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A Fond Farewell

Students, teachers and parents say goodbye to their old elementary school Friday, never to return again. A new, larger building is going up, and so are expectations about attracting students.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Campbell Park Elementary School students bade a formal farewell to their campus Friday.

They filled a time capsule. Sang goodbye in English and Spanish. Blew noisemakers and bubbles. Played taps. They lowered the flag.

And they became the latest example of big changes as the school system braces for the coming of "controlled choice" -- a new way of matching students to schools -- in a year.

In another month their school, built in 1961, will be demolished to make room for a larger, brand-new facility that is scheduled to open in time for the 2003-2004 academic year. Until then, Campbell Park students will be nomads of sorts, attending classes in the new Doug Jamerson Elementary School, at 1200 37th St. S, a campus that does not yet have its own student body.

Present for Friday's farewell was former principal Leonard Summers, who retired in 1983. He reminded the scores of students of the school motto: "Only your best is good enough."

Most in the sea of students wore red Campbell Park Elementary T-shirts, which like nearly everything about the school, will soon change. That even includes the colors. Out with the red. In with the aqua and teal, because they better symbolize the school's marine science theme.

Campbell Park Elementary is following in the footsteps of Gulfport Elementary, which recently moved to temporary quarters to make way for construction of its new school. A wave of construction is sweeping the Pinellas County School District, which is preparing for the momentous step of ending court-ordered busing for desegregation.

Replacing court-ordered busing will be "controlled choice," a program that will allow parents of any race to select schools for their children that are closer to home. The choice program will go into effect in the fall of 2003.

Campbell Park Elementary's temporary quarters, across the street from Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ and next door to the Pinellas Technical Education Center, or PTEC, is one of three new schools being built in the southern section of Pinellas County as part of a settlement with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to end decades of court-imposed busing.

The construction of the new schools and renovation of others is to ensure accommodation for students who will no longer have to be bused to achieve court-ordered racial quotas. The hope is that the upgraded facilities, many of which are in predominantly black neighborhoods, will attract white students and maintain integrated schools.

Although it is not all tied to the advent of controlled choice, the school district is in the middle of a building program -- totaling 19 projects -- that will will add up to about $300-million by the time all new and renovated classrooms across the county are equipped and open.

Attracting a diversified student body will not be easy for some schools. To help, the school district is encouraging schools to establish "attractors" to make them enticing.

Campbell Park Elementary, which is located in a predominantly black neighborhood, is "one of the best kept secrets" in the district, said principal Jim Steen, who first went to Campbell Park in 1983 and asked to return there after he had been transferred.

"I've always loved this school," he said. "Campbell Park has always enjoyed a good reputation."

To get out the "secret," the school has hired a marketing firm.

The marketers have designed a new logo and mascot. A school directory is being developed to give often far-flung families a sense of community. Among other students, the school hopes to target the children of parents who work in downtown St. Petersburg.

The school's main attractors are its marine and environmental science programs: a marine science lab, trips to creeks, beaches and aquariums to study marine ecosystems, classroom mini habitats and swimming lessons. The programs will be run in partnership with the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, which has nationally renowned programs in those areas.

Late last week, goldfish swam in an indoor pond that had been built in a corridor on the school's first floor. Student "pond rangers" are in charge of cleaning the pool and feeding the fish.

Despite Friday's farewell, Campbell Park's actual moving date will not be until June 10, when movers will arrive to cart off the boxes and other material that are starting to stack up in hallways, offices and classrooms. At present, Campbell Park has just 350 students, but expects to increase that number to about 750 when it returns to its new, larger campus.

Assistant principal Kathleen S. Young is worried about what a large school could mean.

"We will lose the sense of family. We know pretty much all the children by name," said Ms. Young, 30, who grew up in the neighborhood and went to school with many parents who now have children at Campbell Park.

Brian Murphy, 32, remembers Campbell Park seeming bigger when he attended school there. He is project manager for the new Campbell Park campus and is not sentimental about tearing down his old school.

"To me, being in this business, I look at it as progress," he said. "There are some buildings that are historic, like St. Pete High. I am looking forward to moving forward with this project."

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