By Charlie Reed
For the News-Gazette
Two new high schools will open in Osceola County on the first day of classes Monday.
Tohopekaliga High School on Boggy Creek Road is the first comprehensive high school to open since Liberty High in 2007, and will help relieve the continuously overcrowded schools in the district. The school’s curriculum is focused on science, technology, engineering, art and math. A national trend in education, STEM has evolved to STEAM in many school settings – such as Toho High – to include arts.
NeoCity High School, a STEM magnet school, will operate from a temporary campus at Gateway High School during its first year. The new high-tech high school is eschewing traditional teaching methods for a whole new approach to learning that’s more akin to a tech start-up company than a traditional classroom. NeoCity High’s permanent campus opens at Osceola County’s technology park NeoCity in 2019. The school will welcome 110 incoming freshmen this year and add a grade level for the following three academic years. The high school is among the first components of the new technology park that officials in Osceola say will shift the economic base of the county, now anchored by tourism and agriculture. The students are expected to create a local talent pipeline to fill the thousands of high-wage, high-skilled jobs that NeoCity is expected to produce in the coming years.
The two new high schools epitomize the state of Osceola County in many ways. NeoCity High is part of concerted local and state government efforts to diversify the local economy and boost wages. Toho High, meanwhile, was built to satisfy Osceola’s booming student population.
The district grew from 57,000 to 66,000 students from 2014 through 2018, with 66 schools now open.
District officials are finalizing this school year’s projected student population, which includes students who came to the district from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. About 900 of the 2,800 students from Puerto Rico left Osceola by the end of the academic year. It’s unclear exactly how many will return to school Monday.
The influx of students in an already overcrowded district was a challenge for district officials. The students were relatively even distributed in schools and grades, which helped. Osceola’s robust English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, program also made the transition easier for students and schools.
Meanwhile, all school staff has taken two-hour mandatory training programs in student mental health this summer. Designed and presented by district staff, including psychologists and social workers, the training came in response to the wave of school shootings.
With the help of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Kissimmee Police Department and the St. Cloud Police Department every school in Osceola County now has a school resource officer assigned to their campus.
Elementary schools used to share officers, known as SROs, and efforts to assign two SROs per high school are now underway.