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2 New Tampa schools earn national honor

Hunter's Green and Tampa Palms earn the Education Department's Blue Ribbon status.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001


TAMPA -- Two New Tampa elementary schools received similar phone calls Monday morning that sparked immediate action.

Hunter's Green principal Barbara Hancock was so elated she broadcast the call to the entire school. Tampa Palms principal Betty Lou Turner listened carefully, then hung up and began ordering customized blue ribbons for nearly 1,200 students.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham's office called to congratulate them on earning Blue Ribbon status, an honor from the U.S. Department of Education that recognizes the top 1 percent of schools.

Hunter's Green and Tampa Palms were among 264 public and private schools selected this year. They were chosen from 38 states and the Department of Defense, which has special schools for the children of its employees.

In an area that has grown from rural pasture to bustling suburbs in just a decade, the path from swift construction to elite instruction was made possible by strong staffs, enthusiastic teachers and active parents.

"Community support is a vital ingredient," said Earl Lennard, superintendent for Hillsborough Schools. "The parent involvement in those schools has made it come forward. In that length of time, that's just phenomenal."

Hancock said her school's other strengths included unique programs in the curriculum, including an introduction to environmental studies and special attention for remedial students. Turner cited staff and parental involvement as her school's strengths.

Blue Ribbon schools are selected by a national panel that looks at curriculum, staff, community involvement and environment.

In March, an examiner visited each school on the list; final selections were made in May.

Seven other Hillsborough schools have earned the honor since its inception in 1982.

This year's recipients will be officially notified Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Education and will be honored this fall at a ceremony attended by President Bush in Washington.

"I just wanted everyone to hear it," said Hancock, who asked the caller to speak loudly while she turned on the public address system.

Hancock especially wanted to share the message with her Blue Ribbon chair, Carol Woodson, who was teaching her first-grade class. Woodson, who has taught at both schools, was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer last December. She has continued teaching since undergoing chemotherapy, donning an assortment of hats to cover her bald head. Monday she dressed in a blue outfit with a blue ribbon around her hat, anticipating the announcement.

"We knew we were going to know this week, so many of us decided to wear blue until we found out," said Woodson, who taught at Tampa Palms Elementary after it opened in 1989 before moving to Hunter's Green when it opened in 1992. "We are a bunch of positive thinkers around here."

Teaching inspires Woodson to fight the cancer, and she plans to make the trip to Washington this fall.

- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472.

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