Matt Wight walked into the mailroom of the not-yet-finished Apex Friendship High School last week and was taken aback. It was the first time he had seen it since workers covered three walls with rows of boxes.
“Wow,” he said. “That’s a lot of mailboxes.”
More than that, it’s a lot of people to hire and a lot of names to learn. Wight, who left Apex High after nine years to become principal of the area’s newest high school, hopes to know at least a few names by the end of this week.
He’ll start by hiring an athletic director and band teacher. School starts in a few months, and they need to start ordering equipment.
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He also wants to hire head teachers for the various departments – math, science, history, English and the like – by the end of this month so they can start vetting applications Feb. 2, when teachers are allowed to start requesting transfers to new schools.
Apex Friendship only will enroll freshmen and sophomore at first, gradually expanding to all four grades and an enrollment of 2,289 students. There will be about 50 teachers when it opens, plus dozens of other support staff manning the cafeteria, guidance office and library.
But while Wight worries about getting names on faculty mailboxes, many of his future students are eager to learn a different name: the school’s mascot.
“I’m bringing in some students from the schools (this) week to talk about ideas,” Wight said.
He already had an informal committee brainstorm some possible mascots and designs, Wight said, and it went well. To forge a school community and identity, he has turned to students from the incoming high schools – Apex, Panther Creek and Holly Springs – for input.
But no decisions have been made yet to share with incoming students, who live in neighborhoods currently zoned for Apex, Cary and Holly Springs high schools.
Wight is still unsure of a lot of details surrounding the new school, which he has seen progress in weekly visits to the construction site.
But he has picked out his office, with a window that takes up almost an entire wall and looks out over the campus.
“And they tell me we’ll have 100 cameras,” he said. “So if I can’t see it from here, I can see it on camera.”
Keeping a watchful eye on students will be hard the first year, Wight said, when the massive four-story classroom building is only half full.
Each floor will have an assistant principal’s office, to help add eyes to the cameras’ views.
Wight can barely contain his enthusiasm as he walks the halls, imagining how it will look with the mud gone, the paint dry, the rooms filled with desks and the hallways bustling with students.
“This is one of the coolest places in the building,” he says of the 850-seat auditorium with its specialized acoustic panels.
“Oh man, this is going to be great,” he says, walking into the 1,800-seat basketball gym, one of two gymnasiums at the school.
“This is awesome,” he says in the media center, an expansive and brightly lit room where he envisions book shelves, computers and at least two staff members. “I’ve been talking to the library science people, and they’re very excited.”
Wight said he’s itching to move into the new building, although he knows it will be hectic at first.
But Wight, who oversaw the opening of Salem Middle School in 2004 before taking over at Apex High, is as experienced with opening new schools as any Wake County principal.
“You hope you thought of everything,” he said, looking ahead to the first day of school. “But you have no traditions, no procedures. It’s difficult.”
Wight will earn an annual salary of $119,176. He credited the Wake County school board for giving the school nearly everything imaginable so it will start from day one with all the academic, athletic and extracurricular options every other Wake County high school has.
And soon, two more principals will be going through the same steps at the elementary and middle school levels on planned campuses on either side of Apex Friendship.
“The middle school’s going to be right there,” he said, pointing to a forest by the baseball field. “And a few years later we’ll get an elementary school here, too. It’ll be busy.”