ST. PETERSBURG — The sign went up late Friday, when the kids were out of school. Black letters on a white board perched over the parking lot at Lakewood High.
Patricia Schley, the school's literacy coach, was trying to promote a training session for parents. She wanted to show them how to help their teens become better readers. She had scheduled the evening event for more than a month before the FCATs.
Wednesday night — the extra day of the leap year — would be literacy night.
Lakewood High, on the southeastern end of St. Petersburg, is home to about 1,400 students. Almost half receive free or reduced-price lunches. Last year, less than 45 percent of them scored at grade level on the state's standardized reading test.
Schley wanted to change that. But she knew she needed the parents' help.
"I made PowerPoints and handouts. I have all sorts of websites and strategies to share," Schley said. "I even arranged to have dinner provided."
She told the principal about her plan. The principal asked the custodian to advertise literacy night on the school sign.
So on Friday afternoon, Austin Simmons stood in the parking lot, holding a stack of letters, squinting into the sun. It had been a long week. Simmons' motorcycle had broken down. He had just gotten a call from the shop telling him that the part he needed would cost $1,200.
He lifted the letters to the sign, slid them into words: "Laeping to literacy night 6:30 p.m."
Sunday morning, Schley was leaving church when she saw the sign. She blanched, embarrassed and upset. "I'm the literacy coach," she said later. "Of course that reflects on me."
She pulled over and texted the principal: "We don't LAEP into literacy."
Principal Robert Vicari wanted to change the sign right then, but it would have to wait until Monday.
It was too late. Students had posted cellphone photos of the sign all over Facebook. Secretly, Schley was proud of them — at least they had noticed the mistake.
The sign was fixed before the kids got to school. The custodian apologized to the principal, said he had been distracted.
"He's a great guy," Vicari said. "And he's literate.
"This was just an accident. It's every principal's fear. I sure hope that sign doesn't end up on Jay Leno."
Lane DeGregory can be reached at [email protected]