BSHS Ready to Open Doors
Bonita Springs finally gets its own high school
Anticipation. Promise. Excitement. History.
All of that and more come together in August as Bonita Springs High School (BSHS) moves into its built-from-scratch, $60 million, 76-acre campus at Imperial Parkway and Shangri-La Road.
No longer will it be a work-in-progress sideshow for motorists on the parkway and Interstate 75. It will be a culmination of decades of dreaming, planning and political lobbying. Some in Bonita say it will be a milestone rallying point for the city, just as another educational icon, nearby Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), was for all of Southwest Florida.
Incidentally, the schools share the same bright blue and green official colors.
Also like FGCU, BSHS started life in facilities outside its own campus. BSHS got a head start a year ago in portable classrooms at Estero High School with its first freshman class, allowing the BSHS website to overflow with Bull Shark (the school mascot) news and school spirit well before opening day. You can even buy BSHS gear such as caps and T-shirts, which will come in handy for new rivalry games with Estero.
Not bad for a high school whose initial headlines told of siteselection battles and cost-estimate miscues.
That is in the distant rearview mirror now as principal Jeff Estes Jr., 38, guides construction, staff, students and their families toward the finish line—adding a sophomore class this year and junior and senior classes over the following two years. That will take BSHS to nearly 1,750 students, compared with the 2017-18 freshman class of 250. BSHS will open August 10 with a staff of 75 to 80, Estes reports.
Overworked? Estes thrives on it, and he expects his teachers to share the challenge. He says he was especially picky in interviewing the first BSHS teachers hired, looking for applicants eager to create new traditions and accept afterschool assignments such as tutoring or clubs, to serve as role models. All are certified in the subjects they teach.
Estes pushes the envelope with an idea for helping students who forfeit sports and clubs because they have to head home immediately after classes to tend to their little brothers and sisters. He thinks aloud about inviting the small fry to the BSHS campus for reading lessons with teachers and volunteers while older siblings join classmates.
He also thinks big about the school’s specialty curriculum, which includes flying and fixing airplanes and learning the locally vital heating/air conditioning trades. BSHS will blaze trails with a joint program with FGCU in which students can earn up to 62 credits—about two years’ worth—before leaving BSHS and apply them toward degrees at FGCU or other state universities. Other academic emphases are to include health care, agribusiness, computers and education.
Will BSHS impact local real estate values? Bonita Mayor Peter Simmons, who is a real estate sales professional, says only: “We shall see.”
When asked about special plans for the grand opening, Estes keeps the focus on students and their families. He plans to let those
who spent 2017-18 in portables to get the first sneak preview, followed by a public open house a week later.
Estes brings deep roots in Lee County public schools, reaching to his own school days at Estero High, where he also got his first teaching assignment and once served as assistant principal. “Jeff is perfect for this job,” says Lee Schools Superintendent Gregory Adkins. “He’s a great leader, educator and motivator.”
As a 24-year resident of the Bonita area, he can appreciate the historical milestone aspect of BSHS—the first new high school in Lee County since Island Coast opened in Cape Coral a decade ago.
Following are comments from some local leaders on the community’s new high school.
Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons: “We are extremely proud and excited to finally see a high school in Bonita Springs! The high school will bring numerous benefits to our area. There will be new job opportunities for teachers, administrators and support staff and a centralized location for Bonita’s youth that will shorten Bonita Springs parents’ commutes. Another important benefit will be a further sense of community pride coming to fruition and uniting us for years to come. Together we will cheer on high school sports, beam with pride at graduations and have our students represent the City of Bonita Springs in many facets. The pride is contagious as we already feel proud of the Bonita Springs High School, and the doors haven’t opened yet!
“Fear the fin! The Bonita Springs Bull Sharks will be here soon.”
Tiffany Esposito, president and CEO of the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce: “The new high school will continue to give Lee County students world-class education and career opportunities. Education is the cornerstone to a healthy and vibrant workforce and vital to the future success of our community.’’
Charlie Strader, former president of the Bonita Springs Historical Society: “I think it will be a positive for building a stronger sense of community—making more people feel a part of Bonita Springs.”
Bonnie Whittemore, current president of the Bonita Springs Historical Society: “Since the 1890s, people in Bonita Springs have known that a school was key to progress. Founding families built its first school—a log hut with a dirt floor and palmetto roof. In the 1920s, bonds were sold to build a modern brick building, which is still in use as an elementary school and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Construction of a high school in Bonita Springs is long overdue. The students are so enthusiastic, and it will give the city a stronger identity going forward.” Jeff Lytle is the retired editorial page editor and TV host from the Naples Daily
News. He now lives in Bonita Springs.
From top: Bonita Springs High School under construction one year ago; doors will open at the new school in August.