Mel Leach talks a nautical mile a minute, infusing every other sentence with some sort of sailing-themed pun or metaphor.
The principal of Apex’s new Scotts Ridge Elementary School – mascot: the Sailors – calls the teachers her “crew” and the leadership team her “first mates.” She wears a captain’s hat to school kick-off events and thinks of herself as the captain of the ship.
Captain of a submarine, though, might be more appropriate.
That’s because Leach’s enthusiasm for the new school, which she is being tasked with starting from scratch, runs more than surface-deep.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“This is kind of the opportunity of a lifetime for me, after 30 years, being able to take all those best practices I’ve learned in my career and bring them all into play,” said Leach, who most recently was the principal at Green Hope Elementary School in Cary.
Scotts Ridge is the third school Leach has helped start, and the first as principal. She was an assistant principal at Turner Creek Elementary School in Apex when it opened.
Like many new projects, the $25 million school on Apex Barbecue Road has been a bit behind schedule.
Construction delays meant the teachers weren’t able to get into their classrooms until Friday, Aug. 14, less than two weeks before the first day of school on Aug. 24.
There will be about 740 students there on the first day, pulled from the attendance zones of Baucom, Turner Creek and Apex elementary schools. At 100 percent capacity, the school can hold 650 students.
Even before a single desk was moved in, Leach toured the school. She was too excited to wait.
“It’s really going to be a great learning environment for this community,” she said.
In addition to simply being new, the building also promises a high-tech focus on education – what many in the business refer to as 21st-Century Learning.
There’s a 70-inch television in every single classroom, plus laptops and iPads sprinkled generously throughout. Everything is connected through a multimedia device called Apple TV.
Christi Verecky, who has been an elementary school teacher for 23 years, still has old-school materials, like books and pencils, in her new room at Scotts Ridge.
But she joked about having material for history lessons when she found chalk and a VHS tape in one of the boxes moved over from her former school, Olive Chapel Elementary.
“Oh my God,” Vereckey said, looking at the massive television at the front of her classroom. “So nice. And I’m really excited about the Apple TV. It’ll let us project anything from the laptops and iPads to the TV, wirelessly.”
It all will lead to “really great, hands-on technological experiences in the classroom,” Leach said.
Getting parents involved
The Scott’s Ridge Parent-Teacher Association is already going strong, Leach said, but more volunteers can never hurt.
The group recently bought lunch for the 80-person staff and is working on planning other events throughout the year.
Parents were also on campus Friday, helping teachers move in.
In Vereckey’s second-grade classroom, nine helpers – including several former students – swarmed the room, emptying boxes and organizing materials.
Vereckey had knee surgery about two weeks ago, so she was a bit hobbled. Her mother came to help, as did two other teachers and a parent whose children will be at Scotts Ridge.
Kristie Ayscue said Verecky taught second grade to two of her three children, and they say she’s the best teacher they ever had. One of Ayscue’s daughters has been looking forward to helping Verecky for weeks, she said, just so she could see her new school and her former teacher.
On Friday, a new Scotts Ridge teacher stopped in to say hi to Verecky, whom she already knew. But many of the staff are still strangers.
Only grade-level teams have been meeting so far because the building had been closed.
Those meetings happened over dinners Leach hosted at her home. The groups were invited over for conversation and Mexican food in what she termed “Let’s taco-bout it” dinners.
“It was an informal setting, but what was really neat was the conversations just became so deep,” Leach said. “And we were also able to put together a supply list and talk about how we’re going to reach out to parents and students.”
Part of that is finding volunteers and donations. Volunteers could be culled from the 400 parents who have already joined the private PTA group on Facebook. And fundraising is underway, too, Leach said, for any kinds of spending the school’s regular budget won’t cover.
A patio is planned to be built in front of the school, and the PTA is selling personalized engraved bricks for that patio for $75 each.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
Meet the teachers
Where: Scotts Ridge Elementary, 6601 Apex Barbecue Road, Apex
When: Thursday, Aug. 20, 6 p.m.