbon-cutting by the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said opening a new school is always a challenge, but even more so in this case because Falcone and her staff simultaneously planned Connerton's debut and prepared for the closing of Sanders. "That's something we've never had to do before," Fiorentino said. Most of the buildings at the Sanders site on School Road will be demolished to make room for rebuilding the old school, though when that reconstruction will happen depends on how quickly growth picks up again in the Land O' Lakes area. The 62-year-old school had numerous problems. The air conditioning repeatedly had to be repaired. The bus loop and the car loop weren't designed for the volume of traffic that came to the school. The setup of the classrooms didn't lend itself to a team-oriented teaching style. And the campus didn't drain well, leading to the aforementioned flooding problems. So the school district decided to start over and move the entire Sanders student population to Connerton Elementary, one of three new schools that opened in Pasco County this year. Eventually, Sanders will be rebuilt - a point Fiorentino reiterated Monday - and attendance boundaries will be redrawn. At that time, some students will remain zoned for Connerton while others will go to the revamped Sanders Memorial Elementary. The transition to the new school appears to have worked well for the Sanders students, Falcone said, including for the fifth-graders who had the most years invested in their old school. The school's roughly 820 students are enjoying many of the hands-on activities available at Connerton and the new technology their classrooms came equipped with, the principal said. Meanwhile, the PTA is working on the one area in which all new schools in Pasco County are lacking their first year. The school district doesn't build playgrounds. Traditionally, that falls to the PTA to raise the money to erect one. Connerton's PTA has already started fundraising activities. Falcone discovered that quality playgrounds don't come cheaply. After a little research, she estimates it could cost close to $100,000 to build both a standard playground for mainstream students and a second playground properly equipped for special-education students. Angelina, 10, said a playground definitely is something the students would like added to their new school. Other than that, she's happy with Connerton Elementary and proudly led one of the tours that were offered after Monday morning's dedication ceremony. Hers was the first and included a VIP group of four visiting principals - Tammy Kimpland of Oakstead Elementary, Cortney Gantt of Pine View Elementary, Teresa Love of Odessa Elementary and Kim Poe of Woodland Elementary. Angelina showed off the keyboard lab in the music room, estimating there are "tons of keyboards in there." She touted the classroom technology and gushed about the courtyard that she described as "really pretty and open and airy." Forget the snazzy facilities, though. Asked what she likes best about Connerton Elementary, Angelina promptly replied, "The teachers."