The founding and evolution of Sarasota High School

One of the most positive by-products of Sarasota’s Roaring Twenties growth spurt was the schools that sprouted throughout the county to accommodate the influx of new families.

Interestingly, and for some reason (Sarasota’s preservation story certainly isn’t one of them), after nearly a hundred years and a few of those iconic buildings still stand: the twin South Side and Bay Haven, placed where they are at the suggestion of prominent city planner John Nolen, still serves its original purpose, while Sarasota High School was saved from the wrecking ball and repurposed.

As formidable and eye-catching as ever, the iconic Sarasota school was transformed by a visionary group led by Dr. Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College of Art + Design, into the Sarasota Museum of Art, dedicated to the ‘contemporary art.

Compulsory school attendance was not enacted in Florida until 1919. Locally, the Sarasota Woman’s Club and Rose Wilson, editor of the Sarasota Times, had lobbied for the new law. Rose wrote that the legislation “will be the first step in eliminating the scourge of illiteracy that has been so high in Florida.”

Thereafter, the opportunity for children to receive a proper education flourished, especially during the frenzied 1920s.

The formidable Gothic-style high school replaced its predecessor, a much smaller red-brick building built in 1913 at a cost of $23,000. Located on Main Street, east of Orange Avenue. The school soon proved inadequate, perhaps because of the increase in student numbers due to compulsory attendance. To alleviate overcrowding, the original wooden schoolhouse was brought back into use and used from grades one through three.

Sarasota's first all-brick schoolhouse soon proved insufficient for the city's needs.

Teachers were hard to keep because the salary was set at a meager $50 to $55 a month.

(When the original high school was demolished in the 1950s, some of its bricks were used as walkways in the Sarasota Jungle Gardens.)

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The progressive element that wanted Sarasota to grow and prosper seemed unanimous that one of the main factors in this regard was a good school system. In describing the new facility, the Herald noted, “It is an acknowledged fact that the schools of a community are a very important factor in its growth and development…the present growth of the city would be greatly handicapped by a inadequate system. ”

As the acceptance of its first pupils approached in 1927, the progress of the school and of the men responsible for its construction and curriculum were often reported enthusiastically in local newspapers. On October 3, 1926, a pen-and-ink drawing by the new school stated that “the whole factory will cost $2,000,000”. It was said to be the best in the South.

An SHS graduate on top of the world, 1928.

The well-known architect Mr. Leo Elliott (April 4, 1886-August 1967) received the commission. He also drew the plans for the South Side and Bay Haven. He was responsible for some major buildings in Tampa and Temple Terrace. In a comprehensive article in Creative Loafing, he was considered the greatest architect in Tampa history.

The Sarasota Herald singled out two local men among many for special credit for what was described as “the most modern and up-to-date school in all of the South.”

For the structure, AL Joiner, a member of the three-person Education Council, received praise: “The new SHS is a true tribute to Mr. Joiner’s foresight and the many hours he has worked in the purpose of obtaining such a splendid edifice. »

The driving force behind the school component was attributed to Principal JC Peel, “a relatively young man (he was 30) but years of experience as an educator”. He served directly under TW Yarborough, Sarasota County Superintendent of Public Instruction for 33 years.

The simplicity of a 3R-based curriculum had been enhanced in high school and included a formidable array of science, literature, math, geography, and philosophy that could challenge a college graduate today.

Some examples: Classes of second: Composition and rhetoric, classics, algebra in high school, César de Walker and physical geography. Eleventh grade: History of the Classics of English Literature, Simple Geometry, Six Oration Cicero from Allen & Greenough, High School Physics, Civic Government of the United States, and French Grammar from Fraser & Squair. Grade 12: More of the same plus two months of Florida Civil Government, Chemistry, and Trigonometry.

Added to the list of courses at the new SHS are French, training in modern business practices and, “welcomed by many girls”, another year of home economics.

Dubbed an “eye-catching” but honorable publication, the young journalists produced the bi-weekly Sara-So-Tan as the official voice of Sarasota sailors, “For a Greater School, City and County.”

Sara Lindsay, the editor of the Herald society, proposed that the new school be built”[With] the purpose of bringing out of its representations young people well equipped to face the problems of life – with training to enable them to face the problem of earning a living in such a way that their standard of living will always be on the rise.

Graduating class of the first Brick High School, circa 1926.

The Student Body Creed was written by an anonymous student. To paraphrase the six points: the student has pledged to voluntarily accept all responsibility, to do his best at all times, to be fair and forthright, recognizing that cheating is the greatest crime of all, to obey voluntarily to all the rules, to do everything possible to advance the standing and reputation of the school.

Sailor was chosen as a nickname for Sarasota High School students out of respect for the community’s Naval Militia. These young men had been thoroughly trained and prepared for battle as the First World War raged in Europe. They were ready to go when America was forced into war.

Sarasota High School prom in the early 1950s at the Lido Casino.

None of the sailors were killed in action. They returned home to be greeted by proud citizens who watched them march along Main Street to the flag pole at Five Points. “Welcome Buddies” was painted on the street. (That’s why “Welcome Buddies” is written on the roundabout at Five Points.)

According to former Sarasota County historian Ann Shank, the orange and black school colors date back to the early 1920s when the Bank of Sarasota issued black and gold caps to all students. Subsequently, the gold and black turned into orange and black. Shank noted that the Sara-So-Tan referred to both color combinations.

The original Sarasota Sailors football team before they moved to their new school in 1927.

Virtually all middle school and high school teachers combined would be college graduates. The Herald reported “only carefully selected natural teachers leading to accreditation on the Southern Association list”.

Adopting modern teaching techniques, standard intelligence tests were given. The results were put on cards which were “of great help in enabling the faculty to better appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the different students”. The “intelligence cards” were kept in Professor Peel’s office for future reference.

The school has adopted a supervised study plan developed and successfully implemented by Michigan educators that has been hailed as “the latest and greatest in teaching methods.”

On October 27, 1928, a year after the new building opened, the Herald reports, Sarasota High School had a “high rating,” while high schools across the city were “up to standard.”

During the post-World War II boom, school board member Philip Hiss, dubbed “the man who made Sarasota modern”, supported the building of a wave of modernist schools. In 1959, Paul Rudolph, who would become recognized worldwide for his designs, was commissioned to add what became known as Rudolph’s High School Addition.

Between classes, circa 1964, students travel from the Paul Rudolph addition to the 1927 Sarasota High School building.

Walking between the addition of Rudolph to the original SHS to change classes has connected the Sarasota of yesterday to today’s modern version.

Beautifully restored, this 1927 building is a testament to the preservation of iconic old structures for reuse.

Sarasota High School prom in the early 1950s.