Saturday, August 18, 2018
Education

Sue Carlton: But Lee (formerly Robert E.) Elementary was supposed to keep evolving . . .

The morning after one of the most beautiful buildings in Tampa went up in flames, people gathered around it in disbelief — teachers, parents and neighbors who unabashedly love Lee Elementary School.

Some of them cried at the sight of it: This historic and stately red brick building with its white pillars, gleaming wood floors and the kind of windows they don't even make anymore, sprawled along a hardscrabble stretch of Columbus Drive in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

Now much of the roof is gone, the facade charred, the smell of smoke heavy in the air. Gone.

Rochelle Hayes, an after-school program instructor at Lee for going on three years, watched from the sidewalk. "Hurricane didn't scare me at all," she told me. "This here was more devastating to me."

You think: How is it even possible? How could a building that stood solid for more than a century and survived so much, a place just now readying for kids to come back after the break for the hurricane, a school about to be the center of our latest Confederate controversy — how could it be no more?

This school evolved with the city around it, from Michigan Avenue Grammar to Robert E. Lee Elementary to its latest incarnation as Lee Elementary Magnet School of World Studies & Technology, which attracted kids from more than a dozen ZIP codes.

But the full name of the Confederate general still graces its brick front. Maybe it was about to evolve again, had the School Board eventually mustered the fortitude to officially rename it. Looks like we'll never know.

You don't want your mind to go there but it does, to whether the controversy over Confederate memorials simmering across the country could have had anything to do with the destruction of all that red brick history. You don't want to think someone opposed to the name, or opposed to renaming it, could have done anything so destructive and irreversible. Authorities were quick to say early on and more than once that the fire did not appear suspicious.

Teachers came the morning after in school spirit T-shirts that said EXCUSE MY POSITIVE ATTITUDE and STRAIGHT OUTTA LEE and FREE HUGS. They told stories. They worried that their 329 students — their Lee family, they said — might be scattered to the wind, to different schools. (Later that day, school officials announced Lee students and teachers would stick together at nearby Lockhart Elementary, a quick and thoughtful solution.)

On the sidewalk that morning, another teacher came rushing up with a sodden piece of fluorescent green poster board in her hands. A firefighter saved it, she said breathlessly.

The poster had an inspirational quote magic-markered on it, like dozens of other posters with similarly positive messages that teachers hung in the Lee halls, hoping the words might permeate young brains over the school year.

This one quoted, improbably, the 1960s-era comedian Phyllis Diller:

I wanted to become me, totally me. The more me the better. I instinctively knew this, and I was right.

The teacher held the poster up for everyone to see. They cheered and they snapped pictures on their cellphones so they would remember this, the Lee spirit still there.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

Epilogue: Tampa’s Mother Teresa, Delia Sanchez, remembered as child welfare champion

Delia P. Sanchez collected things — purses, shoes, newspapers. She hid them away in a storage unit, out of sight from her tidy husband. She had her reasons. And not one of them was selfish. The extra accessories? Those were for the mothers of...
Updated: 4 hours ago
A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

TAMPA — The paint on Pinnacle Hall’s white-and-gold walls still smelled fresh as Lilly Myskey led a parade of parents and bins and bags down the hall toward her new room at the University of South Florida. "Speaking of the building being brand-new, L...
Published: 08/17/18
Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

A sophomore at University High School in Volusia County was denied lunch on her first day of school Tuesday because she owed 15 cents, according to WKMG in Orlando.The girl’s mother, Kimberly Aiken, told WKMG a cashier in the school’s lunchroom threw...
Published: 08/16/18
Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Hernando County School Board District 5 incumbent Susan Duval seconded the motion to fire superintendent Lori Romano on June 12. And that’s why Joe Santerelli said he filed to run against her about a week later.A week after that, the local pastor spo...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

As Hernando County School Board member Beth Narverud makes her run for a spot on the County Commission, three hopefuls are running to fill her District 3 seat.One is Jimmy Lodato, a Tampa native and 19-year Hernando resident. Retired from a career in...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Mark Johnson was elected to the Hernando County School Board in 2014. He said his successful track record, combined with local business savvy, make him the clear choice over Catherine "Kay" Hatch for the District 1 seat."It’s not just an opportunity ...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

TAMPA — Sammi Borosh sat Tuesday afternoon in one of those tiny chairs for kindergartners and looked across the table at four of her former teachers — and her eyes misted.Borosh said she loved those four ladies and she loved the school where they tau...
Published: 08/15/18
For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

Barbara Ojago saw her grandson’s first day back at school as the beginning of the end.Her grandson, Emea, will finish his senior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. But Emea returns to a school forever changed by a former student he pe...
Published: 08/15/18
Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Next school year, if all goes according to plan, two new programs will expand the slate of options for Pinellas County elementary students — a conservatory for the arts in Clearwater and a gifted center in Palm Harbor.The programs, which will go befo...
Published: 08/15/18
Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

BROOKSVILLE — Two months after firing superintendent Lori Romano, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday reviewed results of a second district-wide survey to evaluate her performance, finding that little changed from last year.Romano’s overall a...
Published: 08/15/18