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Schools work to entice officials

Freedom High and Liberty Middle schools hope their names will bring visits from leaders.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 28, 2002


TAMPA PALMS -- What's in a name, you ask?

Enough to entice Colin Powell and Gov. Jeb Bush to make appearances at the dedication of Freedom High and Liberty Middle schools -- at least that's the hope of school proponents who want to snag the guest speakers.

Named in the wave of post-Sept. 11 patriotism, the two New Tampa schools already are preparing for a Spring dedication ceremony. And, with patriotic spirit in mind, teachers and parents are working to encourage Florida's governor and the U.S. Secretary of State to show their support for education, national pride -- and, of course, New Tampa.

"I don't want to get my hopes up," said Liberty parent Lynn Gruber, who began talking with State Department employees during the last week of school. "These things take time."

Still, said Liberty teacher Tracey Velong, "it would be awesome and a great honor." She mailed an invitation to Gov. Bush after she and her husband sat with him at a Florida Police Chiefs ceremony on July 3.

"He did talk about how education is the big concern now," said the seventh-grade geography teacher. And "I just felt we are doing great things at Liberty."

Also in the works are efforts to get Powell to raise the campus' flag for the first time during the dedication ceremony, said Terry Wolford, a parent at the new middle school.

If the group can capture such prominent speakers, they would complement what locals say is already a momentous beginning for the schools, which will constitute the first joint middle/high school campus in Hillsborough County.

"I believe they're the first joined campus in the U.S. named after the country," Gruber said.

Freedom and Liberty expect to welcome at least 2,000 students combined when they open their doors on Aug. 7.

"We don't have our own schools named after a person," Gruber said. "They're named after the country and we need someone who represents the country to come and set a good example."

A date for the dedication ceremony has not yet been scheduled, said spokeswoman Linda Cobbe with Hillsborough County Schools. That usually is decided in January or February.

"They always wait until most of the school year has passed so they can get their choir and band. Usually in April," she said.

However, Deborah Rodgers, principal of Liberty Middle School said the effort by faculty and community members to line up the high-profile speakers has been underway since early summer.

Officials at neighboring USAA Insurance, which is donating money to purchase an oversized American flag and pole, is offering its company choir for the dedication.

"By day they're insurance professionals and by night they sing very well," said Lynne McChristian, corporate communications director for the company, which serves military personnel and their dependants. "And usually (they sing) patriotic songs."

The company's regional senior vice president is a retired brigadier general who might be able to contact U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, she said. But she said there has not yet been a formal request.

School supporters say that getting such guests may be a pie-in-the-sky idea.

"I would say at this point it's probably a long shot. Maybe we're jumping the gun," said Gruber. Still, she said, "we're going to try our hardest."

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