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Alumni say farewells to Kennedy Middle School

CLEARWATER

He wears glasses now and has a long white beard that nearly touches his waistline. But as Glenn Ward Burris, 58, pored over old yearbooks, he returned to his youthful days as a trombonist in the school band. "Back in the '60s, this was the greatest place to be," he said, referring to John F. Kennedy Middle School. Burris was a seventh-grader in 1964 — a year after the Kennedy assassination — when the school opened at 1660 Palmetto St. near downtown Clearwater.

"We went through some growing pains when it first opened," he said, perusing a book of yellowed newspaper clippings.

"We had a hurricane the first and second day. The air-conditioning didn't work in some classes. The new roof leaked. A whole section of lockers fell off the wall in the gymnasium area."

Burris was among hundreds from the community who came to bid adieu to the 45-year-old neighborhood institution during Thursday's farewell open house in the school's media center.

Nostalgia Night was a part of the larger Family Fun Night, an end-of-the year party with games, music, talent displays and other activities.

The reason?

Kennedy is closing its doors as a neighborhood school.

In August, it will consolidate with Coachman Fundamental Middle School and become a yet unnamed fundamental middle school for about 850 students. School planners and administrators hope that by moving north county's only fundamental middle school to the larger venue, long waiting lists for prospective students will disappear.

Fundamental schools emphasize a "back-to-basics" approach, with more student responsibility, a stricter dress code and mandatory parent involvement.

Kennedy principal Claud Effiom said some of the current students will remain at the new school.

"Of our 320 sixth- and seventh-graders, about 80 elected to stay and be part of the fundamental school under its new philosophy," he said.

Most of the others will attend Dunedin, Oak Grove or Safety Harbor middle schools. More than one-third of the current teaching staff also will stay as part of the fundamental program, he said.

Adam Campbell, 21, said the school's television production program inspired his current major: broadcast journalism.

He was with his mother, Laura Campbell, 43, a former school majorette who recalled a rare snow event when the students were allowed outside to play and experience the cold stuff.

"This was one special school," she said. "I'm sad to see it go. We really need to keep neighborhood schools."

But others disagreed.

"I think it's great that it's turning into a fundamental school," said Frances Wallace, who worked at Kennedy school for 25 years as a secretary and office clerk. "We need more of them."

Her husband, Bill Wallace, 68, is now retired, but he was a popular science teacher at the school.

"This school had a lot of bad publicity — wild kids, fights, etc. — but as far as I'm concerned, it was a good school with a lot of great kids," he said. "We've had students that became astronauts, doctors, lawyers and scientists."

Frank David Brinson, 57, was in eighth grade when the school opened. He brought his daughter, Rachael, 8, to see her dad's old school.

"I expected it to look really old, but it looks pretty good," she said.

In 1994, the 30th anniversary of the school, Kennedy received a $5 million facelift.

Some current students ventured into the media center to learn more about the school's history, including Luis Winstead, 14, an eighth-grader.

"This school means a lot to me," he said. "It's where I had my first kiss, my first walk to school and my first skateboarding adventure.

"JFK is a fantastic school. I'll really miss it."

Alumni say farewells to Kennedy Middle School 05/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 9:53pm]
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