Many of us here on the list have been in your shoes. I knew nothing about ceramics my first year but I dove right in and did it anyway! You can too!
You sound like you learn best from hands on teaching so I agree with the advice to find a nearby art teacher to come and walk you through the process. Take notes as he/she teaches you-laminate the notes and post on the wall next to the kiln so that you can walk yourself thru the process each and every time. Also find out the brand of your kiln, locate the company 800 number, call and ask if they have a troubleshooter to answer questions. Write their name and number down and post near the kiln. Then you can call that person if you get "stumped" or even just feel insecure during your first few firings.
In order to stay within your comfort zone (sortof), stay in your budget, utilize the small kiln size AND please your principal I suggest you choose 2 classes or so to do ceramics with this year. Next year you can add to, broaden etc. after you have your feet wet.
Order standard glazes for this year-just basic colors that all fire at the same cone.
The smaller kiln that you describe might be a small ceramics kiln but it could also be an enameling kiln used for metals etc. I had one of those in my room when I arrived also. Maybe if you check pictures in some catalogs you can tell.
Hope this helps,