Archived Story

A school of our own

Published 8:20pm Saturday, February 23, 2013

By Dennis Edwards

We had one growing up. Actually there were three in our neighborhood. They were born in segregated times. But soon they became integrated into every facet of our lives.

Old Booker T. Washington High was next to Andrew J. Brown Elementary at Smith and Leigh. Two blocks away, there was John Randolph Elementary at Smith and St. James. Like bookends, Booker T. sprang to new life as the educational anchor of the city’s east end, while Suffolk High with its majestic appearance held court at downtown’s center.

Times have changed. But the needs of people who live in Suffolk haven’t. Back then, schools of our own were the center of community life, the pride of generations and the academic centers of culture, work ethic, shared values and team as well as individual accomplishment.

Decades after Suffolk High and Booker T. closed, reunions are still being planned. Graduates of all types scattered around the country long for opportunities to reconnect with schools, teachers and friends who helped make us who we are.

We were challenged academically by great teachers who not only taught English, grammar, literature, math, languages, arts and science, but also carved into our spirits a sense of self reliance, respect, kindness, courtesy and fair play.

In a previous column I’ve described those qualities as “The Suffolk Way.”

With no school of our own in or near downtown or southwest Suffolk, where do our children learn to be the men and women we got a chance to be? Where is the shared sense of pride about being from Suffolk? Where is the incentive for young couples to settle into quality housing from Saratoga Street over to Lake Kilby?

How do we expect to revitalize a downtown that makes no room for young families by providing at least an elementary school with teachers who get viable reasons to live where they teach?

Former Mayor Andrew Damiani is sounding a clarion call by urging a new school for Suffolk C\city. Should we really have to think about that? Maybe the better response is to ask where in the downtown area would be the best location?

Would it be improper to ask what kind of partnerships might work between a church with available space and the School Board? Maybe a test site might work with, say, kindergarten through second or third grades to gauge need and interest?

There are visionary renovation projects under way, like Ruth Baker’s bed and breakfast plans for Truitt House, Jennifer Seebo’s and Mickey Boyette’s exciting transformation of the old I.O. Hill Funeral Home into the First Lady and chef Harper Bradshaw’s culinary metamorphosis of an old store on Main Street into a world-class restaurant called Harper’s Table.

Isn’t it clear that folks see a bright future for downtown Suffolk? If their plans and successes are evidence, then shouldn’t there be a vision for a new school in or near a revitalized downtown?

Remember the Proverbial writer who said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”?

We’re all excited about the growth of North Suffolk. But were it not for downtown, would there be northern suburbs to celebrate?

Our city’s long-term future depends on how much our community is willing to invest in passing values unique to Suffolk down to every child born here.

What would it take to get that done, to get a school of our own?

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at

  • Norseman

    I have lived the Suffolk School system as my daughter came up in it she graduates this year from Lakeland. I can tell you we have some very good and some very bad teachers as with any profession. The problem is the system itself, if the school has a good principal it usually does well if not anything goes. There is way too much stock given to degrees and not enough to teaching skills. You can hold five doctorates but if you cant get through to the kids in your charge you should not be a teacher (sorry). You should also not be in the administration because you don’t understand what needs to be done. The blame always falls to the kids learning ability, they didnt eat well, sleep well, cant sit still, poor, you pick one but it boils down to discipline and it has to begin at the begining. I agree we need Magnet schools for the children that can’t/won’t agree to behave in school, not the ones that don’t sit on their hands but really won’t behave. Get them out of the classroom with the kids that are teachable and get help for the others as needed. Get rid of the low performance teachers marking time, period!! if you fail in a real job you get fired same should hold true with teachers. Bring back Vocational training and quit telling the kids that this is where you go if your not smart enough for college. A doctor is just a body mechanic. Our bodies are very complex machines and require advanced schooling and hence deserved enhanced pay. We need to provide other career paths than college for the kids that don’t want to go that way. They are not stupid for choosing to be a mechanic/plummer/electrician etc they can be solid career choices also for the right person.

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  • RobertEStephens

    Mr. Edwards,

    I always enjoy reading your perspective on topics you choose to enlighten us “newcomers”. In that context, I take exception to your analogy, espousing the need for “our own school”…, or another school in downtown or southwest Suffolk. I submit to you that Suffolk’s educational needs cannot be met by building another school solely for the purpose of ‘teaching children to be men and women’. Suffolk NEEDS a “Magnet Prep School” that meets the prolific needs of failing students who cannot access remedial, corrective and tutorial resources within a system where thousands of “Ds” and “Fs” are frequently recorded…as students continue falling behind. Aside from a need to close the ever-increasing achievement gap, what about the notion that these students are the same prospective “workforce” candidates expected to fill positions…thus, feeding into the community’s economic vitality.

    As an educational advocate and a Junior Achievement volunteer (and mentor) to these failing students, I can attest [first-hand] to the desire of many students, teachers, administrators and school board members who believe that a more viable, effective solution is needed in Suffolk. Mr. Damiani and I have had in-depth discussion about Suffolk’s educational need, and we agree that a downtown school would be a “NICETY” to restore the nostalgia of the “Suffolk Way”; but, that the real NEED is to stop the hemorrhaging of good talent by giving ALL students an opportunity to succeed. Investing taxpayer dollars in a “Magnet Prep School” that prepares students for a ‘global community’ will yield a much greater return than another downtown school aimed at the “Suffolk Way”. Check out for a best-practice model…this could be the “school of our own”…

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    • Dennis Edwards

      Mr. Stephens,
      Glad we agree about the need for a school in Suffolk City.

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