COLUMN: Looking back on 100 years of Charlotte County schools | Education

Charlotte County Public Schools Celebrate 100 Years. Let’s take a moment to celebrate the history of our school district and the success of our students.

Steve dionisio

The modern era of Charlotte County Public Schools began on April 23, 1921, when Governor Cary A. Hardee enacted the DeSoto County Division, creating four additional counties, including Charlotte.

Shortly after, in 1921, our public schools were established, namely Punta Gorda Grammar & High School and Baker’s Academy for minority students.

On September 4, 1921, the first full year of our new school system began with an enrollment of 546 students.

The first calculation of the state’s full-time enrollment (FTE) funding took place in November 1921 at 97 cents per student for a grand total of $ 529.62.

Charlotte high school

Charlotte High School was built in 1926 and was the only high school to serve Charlotte County for many years.

Completed in 1926 and enrolling students in grades six to twelve, a new school, Charlotte High School, was established. The old school, renamed Punta Gorda Primary School, accommodated students in grades 1 through 5, and Charlotte Harbor School began educating students in grades 1 through 4 until it closed.

As the Great Depression made its way into Charlotte County, the school year was reduced to just seven months and teachers often received promissory notes from local merchants for food and clothing.

In the late 1950s, growth was spurred by two residential developers, and as our county’s population grew, the need for additional schools increased.

In the early 1960s, elementary schools in Peace River, East and Lemon Bay were built. Sadly, our schools, much like the nation, were separated in the early 1960s. Meanwhile, white students from the Englewood area attended school in Venice, while African-American students, living on Gasparilla Island, attended school in a one-room K-7 school. Their upper-class comrades left home before dawn, to be transported by boat to Placida, driven by car to Punta Gorda, and then bused to school in Lee County. Each one-way trip lasted two hours. African-American high school students from the Punta Gorda area were also transported to the Lee County school.

On May 17, 1954, the unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. The Board of Education declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. As a result, the people of Punta Gorda collaborated with the school district in early 1962 to create an integration plan. After many months of secret meetings in the community, the school board voted on August 26, 1963 to allow five minority students to enroll in Charlotte High School.

On September 3, 1963, Charlotte County schools proudly won the title of Florida’s first school district to enter voluntarily when students Isaac Thomas, Jr., Felix Johnson, Minnie Lee Mitchell, Gertha Haddock and Ron Middleton entered high school. for the first time. Today, a plaque honoring their arrival is located near the door where the students entered the school that day.

In 1965, an application was submitted for a Head Start program, and our school district became one of three education systems in the country to receive federal funding for this program. The other two programs were closed, making the Head Start program at Charlotte County Public Schools the oldest program in the country.

Several more decades of growth in Charlotte County have ushered in an even stronger inventory of schools:

• 1970s: Neil Armstrong elementary schools, Meadow Park Elementary, Punta Gorda Junior High and Port Charlotte Junior High.

• 1980s: Charlotte Harbor Center, Charlotte Vo-Tech, LA Ainger Junior High, Murdock Junior High, Liberty Elementary, Vineland Elementary, Port Charlotte High School and Lemon Bay Elementary made the transition to middle / high school for seventh grades. 12.

• 1990s: Deep Creek Elementary, Myakka River Elementary, Kingsway Elementary and Academy were created to replace New Challenge School. The current main county office building also opened.

• 2000s: Charlotte Virtual School and district charter schools, namely Florida SouthWestern Collegiate High School, Babcock Neighborhood School, Babcock High School and Crossroads Hope Academy (which closed in June 2020) were established, and Sallie Jones Elementary has been rebuilt due to its age.

Our community was also affected by Hurricane Charley on August 13, 2004, which destroyed six schools, including Baker Center, Peace River, Neil Armstrong, East, Punta Gorda Middle and Charlotte High. Over the next seven years, these schools were rebuilt.

Hurricane Charley hits schools

Schools in Charlotte County, especially those in Punta Gorda, were devastated by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

We are very proud of our schools and their earned designations such as the Blue Ribbon, Red Carpet, Lighthouse and Leader in Me Schools, US News and World Reports gold, silver and bronze medalists, and the FLDOE “High” designation. Performing ‘and top-10 school district for many years.

Our services have also won procurement awards and energy saving awards, to name a few.

Our CCPS high schools have won district titles, regional titles and state championships. Many students have been crowned National Merit Fellows, and our school district’s current graduation rate is over 90%, the highest ever.

I would also like to mention a few people:

Sallie Jones

Sallie Jones, Charlotte County’s first elected female superintendent.

CHS graduate Sallie Jones returned to Charlotte County to teach at the school, then became a principal before winning the election to be superintendent of schools, the first woman to hold that position in Florida, and to to date, she is our oldest superintendent with 16 years.

Teacher Benjamin Baker

Benjamin Joshua Baker learned to read from his parents, who were former slaves. He passed the state exam for teachers at the age of 19 and became the first African-American teacher in what is now Charlotte County. The Benjamin J. Baker Academy (now called Baker Center) is named after him.

Benjamin Baker, of Live Oak, Florida, was hired in 1903 to teach African American students. He began teaching at a two-room school on Marion Avenue, and then a four-room school was built which was then called Baker’s Academy. Mr. Baker was the first Florida educator to receive a pension under the Florida Teacher’s Retirement Act of 1939.

George sansone

George Sansone, pictured here presenting the game ball to the winning team during a powder football game in 2016, was the longest-serving educator in Charlotte County history, teaching at Charlotte High School in 1969 to 2019, the year of his death.

George Sansone was a dedicated 50-year-old teacher who passed away in 2019. Mr. Sansone taught from 1969 to 2019 at Charlotte High School, and he holds the title of Longest-serving Charlotte County Public School Educator to date. .

Peggy stoever

Peggy Stoever, whose 45-year Charlotte County public school career began while still in high school, playfully posed for a photographer at a community garage sale in 2013.

Peggy Holland Stoever started working in human resources while in high school and retired in 2018, with 45 years of dedicated service.

Our elders include those who joined the military and fought in many wars and conflicts since World War II. In addition, this school district has produced college professors, superintendents, educators, coaches, principals, business owners, social workers, doctors and health professionals, judges and lawyers. , housewives, county administrators, emergency managers, police and firefighters, Olympians, professional athletes, the list goes on. In addition, we have many staff who have graduated from our schools and returned to work for Charlotte County and who have dedicated their entire lives to serving the Charlotte County Public Schools.

A centennial celebration should not end without mentioning the unwavering spirit of our students and the unwavering courage and professionalism of the educators and staff of this school district. The closure of school doors in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic has forced our students and teachers into a virtual learning environment for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, to be followed by the toughest school year this school district has ever faced.

Personally, I believe that the perseverance of this community will undoubtedly be on the list to celebrate at the end of our next 100 years.

Over the past 100 years, we have grown from an enrollment of 500 students, 21 staff, two schools and six buses to our current enrollment of over 15,000 students, over 2,000 staff, 21 school sites, two district offices and three bus depots which operate 90 buses per day. We also serve over 11,000 breakfasts and 5,000 breakfasts per day.

I would like to thank our past and present educators, support staff, administrators, board members, students, parents, coaches, mentors, volunteers and community members for their support and hard work. end for educating all of our students and for making Charlotte County Public Schools successful and somewhere special.

Charlotte County Public Schools – for the past 100 years – have been a place of learning, hard work, pride and student achievement!

Steve Dionisio is the superintendent of public schools in Charlotte County.

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