Schools

When county school leaders wouldn't provide transportation for black students in the 1930s, four black teachers made a down payment on a bus and pledged their salaries for security. The bus came to symbolize black independence, perseverance and pride in their schools. People called it the Blue Goose. It guaranteed that children who needed a ride to school could have it.

Davis Academy, Jordan Elementary, 16th Street Junior High and Gibbs High were among schools that served youngsters in the 22nd Street S community. Perkins Elementary opened as a segregated school four decades ago. Later, desegregation scattered the youngsters. Many families, both white and black, no longer enjoyed neighborhood schools.

Gibbs, a community institution since 1927, lost a big part of its identity. It became a school "in" the black community, but not "of" it, wrote Dr. Evelyn Newman Phillips in her 1993 social history of St. Petersburg African-Americans. For example, Gibbs teachers such as Reynold Davis taught dozens of musicians their art; and the Marching Gladiators band represented community pride, raising goosebumps when it marched on 22nd Street during homecoming weekends. But soon after widespread integration, not one black student remained as a member of the band, Phillips wrote.

Meanwhile, Jordan Elementary became a Head Start center. It now sits empty. Perkins eventually became a successful magnet elementary school, but one that can draw only a minority of students from the neighborhood, by federal order. Youngsters congregate around school bus stops in the neighborhood to be shipped somewhere else.

In a few months, the public schools again will shake up the way schools and students match. "Controlled choice," the biggest change in decades, is supposed to give parents more say in selecting schools. In a city with segregated housing patterns, it will try to achieve two very different things -- neighborhood schools and integrated schools.

What happens will affect the schools, the communities around them and probably the course of integration here.