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Lealman's future yet unknown

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- More than 100 Lealman Intermediate School parents, teachers and students voiced their desire Wednesday for their own home, but the officials who will decide the dropout program's future were not there to hear.

A special symposium to discuss the school's future featured dancing students and eloquent pleas. It was partially funded by a $1,000 grant from Florida Power Corp. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker was there.

"The city government is not the School Board, but schools are important to us," Baker said. "We're looking around the city for reasons to draw people to our schools. We want to build community back into our schools."

Several parents said they hoped the meeting would generate citywide support to solve the school's problem -- where it will be housed after next year.

"I don't see anyone from the county or the School Board here tonight, so I guess we're going to have to do it ourselves," said Anna Scott, who has a son in the seventh grade at Lealman. "Again, I come away from this meeting with questions and not answers," said her husband, Eric.

Area superintendent Cathy Athanson attended the Lealman gathering for a short time, but had to leave for another meeting, according to Lealman principal Glenn Bailey.

"Lealman's program needs a free-standing building, a separate school," said Judy Chandler, whose son was called "stupid" in elementary school but who is now earning A's and B's at Lealman.

Lealman's 80-year-old school building is plagued with termite damage, mildew, molding walls, and myriad structural problems.

The latest proposal is to house Lealman students at Pinellas Technical Education Center on 34th Street S when the Gibbs High School technology magnet moves to the new high school. The Lealman school community is fighting that idea because they say possible mixing with adult and senior high school students and crossing U.S. 19 to reach art and physical education facilities will dilute the program's unique nature.

"The School Board has made no decision yet," said district spokesman Ron Stone. "A special committee is gathering data that will be discussed at a School Board workshop, probably in a couple of months.

"We don't want to lose the integrity of the program. It is important to keep the program doing what it is doing."

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