MERCED -- El Capitan High School is 65 percent complete and looking more like a finished campus now, particularly from the G Street side.
Hiring has begun for key administrators and the principal is visiting other modern schools to see how a 21st-century learning institution should operate.
"I feel great about the progress we're making," Principal Anthony Johnson said. "We are on schedule, if not ahead. It's beginning to look like a school more and more."
Johnson, an associate principal at Merced High School, was hired as principal in May and started in June. Among his initial tasks has been visiting other new Northern California schools that are embracing cutting-edge technology in secondary education.
Johnson has toured Le Grand High School to learn about its 1:1 digital initiative and will visit new schools in Milpitas and San Ramon Valley, along with Pacheco High School in Los Banos, Gregori High School in Modesto and The Cart, a school shared by Fresno and Clovis school districts.
When the $90 million El Capitan High opens in fall 2013, there will be no books or lockers. There will be 103 wireless access points interspersed on the 50-acre campus for students' electronic computer devices. The nine two-story buildings cover about 12 acres of the complex with a central quad about the size of two football fields.
Hiring key positions
The hiring process will begin next month for key leadership positions, including an associate principal, athletics-activities director and an instructional coach.
All hiring of teachers and classified or support staff members will be done by January, Johnson said. This will give time for collaboration, planning and professional development.
"I feel fortunate to have such a large pool of talented and dedicated educators," Johnson said. "Our goal is to design a school centered around how to best support students in a 21st century learning environment."
Johnson said his goal is to become as informed as possible about curriculum, instructional practices and school construction. That involves organizing the curriculum, buying equipment and consulting industry experts so the school will equip students to be ready for college and careers.
He said the school's website will be launched late this month and provide information about school structure, its instructional vision and athletics.
A digital logo contest was held for Merced City School District and Merced Union High School District students.
The winning 2012 Gaucho mascot logo was to be unveiled at the 50th annual reunion for the first El Capitan High School, which was subsequently named Merced High School.
Next fall, the new school will open to 750 freshmen and sophomores. In its second year, juniors will go to the school and seniors will go to classes there in the third year. In the first year, junior varsity and freshman athletics will cover all sports, and varsity programs will start in the second year.
Within three years, El Capitan should reach its peak enrollment of 1,800 students.
People 'very excited'
Johnson attended back-to-school nights at Buhach Colony and Merced high schools along with Cruickshank, Rivera and Tenaya middle schools, where some of El Capitan's students will come from.
"It's been an overwhelmingly positive reaction. People are very excited about the school," Johnson said. "It's inspiring to me."
Travis Kirk, the district's capital facilities program manager, said 85 subcontractors and about 150 workers are building the school.
"All in all it's going pretty smooth," Kirk said. "The enthusiasm in the community is at a very high level."
Kirk said all parking lots are paved and the sprinkler system is being installed. The brick exterior is going up on the east side of the library, science lab and visual arts buildings facing G Street, so the campus will look finished from North G Street, which is closed as it undergoes a makeover.
More than $49 million has been paid to building contractors.
Most of the exterior construction work will be done in February. The swimming pool, similar to those at Golden Valley and Buhach Colony high schools, also will be done by February, said Michael Belluomini, district director of facilities planning.
Scott Scambray, high school district superintendent, said Merced High School has 2,700 students and Golden Valley High is slightly overcrowded as well. He said voters made it clear they wanted a new high school.
"It's on time and it's looking absolutely beautiful," Scambray said. "It is needed and will be a big positive for the community."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.