SHADY HILLS — The merger this month of Shady Hills Elementary and Crews Lake Middle into the Pasco County school district’s only K-8 school left a lingering question.
Just how long would it take for staff, students and parents to put the events that brought them together behind them and stop viewing themselves as two separate schools?
Not long at all, as it turns out, Principal Tom Barker said.
“We’re already seeing it and it’s just the first week,” Barker said. “By mid-September no one will be thinking about it any more.”
“We’re one school and that’s the goal and that’s how we want it to be,” said Assistant Principal Tracy Bonnett, who moved over from Shady Hills.
The creation of what is now Crews Lake K-8 School came about because Shady Hills Elementary has been closed for renovation. District officials say when construction is finished in 2015, students and teachers will move back into a much-improved learning environment.
In the meantime, Pasco gets to experiment with a K-8 format that Superintendent Kurt Browning has said he might like to try for future schools.
The combination elementary-middle school didn’t come about without controversy. Shady Hills parents expressed trepidation about mixing older and younger students, and pleaded with the school board to reconsider.
Parents are beginning to see that things are working out, fourth-grade teacher Peggy Higgins said. It’s natural to have fears, she said, but “many times our fears are unfounded.”
Mark Keller, a school custodian and father of three students, said some of the hesitation was because the elementary school plays such a pivotal role in the community.
“That’s all Shady Hills has is that school,” Keller said. “Everybody loves that school.”
He is fine with the change, though, and so are his daughters, Noel, 14, Genesis, 13, and Sarah, 9.
“Most parents have kids all ages,” Keller said. “If they can get along at home, they can get along at school.”
School officials also discovered that some parents whose children aren’t zoned for the school like the K-8 concept because of the convenience of having their younger and older children at one location.
“We’ve gotten a ton of school-choice requests from elementary school” families, Barker said.
Most are for children who attend Mary Giella Elementary or Moon Lake Elementary, two feeder schools for Crews Lake Middle.
Crews Lake made numerous adjustments to accommodate the 400 elementary students who were added to the school’s 700 middle school students.
The middle school always operated under its enrollment capacity, but it now needed more space, so eight portable classrooms were added. A portable with boys and girls bathrooms also was brought to campus.
The school added a covered P.E. area, a common sight at elementary schools, and erected playground equipment.
Crews Lake is a three-story school, but mostly the elementary students stay on the ground floor and in portables. They do venture to the media center on the second floor.
Cafeteria necessities were another adjustment. Assistant Principal Adam Kennedy said the middle school wasn’t accustomed to small children who need help opening juice boxes or ketchup packs. Part-time cafeteria assistants now aid with lunchroom duties.
Fourth-grade teacher Higgins said one challenge her class faces is that the larger campus means more walking.
“But I enjoy walking and the kids get more exercise,” Higgins said. “They are learning double time.”