ST. PETERSBURG — Yvonne C. Reed-Clayton remembers a time when she didn't have a phone and had to rely on the generosity of elderly neighbors, who let early morning calls for substitute teaching jobs go to their home. ¶ Reed-Clayton went on to get a permanent job with the Pinellas County School District, retired and then established the Yvonne C. Reed Christian Academy. Many in St. Petersburg's African-American community became familiar with the school that started out as a kindergarten and grew to accept students up to the fifth grade.
On June 15, Reed, who graduated from Gibbs High School in 1957 and has bachelor's and master's degrees from Florida A&M University, retired for a second time. The school that she opened in 1996 will now be run by Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. Its new name will be Mount Zion Christian Academy.
Next week, family, friends and former students will honor her 50-year teaching career with a party at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. On Monday, Reed-Clayton, who will be 73 on July 4, answered a few questions about her long career.
Why did you decide to start a school?
It was sort of in the back of my mind. My last five years with Pinellas County, I worked as a homeschool community service coordinator, working with prekindergarten children and their parents to prepare them for school. At each school, I saw that there were older black boys in trouble. I wished there was something I could do. I only had eight students at the beginning and 22 the next year. At one time I had as many as 122. When I retired, it was only 85.
You said that many of your students went on to college. What's behind your success?
I always listen to children. You have to listen to children and love them and then work with the parents of these children. And my philosophy is that I know that all children can learn, and it's up to teachers to find out the mode or the method.
Why do you think many African-American students are doing poorly in Pinellas County public schools?
I think that maybe teachers have too much paperwork to do other than teaching. You have to teach children where they are. It takes a lot of work and a lot of planning. You have to do research at home. My table was my workplace every night, but I would be ready for those children the next morning.
What are your plans for retirement?
I've got things planned, water aerobics and piano lessons. I know music. I just want to be able to play for me, and some traveling. I've got a great-niece in Paris and I've been there and I'm going to go back.
Reach Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore @tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.