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Teachers, students called him a friend

He led two of Pinellas' larger schools in a time of transition.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published July 31, 2007


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photo
[Times files]
Ronald Hallam, former principal of Dixie Hollins High School in Pinellas County.

Not long after Ronald R. Hallam became principal of Dixie Hollins High in 1974, he turned his attention to the school's broken intercom.

Schools were not yet using walkie-talkies, and cell phones hadn't been invented. So the system was a vital link to the front office, recalled Sherry Brock, then a teacher in her early 20s.

When district headquarters did not respond to Mr. Hallam's many repair requests, "he asked the teachers to put in a grievance against him," Brock said.

The maneuver got the district's attention and the system was quickly repaired, said Brock, this year's Pinellas Outstanding Educator, who remembers Mr. Hallam as the "most amazing" of her nine principals - resourceful, outgoing, loyal to teachers and forever in the hallways calling students by name.

Mr. Hallam died Sunday (July 29, 2007) at age 78 after a lengthy heart ailment. He served as principal at two of the county's larger high schools - St. Petersburg High and Dixie Hollins - in the 1970s, when the system was just desegregating and racial tensions ran high.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who attended St. Petersburg High when Mr. Hallam was principal, has tentatively agreed to speak at his memorial service in two weeks.

At Dixie Hollins, Brock said, Mr. Hallam stuck to the rules when demands came from parents and students, black or white.

"He felt like the county office was more interested in being politically correct," she said. "The kids really respected him for that because he didn't play favorites."

Mr. Hallam was at the center of two controversies that captured headlines at the time.

In March 1971 at St. Petersburg High, several fights broke out when 300 black students were told to return to class after boycotting a National Honor Society ceremony. The students were upset that the school had not made it mandatory for all students to attend a black culture club meeting the week before.

Mr. Hallam convened a biracial student committee to recommend changes, including ways to expand black membership in clubs and asking the school band to stop playing Dixie.

In April 1977, Mr. Hallam resigned as Dixie Hollins principal, sending then-superintendent Gus Sakkis a strongly worded letter that took the district to task for not backing him on discipline decisions. Mr. Hallam believed suspensions did not work for some disruptive students and they should be expelled.

Hundreds of students and more than 100 faculty members signed petitions backing him and demanding the district decline his resignation.

"He's got guts," then-School Board member John Espey said of Mr. Hallam at the time.

In the end, Sakkis let the resignation stand, though Mr. Hallam continued to work for the district. The superintendent also disputed Mr. Hallam's contention.

When Mr. Hallam left at year's end, Dixie's parents and teachers showered him with accolades and dinners. The Class of '77 wrote a song about him, To Sir With Love, and commissioned a portrait of him that hung in the school for years.

The portrait will be on display at his memorial service, said Lynn Hallam Gundry of Tampa, who attended Dixie Hollins when her father was principal.

She recalled that the district often sent him to schools with behavior problems.

"He was good at discipline," she said. "He did it very nicely and everybody loved him. ... He was a way-cool principal."

What didn't make headlines, said Brock, were the many times Mr. Hallam took troubled students into his home or helped them with finances.

Mr. Hallam attended Butler University and Purdue University, where he played quarterback.

He came to Pinellas County in 1959 with his wife, Carolyn, as a science teacher at Tyrone Junior High School. He also worked at Madeira Beach Junior High and Melrose Elementary. Following the death of his first wife in the mid 1980s, he married June Peterson.

He retired from the district in 1988. Besides his widow and daughter, survivors include a son, Matthew Hallam of Clearwater; a stepdaughter, Bonnie Hurn of Pasco County; two sisters; eight grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

An evening memorial service is scheduled at Starkey Road Baptist Church, 8800 Starkey Road in Seminole, but the date is pending.

[Last modified July 31, 2007, 00:12:26]


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