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Lee Elementary’s plan for the future

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After eight years at Lee, Principal’s Secretary Janice Farmer wanted to retire. But Farmer along with every teacher returned.  

“Even though it was an ordeal, they wanted to be together in this ordeal,” Farmer said. “Everyone just wants to do what’s best for the kids, because it was traumatic for them too.”  

Beside the Lockhart campus, 13 more portables were established for the Lee faculty and students. The campuses of each school are fully separated except for the recess and physical education areas.  

Although the buses are combined, Lockhart students will depart in front of the cafeteria and Lee students at the entrance gate by the portables.  

“Teachers never have been so happy to come to a faculty meeting, if you can imagine that,” Smith said with a laugh. “They were like ‘oh we get to see each other! Hey friend.’ But now having all of us together, is almost like being back at home.”  

Last school year, Lockhart had a population of 360 students. With a maximum capacity of 659 students at Lockhart and less than 300 students at Lee, Lockhart had the facilities to accommodate the students and staff.

Making it work  

By November, the office and eight classrooms were placed in portables. However, some Lee faculty and students were still on the Lockhart campus. Krista Keith was one of the Lee teachers separated from the rest of the faculty.  

“It wasn’t bad, I did feel some support, especially from the Lockhart teacher next to me but it was a disconnected feeling too because I was used to being able to open up my door and see my teammates and now they were way across campus,” she said.  

Along with meltdowns, the students dealt with confusion from the separation. “The kids were confused they were like ‘do I go to Lee or Lockhart?’” Lee Principal Beverly Smith said. “All the teachers would reassure them: ‘you’re at Lee, you’re just on the Lockhart campus.’”  

Without time to prepare for the year, Lockhart Principal Sharon Waite and Beverly Smith, also faced complications.   

“If you see something as a principal you are used to making quick decisions, now you make a quick decision and it is not in alignment with what the other principal would have done so you’re accidentally  

stepping on each other’s toes and you have to go back and fix it and apologize and keep on,” Smith said.

“So, there were a lot of hiccups along the way of learning each other’s leadership styles, that was rough.”

In her classroom, Keith said she did her best to support the students. “I really try to support other aspects, not just the academic,” she said. “They can’t be ready to learn if they have all of these other things that have to be addressed.”  

A helping hand

According to Farmer, Smith’s guidance also encouraged the faculty.

“My gift is the gift of ministry,” Smith said. “Oftentimes I help spirits, I help souls. All my staff was willing to come back, and parents were happy to go through this with us because when people, or teachers or anyone are going through a crisis, I have the ability to hear what is underneath the surface and then give out the right information. I just know it is not of my own doing and that it is a gift that I have from God that helps people.”  

The staff also expressed their appreciation of the donations and support from all over the US.   

Everything in the library was lost but places like the MOSI school and Scholastic contributed books. “We were so blessed to have library media services from the school district and so many different people bring books and donate books,” Media Specialist Stacey Roller said.  

Community Involvement

Before students attended Lockhart, teachers, the area director, and other workers from the district came to assist teachers in assembling their classrooms.  

“Teachers know what other teachers go through, but to actually see it in action, gave me a sense of relief that there are teachers that understand, and they not just understand but are willing to help,” Keith said.  

For Smith who usually is on the giving end of a tragedy, receiving was a new experience. “…I never knew how much love there really is in the world,” she said. “Instead of being tearful about your loss, you became overwhelmed and tearful about how many people who really are willing to come in and support you.”  

Looking forward

As for Lee, the School Board of Hillsborough County is currently in the process of re-negotiating with the 15 insurance companies that collectively insure the district buildings. Construction and architecture firms provided three options to restore or build the school.   

In May, more than 80 members of the community participated in an interactive workshop discussing the plan for the school. According to a memo in the report from architect John S. Kidwell, the neighborhood and historic preservation communities aim for a historical rehabilitation of Lee, the most expensive option at $16.1 million.  

“We all want to stay together through this whole thing and end up, I’d love it to be back at Lee,” Farmer said.  

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