Una Selmanovic carefully embellished her freshman locker with wrapping paper and ribbons. Una and her school, Liberty High, are new to secondary education.
“It makes me feel warm, kind of like my own room,” Una, 14, said of her customized locker. As for Liberty at large, she said, “I am so excited.”
Her mother sounds even giddier, if that’s possible. Irfanela Selmanovic, 40, attended high school in her native Bosnia. She accompanied her daughter on the locker-decorating trip Wednesday and couldn’t stop praising the new place.
“I keep telling the kids how lucky they are,” said Selmanovic, who said she and her future husband, Merim, really did walk three miles round trip to their school in Bihac. They immigrated to the O’Fallon area in 1997.
Una’s new school certainly is a pleasant eyeful. Built for $40.3 million, Liberty is the third and newest high school in the Wentzville School District, which boasts of being the fastest-growing in Missouri.
Classes begin Thursday for the 283 incoming freshmen, who will have the school to themselves until next year, when another crop of freshmen arrive. When the inaugural class graduates from a full four-year school in 2017, enrollment will be about 1,250.
Liberty is the latest high school to be built in the widening suburban fringes of the St. Louis metro area. Enrollment in the Wentzville district has more than doubled since 2000, when it had 6,000 students. Una and her classmates are among 14,000 expected this year. Wentzville had only 4,500 students in 1993.
Liberty, at 2275 Sommers Road, is southwest of Highway N and Interstate 64 and is in a new growth area of O’Fallon. Across Sommers from the school are a pond and hay rolls in a meadow. To the south is a new subdivision, Countryshire, with numerous homesites under construction.
Liberty joins Timberland High School, opened fully in 2002, and Holt High School, the current name for the original Wentzville high school. About 70 percent of Liberty’s new area was carved from Timberland, four miles to the west.
In April 2011, district voters approved a 30-cent property-tax increase, to run for 20 years, to pay for Liberty and expansions at existing schools.
Other suburban districts have engaged in similar construction as the metro population moves beyond the older urban center. Rockwood School District, for example, opened its Marquette and Summit high schools in 1993. Total enrollment over five years is steady at about 22,000 students.
Francis Howell School District, which adjoins Wentzville, also is steady at 17,600. The district opened its newest high school, Francis Howell Central, in 1997. The other neighbor, Fort Zumwalt School District, opened Zumwalt East high in 2007 and has total enrollment of 19,000, roughly the same as it was then.
Liberty High’s campus is spread across 80 acres. The two-story school building, designed to be expanded, has spacious commons with a high ceiling for lunchtime and assemblies. The gymnasium, just down the hall from the front office, can seat almost 1,000. Hallways and staircases are wide.
To the south are a lighted football field, track and other athletic fields. Between them is a small, tree-lined creek spanned by a green-painted bridge that has every appearance of becoming an important place for school traditions.
Principal Phil Ragusky plans to plant the first seed on Thursday, when he assembles the incoming class on the fields and has them march across the green bridge to their new school. His plan is for them to reverse their steps for graduation.
“We begin by building these new relationships,” Ragusky said. “It’s a great opportunity to start with the kids in building something new. I’ve had that honor twice. Pinch me.”
Ragusky, 48, was the first principal of Frontier Middle School when it opened eight years ago. Most of Liberty’s incoming class are graduates of Frontier, and many of Liberty’s 28 faculty members also worked with him there.
One of them is librarian Kelly Oliva, who readied her media center just off the commons for the arrival of reference works, novels and other books to fill the shelves. Befitting contemporary education and society, Oliva and the students will spend much of their time on the Web — all Liberty students will be issued Samsung Google Chromebooks.
“It can be more of a challenge to attract the students, who don’t necessarily have to be in here for research,” Oliva said. “But we will still have quiet time for homework in the morning.”
Some things never change.
Liberty will have freshman sports. Its football team opens a 10-game schedule on Sept. 3 against the freshman squad from DeSmet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur. Liberty’s colors are red, white and navy blue, and its teams are the Eagles.
Ragusky will take part in a ribbon-cutting for Liberty at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. “We’re ready,” he said.
SOURCE: St. Louis Post Dispatch
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