HISTORY OF EDUCATION IN PASCO COUNTY
Lacoochee Elementary School
Photo at left: The former Lacoochee first grade building, now located at the Pioneer Florida Museum.
School board minutes of July 3, 1893, indicate that the Lacoochee School (no. 39) was discontinued.
A Tampa Tribune article has: "The first school classes in Lacoochee were held in 1910 in two wooden stores on the west side of what is now U. S. 301, across from Cummer Road. The old classrooms burned and were replaced with a brick schoolhouse that also burned. The one-room Lacoochee School that now stands at the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village grounds was located in the vicinity of the Cummer mill. The museum saved the structure in 1975, just days before it was scheduled to be torn down, and moved it to the museum grounds. Although it was built in 1927, it is typical of one-room schoolhouses of much earlier times."
The Dade City Banner of Mar. 17, 1922, refers to the “combined Trilby-Lacoochee school.”
School board minutes of April 6, 1925, indicate that a delegation from Lacoochee came before the Board and asked that the six lower grades be provided for at Lacoochee.
School board minutes of June 15, 1931, show these teachers appointed: Annie Fogg, Principal; Mrs. C. F. Andrew; Mrs. Susie Clark; Mrs. Bethel Revels.
School board minutes of May 6, 1935, show these teachers appointed: Mark St. Clair (Principal), Mrs. Frances Ferrell, Mrs. Dorothy Browning, Miss Hazel Moreland, Mrs. C. F. Andrews, Miss Frances Gladden, Mrs. Susie Clark, Mrs. Alice St. Clair.
School board minutes of June 4, 1936, show the board confirmed teachers recommended by the Trustees of Lacoochee School: Mr. Mark St. Clair, Principal and teacher of ninth grade; Mrs. Alice St. Clair, Primary teacher; Mrs. Susie Clark, teacher of second grade; Miss Frances Gladden, teacher of third grade; Fourth and Sixth grades not filled; Mrs. C. F. Andrews, teacher of fifth grade; Miss Lois Hancock, teacher of seventh grade; Mrs. Frances Ferret 1, teacher of eighth grade.
On May 20, 1938, the Dade City Banner reported, "On Friday night, May 20, a class of eleven graduates will receive diplomas from Lacoochee Junior High school. Class honors to go Miss Iris Thompson, valedictorian, and to Miss Irene Milton, salutatorian."
According to the web site of the Pioneer Florida Museum, the old Lacoochee School "was acquired in 1976, only a few weeks before it was scheduled to be torn down. Although built in the 1930's as a part of a complex of frame school buildings and used as a first grade building, the structure is architecturally typical of the one room school houses of an earlier period. The school has been restored and furnished in the style of the one room schools prevalent in Pioneer Florida."
McCormick has "1934 Lacoochee School built."
On April 4, 1949, Mrs. Agatha Andrews was appointed principal.
Randall Belcher, who would later become Principal of Lacoochee Elementary and Woodland Elementary School, began working as a teacher at Lacoochee Elementary School on Jan. 10, 1967. He became Principal at Lacoochee in 1969 according to a 2006 St. Petersburg Times article. He worked for the school district until he retired in 2006.
A new Lacoochee Elementary School opened in the fall of 1971 with an enrollment of 355.
On Aug. 19, 1971, the Dade City Banner reported:
Here is a series of columns about the Lacoochee School by Lorise Abraham which appeared in the Dade City Banner in 1971 under the title "Lorise's Corner."
July 29, 1971
It's "Down Memory Lane" time for this "Corner" with some very good reminiscing from former Lacoochee students. The first one to reply to my request was Wayne Groover, son of Josh and Alice Groover of Dade City. Wayne is making a very fine teacher himself over in Orlando. His letter was so good that I haven't touched a word of it. Am going to share it with you just as Wayne wrote it. And, Wayne, thanks a lot for bringing back some mighty wonderful memories. I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only one who reads it and weeps! Here goes:
It will be easy to list fond memories of the Lacoochee school. The difficulty will be in limiting them.
And, Wayne, I remember too but many many years before your day. Mrs. C. F. Andrews was there then, having her students learn as nobody else could. I shall always remember her saying, "Can't never could do anything" every time I protested that I could not do Algebra. She refused to accept that statement and I am grateful for that because she taught me Algebra in spite of myself! Mrs. Andrews has had so many students that I think it would be impossible for her to remember us all and the details that we can recall so easily. I do remember that she made me feel special too and that she had more faith in my ability to learn than I did! The best thing that can happen to a student is for his or her teacher to have faith in them. Mrs. Andrews did. I would sooner have died than to disappoint her so by golly, I learned!
Prof. St. Clair was principal in my day and everybody, just everybody loved that man, even when he had to reprimand us. Now, it really takes a special talent to have students love you even when you've been forced to give them a licking or a lecture!. Prof made learning so much fun and he always brought humor into the classroom with him.
Just thought I'd throw in a few of my memories at this time too. All of them are good though and I know you will never meet a Lacoochee person who didn't love going to school there! There's more coming up so keep reading and if you haven't added your thoughts, then please do. If you don't like to write, then call me at 567-3939 at night and I'll put them in writing myself. Later, too, a list of each teacher who every taught there and the years they taught.
The next letter came from good friend Hazel Brannen in Lacoochee. When I read it to Mom and Dad, they too had a few tears to wipe away. See if it doesn't have the same reaction on you. and I quote:
I started school in Lacoochee in 1929. Mrs. Fred Revels was my teacher, it was first grade. The bell rang and we lined up by the front steps and marched in. I didn't notice the room was small, to me it was grand. The alphabet was printed on the blackboard, capital and small letters. Mrs. Revels stood with a yard stick and pointed each one out and we learned their names and sound. Soon we were given a reading book, "The Baby Ray Book". It wasn't long before I could read it while looking or with it closed (you see, I had memorized it). This was the time I had my first problem in school. For some unknown reason I was afraid of the teacher and every day we had to take our book up to her desk and read aloud to her. I discovered one day that the next day's page in my book was torn. I was so scared, I just knew the teacher would paddle me for tearing the book. So, I told my Mama that I didn't feel like going to school that day, I had a stomach ache Now my Mama was a firm believer in castor oil that she purchased at Abe's drug store. In her book it would cure almost anything so I got a dose of castor oil for a stomach ache I really didn't have! The next morning I went to school confident that my crisis was over but it seemed the day I stayed home, Mrs. Revels read a story to the class and I still had to go up and read from the book with the torn page. Mrs. Revels was sweet and let me read from her book "Baby Ray has three ducks. The ducks are yellow. Baby Ray loves the little ducks. The little ducks love Baby Ray." The next year I went to second grade. Mrs. Susie Clark was the teacher. She was a kind woman with a sweet disposition and a kind voice. I also got a reading book in her class so it seems I was bound for trouble again. One day the class was real noisy and Mrs. Clark said, "The first one out of their seats before school lets out will get a paddling" (teachers used a paddle then). We were told to study our reading book. I began to study but soon there was a word I didn't know so I started for teacher's desk. All at once I knew I was in real trouble so I thought real fast. I walked boldly up to teacher and said, "Mrs. Clark, I think I see my Mother outside waiting to pick me up." (We didn't have a car at that time and, if we had my Mother would never have driven it because she is now 87 years old and has yet to drive a car.) Mrs. Clark, bless her, said, "Go and see if it is your mother. If it is, you may get your book and go." Well, you better believe I looked quick, got my book and walked slowly home. I was six years old at the time.
All I have to add to what Hazel has written is "Amen!" See you next week.
Aug. 5, 1971
It never ceases to amaze me Just how many people (other than Lacoochee people) tell me they enjoy reading the recollections about Lacoochee in this column. I have had several former Dade City school students tell me that they wished I would do a similar series on Dade City schools, in days gone by. Sounds interesting to me and, if time permits, I just might do that, since it looks like everyone enjoys remembering their “good old days.” This week’s mail brought another letter, this one was signed “Anonymous” but nothing in the world could have kept me from knowing its writer, who was and still is (I hope) one of the very best friends I ever had. It is a beautiful letter and it is my pleasure to share it with you:
Souvenirs embitter our lives, only fools keep them." I can't remember where I heard that, but in a way it's true. I used to keep souvenirs but I don't anymore, still there's a few left, like the invitation that says, "Let's go see Lum and Abner Friday night" signed Prof. That was Prof. St. Clair's graduation gift to the ninth grade. We all went and had a grand time. Now memories are something else - you can't throw them out. I have a lot of them, some good, some bad, but all of them a part of growing up. I remember all of my Lacoochee teachers. Mrs. Revels was my first grade teacher and we read Baby Ray books Mrs. Clark was my second and third. I believe it was a combined grade. Miss Gladden was fourth. Mrs. Andrews fifth and then my favorite of all teachers, Mrs. Cox, sixth and seventh. Mrs. Reinke eighth and Prof. ninth.
So many people have mentioned ringing that bell. It made a mark on all our lives so I think it only fitting to tell in this column what will happen to that bell when the school closes. Mr. William David Mobley (who has taught school over there so many years and is busy now transferring to the new building) tells me that the bell will be mounted on a special dolly and enjoy a place of distinction and prominence in the new facility. So the old bell will still be around for kids to look at and remember with love, for many years to come.
It's tribute time. I'm going to attempt to list every teacher who taught in Lacoochee. I am able to do this because of the kind help given me by Mr. Wynn O'Berry, William David Mobley and a fine young man named Anthony Hayes (Anthony is from Lacoochee and a graduate of Pasco High School and he took his own time out to help me run down some of these teachers' names and I really do appreciate it). Many thanks to Wynn, David and Anthony!!!
1926: Mrs. F. O. Revels, Miss Emma Lee Smith, Mrs. Frances Ferrell, Miss Laura Croft.
1927: Mrs. Annie Fogg (Principal), Mrs. Lizzie Mickler, Mrs. Frances Ferrell, Mrs. Ivah Mulvaney.
1928-29: Mrs. Annie Fogg, Frances Ferrell, Bethel Revels, Lizzie Mickler, Ivah Mulvaney, Cora Mickler.
1929-30: Mrs. Annie Fogg, Mrs. C. F. Andrews, Mrs. Lena Crum, Mrs. F. O. Revels.
1930-31: Mrs. Annie Fogg, Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Mrs. T. R. Clark, Mrs. Bethel Revels.
1932: Mrs. Annie Fogg, Mrs. C. F. Andrews, Mrs. Susie Clark, Mrs. Bethel Revels
1933: Mrs. Annie Fogg, Pauline Eiland, Mrs. Susie dark, Mrs. Bethel Revels.
1934: Mark St. Clair, Principal, Frances Ferrell, Dorothy Browning, Mrs. C. F. Andrews, Mildred Stevens, Susie Clark, Bethel Revels.
1935: Mark St. Clair, Mrs. Frances Ferrell, Mrs. Dorothy Browning, Miss Lots Hancock, Mrs. C. F. Andrews, Miss Frances Gladden, Mrs. Susie Clark, Mrs. Alice St. Clair.
1936: Mark St. Clair, Principal and teacher of 9th grade, Mrs. Alice St. Clair, primary teacher, Mrs. Susie Clark, 2nd grade. Miss Frances Gladden, 3rd grade, Mrs. C. F. Andrews, 5th grade. Miss Lois Hancock, 7th grade, Mrs. Frances Ferrell, 8th grade
1937: Mark St. Clair, Mrs. Frances Ferrell, Miss Lois Hancock, Mrs. Starr M. Cox, Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Mrs. Susie Clark, Mrs. Leona Sable, Miss Margaret Mickler.
1938: Mark St. Clair, Mrs. Frances Ferrell, Miss Lois Hancock, Mrs. Starr M. Cox, Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Miss Margaret Mickler, Miss Mary Spearman. Mrs. Leona Sable, Mrs. Alice St. Clair, Miss Agnes Williams, Music.
1939: Mark St. Clair, Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Mrs. Starr M. Cox, Mary Spearman, Sue Marie Hyatt, Margaret Mickler, Alice Lee, Leona Sable, Alice St. Clair, Agnes Williams.
1940 Mark St. Clair, Mrs. Starr M. Cox, Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Miss Josephine Coleman, Miss Sue Marie Hyatt, Mrs. Leona Sable, Mrs. Alice St. Clair, Miss Margaret Mickler.
1941: Mark St. Clair, Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Mrs. Starr M. Cox, Miss Margaret Mickler, Miss Helen Hancock, Mrs. Esther Reinke, Miss Sue Marie Hyatt, Mrs. Leona Sable, Miss Pauline Morrow.
1942-43 Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Mrs. Starr Cox, Miss Helen Hancock Miss Sue Marie Hyatt, Miss Margaret Mickler, Miss Pauline Morrow Mrs. Leona Sable, Mrs. Alice St. Clair, Mrs. Esther Rinke.
1943-44: Mr. Mark St. Clair, Mrs. Alice St. Clair Lula Belle Eaddy Bucklin, Zerue Hancock, Myra O'Berry, Esther Reinke, Leona Sable Agatha Andrews, Ruth Giddens.
1944-45: Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Lula B. Bucklin, Ruth Gidden, Zerue Hancock, Myra O'Berry, Leona Sable. Alice St. Clair, Esther
1945-46: Mark St. Clair, Alice St. Clair, Agatha Andrews, Leona Sable, Zerue Hancock, Myra O'Berry, Esther Reinke, Marion Sedwick, Mrs. H. B. Wilks.
1946-47: Mr. Mark St. Clair, Alice St. Clair, Agatha Andrews, Leona Sable, Frances Rogers, Esther Reinke, Zerue Hancock, Myra O'Berry, Helen Wise, Marion Sedwick.
1947-48: Mark St. Clair, Alice St. Clair, Esther Reinke, Helen Wise Myra O'Berry, Mary Brinson, Agatha Andrews, Marion Sedwick, Dorothy Richardson, Zerue Hancock, Frances Rogers.
1948-49: Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Esther Reinke, Alice St. Clair, Helen Wise, Zerue Hancock, Myra O'Berry, Dorothy S. Richardson.
1949-50: Mrs. Agatha Andrews, Principal, Joseph S. Bird, Aden W Bird Mary Brinson, Jean Edscorn, Zerue Hancock, Nina Leonard, Edna O'Berry, Esther Reinke, Elizabeth Scoville, Marion Sedwick.
Next week will take us on up to the last year that particular school was in operation. Looking over the years, it looks to me as though Mrs. Agatha Andrews taught there longer than anyone else on record and was principal longer too. To me, that record deserves a "Hats Off" salute to Mrs. Andrews!!!
After having written twice that he was coming here, friend Tommy Wang finally drove in the other day in a brand new Jeepster with all the trimmings. He had taken his time driving down from Mary and so was a few days late getting here. Tommy has been visiting old friends in this area so I hope the ones who came by here to see him will get to before he takes off again. Tommy especially enjoyed a visit, in Lakeland, with Miss Nina Percival. Now, there is a teacher for you! So many of her former pupils have asked me to do a column on her and I would just love to. Anyone got something special to commemorate her many good years of teaching let me hear it from you!!!
August 12, 1971
A little more about the bell at the Lacoochee school. Had a call from Margaret Mickler Hawk this week and she told me that bell was given to the school by her Grandmother, Mrs. Lizzie Mickler in 1927. Among those who helped install it was Silas Hagood. Margaret was pleased to learn the bell was being moved to the new school, as was everyone else.
Also had a call from Mary Strickland Philpot in Lacoochee. Mary wanted to know why I failed to mention the old wood heaters and the lunch room over there. Just an oversight, Mary, that's all. I remember when the lunch room opened everyone thought that was really "up town" to be able to eat at school and to be asked to work in the lunch room was the epitome of honors!
Mary also reminded me that Kate Mullins was the one who started 4-H club activities for girls in Lacoochee. Kate stayed with that long after her own girls were out of school and there couldn't have been a better person in charge either. I guess another record of public service was held by my own Mom. She was treasurer for the PTA over there for many, many years. Even Mom has forgotten how many. The reason for that was because if Prof. needed the Treasurer, he could always find Mom in the store, therefore bills were paid promptly without too much hassle locating the treasurer.
Now to finish listing the teachers:
1950-51: Mark St. Clair, Principal; Mrs. Zerue Hancock, 4; Helen Jackson, 3 & 4; Willard H. Brown, 1; Jean Edscorn, 1; Esther Reinke, 6; Adell W. Bird, 5; Carolyn Douglas, 3; Henry C. Strait, 7 & Music; Eddie Szaro 7 & PE; Mary Brinson, 2.
1951-52: Agatha Andrews, Principal; Adell Bird, 5 & Music; Mary Brinson, 2; Carolyn Douglas, 4 & 5; Miss Helen Jackson, 4; Zerue Hancock, 3; Mary M. Fullwood, 1; Esther Reinke, 6; Marion Sedwick, 1 & 2.
1952-53: Agatha Andrews, Principal; Mary Brinson, 1 & 2; Zerue Hancock, 5; Janet H. Hilbert, 2 & 3; Pat Laurie, 3; Johnnie R. Reid, 4; Esther Reinke, 6; Marion Sedwick, 1; Helen J. Clawson, 6; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE.; George Wells, 2.
1953-54: Agatha Andrews, Principal: Marian Sedwick, 1; Georgia M. Wells, 2; Carolyn Douglas, 6; Zerue Hancock, 5; Patricia Laurie, 3; J. Rose Reid, 4; Omaleah Graves, 3 & 4; Mary Brinson, 1 & 2.
1954-55: Agatha Andrews, Principal; Mary Brinson, 2; Patricia Nadine Chafous, 3 & 4; Betty Webb Cox, 6; Zerue Hancock, 5; Johnnie Rose Reid, 4; Marian Sedwick, 1; Henry C. Strait, 7 & Music; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE.; Iris Talbert, 2 & 1; Georgia Wells, 3.
1955-56: Agatha Andrews, Principal; Dorothy J. Brown, 4 & 5; Georgia Wells, 3: Zerue Hancock, 5; Eddie Szaro 7 & PE.; A. E. Ross, 6; Iris Talbert, 1 & 2; Mary Brinson, 2 & 3; Annette Bucholtz, 3 & 4; Ethel Lease, 4 & Art; Bernice Fehelberg, 4: Marvin Stocks, 6;
1957-58: Agatha Andrews, Principal; R. E. Bell, 2; Katherine Hayes Goodson, 2; Marion Sedwick. 1; Mary E. Binson, 2 & 3; Georgia Wells 3; Ethel Lease, 4 & 5; Bernice Fehelberg, 4 & 5 ; Zerue Hancock, 5; Eldon J. Smith, 6; Eddie Szaro 7 & PE; Marguerite Goetz, 3 & 4.
1958-59; Agatha Andrews, Principal; Margaret Evans, 4 & 5; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE; Katherine Goodson, 6: Marion Sedwick, 1; Georgia M. Wells, 3; Zerue Hancock, 5; Mary E. Brinson, 2. In the lunch room that year were Harriet Carrington and Ellen Wiggins.
1959-60: Agatha Andrews, Principal; William David Mobley, 6; Eddie Szaro, 7; Zerue Hancock, 5; Marguerite Goetz, 2; Mary Brinson, 3; Georgia Wells, 4; Anna Campbell, 4 & 5; Ann Harris, 1.
1960-61: Agatha Andrews, Principal; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE; David Mobley, 7, Music & Art; Jerry Keisling, 6; Betty Ruth Dean, 5; Anna B. Campbell, 4; George L. Sarver, Jr., 3 & 4; Mary Brinson, 2 & 3; Marguerite Goetz, 2; Georgia Wells, 1.
1961-62: Agatha Andrews, Principal; Robert Neighbour, 5: Mary E. Brinson, 2 & 3; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE; Marguerite Goetz, 2; Jerry Keisling 6; Gertrude Neighbour, 2; Anna D. Campbell, 4; Georgia Wells, 1; David Mobley, 7, Music & Art.
1962-63: Agatha Andrews, Principal; David Mobley, 7. Art & Music; Marguerite Goetz, 2; Georgia Wells, 1; Jerry Keisling, 6; Anna D. Campbell, 4; Mary E. Brinson, 3; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE; Merle Coumbs, 5.
1963-64 Agatha Andrews, Principal; Imogene Crosby, 1; Jerry Keisling, 6 Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE; David Mobley, 5 & Art; Anna D. Campbell, 4 Mary Brinson, 2; Elizabeth McClure, 4; Freda Holt, 4.
1964-65 Agatha Andrews, Principal; Imogene Crosby, 1; Mary E. Brinson, 2; Anna D. Campbell, 3; Mary Averitt, 4; David Mobley, 5 & Art; Joan Barrentine, 6; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE.
1965-66: Agatha Andrews, Principal: David Mobley, Art; Imogene Crosby, 1; Mary E. Brinson, 2; Anna D. Campbell, 3; Cynthia Edna Roberts, 3; Leonard Cimador, 5; Rebecca F. Mucci, 4 & Music; A.C. Tompkins, 6: Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE.
1966-67: Agatha Andrews, Principal; David Mobley, 7, Music & Art; Imogene Crosby, 1; Mary E. Brinson, 2; Elizabeth McClure, 4; James Collins, 3; Helen Richardson, 4; A.C. Thompkins, 5; Randall Belcher, 6; Effie Davis, 6; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE.
1967-68: Agatha Andrews, Principal; David Mobley, 7, Music & Art; Imogene Crosby, 1; Mary E. Brinson, 2; Elizabeth McClure, 4; Katherine Goodson, 3; A. C. Tompkins, 5; Randall Belcher, 6; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE.
1968-69: Agatha Andrews, Principal; Randall Belcher, 6; Kenneth M. Brown, 4; Elizabeth McClure, 2; Imogene Crosby, 1; Peggy Johnston, 3; Autrey Tompkins, 5; Eddie Szaro, 7 & PE; David Mobley, 7, Art & Music.
1969-70: Agatha Andrews, Principal; David Mobley, Music & Art; Imogene Crosby, 1; Elizabeth McClure, 2; Peggy Johnston, 3; A. C. Tompkins, 4; Randall Belcher, 5; Eddie Szaro, 6, 7 & PE.
Whew!! Quite a list, isn't it? Looking back, I see the names of Mrs. Zerue Hancock, Georgia Wells, Mrs. Mary E. Brinson, Eddie Szaro, David Mobley and, of course, Mrs. Agatha Andrews, cropping up so many times. They all put in many years at the school and left some good memories for their pupils too. The principal at the new school will be Randall Belcher. I met Mr. Belcher for the first time when I began this series on the school and he impressed me as being a fine man with lots of interest and energy to devote to education. He will be assisted by a fine staff and I wish them all many good years in the new school.
August 19, 1971
Writing about the Lacoochee school has been one of the most pleasant assignments I have ever had so naturally I am happy to have such favorable response to those articles. Believe me, it's a labor of love to ever write anything about Lacoochee and Lacoochee people! Reading about those school days also brought some good school memories to Sarah Jane (O’Berry) Gilbert. Sarah Jane told me that, in her opinion, two of the finest teachers who ever lived were Miss Nina Percival and Mrs. Mildred Huckabay. There are quite a few others too who have told me the same thing. Sarah Jane told me about a lesson in discipline Miss Percival gave her one time that she has never forgotten. It seems that she and a couple of other students were eating in Miss Percival’s class one day and Miss Percival caught them! Well, the next day Miss Percival brought them a big bag of soda crackers and insisted the offenders eat every cracker without benefit of water. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Miss Percival permitted them to go outside to the water spigot and drink. Sarah Jane said they drank, and drank and drank until their thirst was finally quenched and, after that, none of them ever ate anything in the class room again. I’ll bet they didn’t either. I really enjoyed that talk with Sarah Jane and I thought it was interesting that this incident stuck in her mind so well. Miss Percival had ways of disciplining her students that were much more effective than a paddling could have ever been. Yet, she retained the love and respect of everyone she taught.
Cummer Co. Donates Land for Lacoochee ElementaryThis article appeared in the Dade City Banner on Nov. 6, 1969.
Chester Taylor at the November 4, School Board meeting informed the members of a letter received of J. T. McKinstry, Vice-President of the Cummer Company, stating that the Cummer Company has granted the request of the Board to donate approximately 20 acres to the Pasco County School Board for the proposed new School Site near Lacoochee.
In a letter to the company written by Taylor, it was explained to the company that because of the School Board's tight budget any donation of land would be a great savings. The land, which was originally priced at some $400.00 per acre, is located approximately one-half mile from Hwy. 301 on Cummer Road.
Mr. McKinstry stated in the letter that the board must decide within three months whether the site would be used. He also said that if in the event there was no school constructed on the property within three years, a reverter clause in the deed would return the property to the company.
Taylor also mentioned that the Company would possibly clear and prepare the land for construction.
Her School, Their OasisBy GINA PACE
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Sept. 17, 2006.
LACOOCHEE - The first change Karen Marler made when she came to Lacoochee Elementary as principal was to tear down the barbed wire on the school's front fence.
"This is not a prison, it's a school," said Marler, of the building that was once painted the same dingy yellow and brown as Zephyrhills Correctional Institution. "I was so disheartened and disappointed by what I saw."
Marler, who came to Lacoochee Elementary in 2004, set out to make major changes at the school.
Get rid of the hurricane windows with broken seals that were opaque with mold. Fix the leaky roof. Clean up the mildew that made the halls smell. Fix the lights in the library so it was bright enough for children to read.
In the past two years, parents and teachers say, the school building has experienced a major turnaround and is becoming an oasis in Lacoochee.
The children in the community need a school that's beautiful, she said. The area is poor - almost 86 percent of students there receive free or reduced price lunch, and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office stepped up patrols this summer to deal with a rise in drug- related crime.
"I'm not the type of person to sit still and not let our children here not have the same opportunities as other children in the county," she said.
Marler, 56, knows what it's like to grow up poor in Lacoochee. As a girl, she moved around a lot. Her dad worked in construction and moved to where the work was. She started to work in the fields when she was 10.
At the end of the sixth grade, she came to live with her grandmother and went to Lacoochee Elementary full time. They didn't have much. They used a wood-burning stove for cooking and for heat, and there was an outhouse out back .
Still, Marler says her childhood was full of joy. Swimming in the river, walking through the woods to get to the rodeo, rolling in fields of flowers - those are memories that she cherishes.
"We were never afraid," she said. "We knew our neighbors."
She wishes it were the same for her students now. When she was a girl, there was substance abuse in the community, but it was alcohol, not methamphetamines.
"You see the children, some of the pain they bring in from the issues," she said.
It's not unheard of to see drug deals occur in the intersections around the school, said sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin.
"There has been a concentrated effort to take the drugs off the streets in and around that school in Lacoochee," Tobin said of the increased patrols that started this summer. "If you are dealing drugs in and around that school area, you should look in your rear view mirror, because you are going to go to jail."
This summer, violent crime from the area has made the news. In late July, Chanel Cato, 31, and her father Ponce Cato, 54, were shot at their home, but survived. Eighteen-year-old Jonaey Peyton was arrested for the crime. Also in July, two teens from Wesley Chapel, Derek Pieper, 17, and Raymond Veluz, 18, were slain on a remote Trilby road, a few miles away from Lacoochee. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office said the investigation of their deaths is still ongoing. And earlier this month, Luis Angel Rivera, 23, was arrested for the death of William Medley, 72, at his home on Franklin Drive in Lacoochee.
The community's reputation has made it tough to recruit teachers, Marler said, even though there has never been an incident at the school.
To change the community, Marler has spearheaded a community action task force. Community leaders meet regularly to brainstorm how to improve the area. And to change the school, Marler pushed for $1.3- million from the school district to make improvements. The bulk of the renovations started about a year ago, and continue today. Much of the funding came from Penny for Pasco, a 1-cent on the dollar sales tax increase to build and expand schools, improve roads, buy conservation land and pay for city projects.
"It was a mess," said Ray Gadd, the assistant superintendent for support services. "It's important to make sure your community school is not in disrepair, to get the building back up to speed as the community deserves."
Janice Wells, an instructional assistant who has worked at the school since 1994, said every change in the school - from the mold removal to the new carpets - is noticed by the students and staff.
"We are proud of our dwelling," Wells said.
Andria Hernandez, the parent involvement coordinator at Lacoochee Elementary, said that the school is the place to start to improve the entire community.
"If you make a difference in the child's life, then that will reach the family," she said.
Marler wants to keep working to make Lacoochee Elementary a place where kids feel safe and secure - to feel like an extended family.
"They have so much support here, they don't know what to do with it," she said.