Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Education

Blanton Elementary to mark 50th birthday

Alisa Robinson started teaching at Blanton Elementary in 1979.

In those days, the school had more than 1,000 students, lots of school buses and "beaucoup" portables, she said. So many that the staff came up with street names for the lanes connecting them. Robinson was hired by Blanton's first principal, Mary Jenkins, and has worked under six principals.

"I have seen a lot of things as time has progressed," she said.

As the school gets ready to celebrate its 50th birthday on May 4, the early childhood education teacher said she looks forward to reminiscing about how far the school has come.

"It's going to be interesting to see some of the people from way back when come here," she said.

Established on Jan. 21, 1963, Blanton started out as a school with 12 teachers and 329 students. Out front, 54th Avenue N was a "sleepy two-lane road with drainage ditches along each side," according to the school district's official history book. The campus had only four buildings.

Enrollment shot up to more than 1,170 students in the 1990s and then slimmed down to about 598 this year because of changes in school zoning policies, said Debi Turner, Blanton's longtime principal. Today, 54th Avenue N is a major four-lane thoroughfare. The campus now houses 10 buildings and seven portables.

When Turner started working at Blanton as an assistant principal in 1996, the school did not have much in the way of greenery.

Now, there is a vegetable garden where students can plant something for their birthdays. Turner had Blanton's buildings painted blue and added wind chimes.

"I want a school that looks like a park," she said. "This community may not be as safe as other communities, so I want children to have a sanctuary."

Blanton's population has changed over the years, too. Students from low-income households have increased from 62 percent, when Turner started, to 86 percent.

The staff also has noticed that the economic downturn has caused a high instance of what educators call "mobility" among Blanton families: Out of nearly 600 students, more than 200 came and went last school year, Turner said.

But staffers worked hard over the years, and Blanton became a model for other high-poverty schools — even after a dark chapter in 2002 when the school became one of the first in Pinellas to earn an F in the state's then-new grading system.

Turner couldn't believe it until the TV trucks rolled up. The news had her wiping away tears. But a day later, teachers and staffers threw her a surprise party in the library. They got her to show up by telling her that the library was on fire. That day, Turner recalled, teachers signed a contract to never let the school's grade slip again. The following year, Blanton was an A school. And the year after.

That attitude continues, Turner said. "It is a hard school, but we have fun."

In a recent "climate survey" conducted by Pinellas schools, 90 percent of Blanton's staff say the school has high morale and 97 percent say they look forward to coming to work every day — among the highest ratings in the district.

Lori Plomatos, a secretary and bookkeeper who started working at Blanton in 1999, will be the first to say that everyone's like a family.

All three of her daughters attended Blanton, and her oldest teaches at the school.

"It's a warm and cozy place to be," Plomatos said. "It's a pleasure to come to work. You know you are going to be supported because everybody supports everybody."

   
Comments
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18
University of Chicago eliminates SAT/ACT requirement

University of Chicago eliminates SAT/ACT requirement

The University of Chicago will no longer require ACT or SAT scores from U.S. students, sending a jolt through elite institutions of higher education as it becomes the first top-10 research university to join the test-optional movement.Numerous school...
Published: 06/14/18
Unhappy with superintendent’s budget wish list, Hernando School Board shuts down talk of tax increase

Unhappy with superintendent’s budget wish list, Hernando School Board shuts down talk of tax increase

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County schools Superintendent Lori Romano presented to the School Board Tuesday nearly $53 million worth of budget priorities, asking them to choose which will be funded in the upcoming school year.The board voted 3-2 later Tue...
Published: 06/13/18
UT shines the spotlight on visiting authors

UT shines the spotlight on visiting authors

The University of Tampa’s MFA program will host the June 2018 Residency Visiting Writers Lectores Series that runs from now until June 21 on the ninth floor of the Vaughn Center, 401 W Kennedy Blvd. Each reading will be held at 7:30 p.m.Each January ...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18