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Parents found PTA before school doors open

Parents of future Lawton Chiles Elementary students elect temporary officers at an organizational meeting. "Every school has to start somewhere,'' one father says.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001

TAMPA PALMS -- Some parents of children who will attend Lawton Chiles Elementary this fall say they are committed to making the new school as successful as others in New Tampa.

Now, they want others to sign up to help get the school going with as much support as possible.

"A school is not a physical structure, but the people who fill the school," said Dave Bryant, a father of two children who someday will attend Chiles. "Every school has to start at some point."

Bryant was elected as the temporary PTA president at the organization's first meeting on March 6. About 40 parents attended the event for Chiles, located west of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard on Tampa Palms Boulevard.

Parent Kim Gilmore said many parents seem more than willing to take the time to help strengthen the school.

"I think we're going to have very strong parent involvement at this school," she said. "I think everyone gets excited about a new school."

Bryant and other temporary officers will serve until the Chiles PTA is chartered and formal elections are held later this month. The school opens in August.

"We want to make sure a PTA is in place," said Linda Applegate, president of the Hillsborough County Council PTA-PTSA. "It's important to have that parent volunteer there at the beginning."

The pressure is on the school to create an active PTA similar to the one at nearby Tampa Palms Elementary. Tampa Palms parents have been recognized statewide for their membership and school involvement. The group helped raise thousands of dollars for a computer lab, books and a gazebo, among other efforts.

But Applegate isn't worried about Chiles' volunteers.

"They had been talking about getting started for months, even before they got a new principal," she said.

Many children who attend Tampa Palms, Clark and Pizzo elementary schools will be reassigned to Chiles. In addition, about 180 Tampa Palms sixth-graders who would normally attend Benito Middle School will be assigned to Chiles for one year until a new middle school opens in 2002.

Chiles Principal Tom Dessy said he will relocate from a temporary office at Clark Elementary School to a trailer at the school site this week. He soon will begin hiring teachers and selecting instructional materials for the school.

Dessy said that he has been assured by the contractor that the school will be completed by June.

"Things are progressing along nicely," he said. "Everything is on track."

Bryant, a polygraph examiner, said he volunteered to help the school because of his children. One of sons, Sam, will turn 5 on the first day of school; the other is 2 years old.

"I have a vested interest in Lawton Chiles," he said. "I'm going to be tied up with that school for the next nine years."

Other parents elected as temporary officers of the PTA are Rebecca Schwartz, secretary; Gilmore, nominations; and Susan Lawless and Georgette Loeffler, membership.

Parents interested in serving as PTA officers should call Gilmore at 977-7505.

A meeting for parents of kindergarteners will be held at 8:30 a.m. March 28; a second organizational PTA meeting will be held at 7 p.m. March 29; and an informational meeting for Chiles' sixth-graders will be held at 7 p.m. April 5. All are at Tampa Palms Elementary School, 6100 Tampa Palms Blvd.

-- Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3473 or

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