History of the Beach School on its 20th Anniversary
By Jane Waters Cooper – founder of the Islander Newspaper
It took a lot of energy and dedication to create the Pensacola Beach Elementary School for the school year 1977–1978. Beach residents, the Santa Rosa Island Authority, and the Escambia County School Board joined hands to guarantee that island children would not have to be bussed over two bridges twice a day to attend elementary school in Pensacola.
The first step in the project was a presentation to the Santa Rosa Island Authority by Mary Drees, Sally Chamberlin, and Diane Roberts. The Island Authority approved the proposal and it was later approved by the Escambia County School Board.
Among the individuals who worked hard to assure the establishment of a beach school was Harry Gowens who donated his empty A–frame house to be used as classrooms. His house, along with the Pensacola Beach Volunteer Fire Department building, served as the first beach school. In November of 1977, four portable buildings were moved to the present site. These portables are still in use, and three more classrooms and a cafeteria have been added.
Charlie Stokes, who was the Superintendant of Schools at the time, was relentless in his efforts to get a school for Pensacola Beach. There was no principal in the building but O.J. Semmes Principal, Joan Ennis acted as principal for the Beach school. Glenda Willett was the lead teacher and also taught classes. The other original teachers were Connie Sadler, Vicki Fair and Susan Shoemaker. Each teacher had responsibility for teaching two grades in the same classroom. Audrey Foster was the first and only school secretary.
At first there were few students, but the teachers and staff persevered and the school has grown both in numbers and prestige over the years. Today 130 students attend the school with six teachers and six staff members. The school now has its own cafeteria and library, and a separate class and teacher for each grade. Escambia County also has plans to build a multi–purpose building in a few years from 1/2 cent sales tax revenues.
Perhaps the greatest asset the Pensacola Beach Elementary School has had is the tremendous support of the community. Talented residents volunteer their services every day and fundraisers for the school occur on an on–going basis. Also the teachers are part of the community – most live on the island and are active in the beach’s church, civic and social activities. They know that when they need something – all they have to do is ask.
Our little school house in the sand, home of the Sandpipers, rises in prestige every year among all the schools in the country. Our students now turn in the highest scores on the California Achievement Test of any school in Escambia County.
We are extremely proud of our school and we are grateful to all those supporters who have worked so hard to make it the exceptional facility it is today. Our school may not get much bigger, but we know it will get better and better.