History of Education – Part 7

History of Education in Pasco County


School Board OKs Bond Issue

This article appeared in the Dade City Banner on April 9, 1970.

The Pasco County School Board agreed on a two-phase $16-million bond issue in one of its most productive meetings in weeks Tuesday, but now is faced with when it can get it before the voters and how to sell it to them.

With Supt. of Schools Chester W. Taylor Jr. urging “It’s time to put this issue before the people of Pasco County . . . If we don’t I don’t know what we’re going to do next year,” the board finally tackled the problem head-on.

One by one, board members expressed positive reasons to get the issue of 3. 49 mills for the first phase and 2.09 mills taxation for the second before the voters.

They were originally considering a three-phase sale of bonds, for the five year construction program but Tuesday switched to a two-phase sale of $10 million, $6 million. This occurred mainly because members have not been able to decide on priorities, because of pressing construction needs in all areas of the county.

In the $10 million phase new schools that would be built are new Gulf High School, new Zephyrhills junior – senior high, Lacoochee elementary and West Pasco elementary.

School board attorney George Dayton has been instructed to draw up a resolution that must be approved by the State Dept. of Education, then the board would need to draw up a resolution calling for a referendum with at least 30 days notice.

The bulk of the work for the five-year construction program was done by an 11-man advisory committee appointed last year.

The committee was appointed after the school board decided not to put a $9. 9 million bond issue to the voters because they were afraid it would not pass.

Rodney Cox, Supt. of Schools, Dies In Office

This article appeared in the West Pasco Chronicle on Mar. 22, 1973.

Rodney B. Cox, Superintendent of Pasco County Schools, died Tuesday morning, a day after his 48th birthday, at Lakeland General Hospital.

He is survived by his wife and 3 children. The Board, in the memory of Cox, voted unanimously to name the soon to be built Shady Hills Elementary School, The Rodney B. Cox Memorial Elementary School. They also adopted a resolution commemorating Cox as “having genuine concern for the students and the school system” and one who maintained “a constant quest for the improvement of the schools.”

A native of Kentucky, Cox came to Pasco County in 1954 as a physical education teacher at Dade City Grammar School. He later became principal of Trilby Elementary School and then principal of Dade City Elementary.

He ran unsuccessfully for Superintendent of Schools in 1968 and was defeated by Chester Taylor.

In November of 1972, running on the Republican ticket, he defeated Robert Marsh, Principal of Gulf Senior High, for the superintendent position, and formally took office in January of 1973, only to serve 77 days.

The Board sent a letter to Governor Reubin Askew notifying him of Cox’s death. It is Askew who must make the appointment of an acting superintendent who will hold office until the next election in 1976.

Thomas Weightman, who is presently serving as Assistant to the Superintendent, was given certain special powers until the nature of Cox’s illness was resolved. Weightman now loses the authority to sign legal documents and payroll checks, which makes the appointment of an interim superintendent imperative.

Zephyrhills Principal New School Superintendent

This article appeared in the West Pasco Chronicle on Mar. 29, 1973.

In a move that was somewhat surprising and certainly disappointing to many in West Pasco, Raymond Stewart, principal of Zephyrhills High School, was selected by Governor Reubin Askew Tuesday to be Superintendent of Schools for Pasco County. He replaces Rodney Cox, who died last week and will serve at least until the elections of 1974.

The choice was disappointing to many for at least three reasons: the school board unanimously recommended Thomas Weightman who has been filling the role for the past three months of Cox’s illness; Cox, who was elected by the people of the county last November, chose Weightman for the job when he knew he would not live; Stewart is said to be less than fully committed to the 45-15 program which the school board has decided to implement this July.

However, the make up of the Advisory Committee, with three members from Zephyrhills, two more from the eastern side of the county, and only two from the west, suggested the possibility that a man from the west may have slim chance of being named.

Moreover, in terms of practical politics, Chester Taylor, former Superintendent of Pasco Schools and known to be a close friend of Florida’s Secretary of Education Floyd Christian, is said to have favored Ray Stewart for the job.

While the vote was not unanimous by the board, two names having been sent to the Governor, members of the minority view expressed confidence that Stewart could do a good job.

Stewart, who is 43 years old, was formerly a teacher and coach in the Manatee County school system. He has four children and has lived in Pasco County nine years.

Respected and Beloved Educator Dies

This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on July 6, 1995.


NEW PORT RICHEY — Retired educator Mark St. Clair, whose lessons of respect and hard work stuck with his students decades after they graduated, died Tuesday. He was 90.

“At the school reunions you could always tell where he was sitting, because there was always a long line of people waiting to see him,” said Lorise Abraham, 66, of Dade City, who once sat in St. Clair’s ninth-grade classroom.

“I don’t know what made him so different. He just had a way of reaching young people.”

St. Clair was born in Statesboro, Ga., to two educators. His mother taught in Georgia until the family moved, and his father taught at Gulf High School in New Port Richey. St. Clair Athletic Field at the Schwettman Education Center is named for him.

The family moved to Dade City in 1919. Mark St. Clair graduated from Florida Southern College in Lakeland in 1928.

He taught in Lacoochee and spent 20 years as principal there, and served as Pasco County school superintendent for eight years in the 1940s and 1950s. He spent 10 years as an assistant principal in Leesburg. Before he retired in 1968, St. Clair served in Florida schools for 40 years.

“When you left his class, you knew what he was trying to teach you,” Lorise Abraham said.

He was “never mad, never mean, but firm,” added her husband, Lewis Abraham, also one of St. Clair’s students.

St. Clair married his first wife, teacher Alice Mullin in 1926. She died in 1960. He married Helen Jackson Swartsel in November 1962.

A lifelong Methodist, he taught adult Bible classes for 35 years.

He is survived by his wife, Helen of New Port Richey; a son, James H. of St. Louis; a sister, Mary Lou Knight of New Port Richey; and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at North/Meadowlawn Funeral Home, 4244 Madison St., New Port Richey.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey. Burial be in Meadowlawn Memorial Garden.

Former Superintendent Chester Taylor Dies

This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on Aug. 7, 2005.


DADE CITY – Chester W. Taylor, the former schools superintendent who oversaw desegregation of Pasco County schools, died Saturday. He was 80.

Taylor was born in Sanford and was raised in Dade City. A combat veteran of World War II, he was recalled during the Korean War and served as an infantry training officer at Fort Jackson, S.C.

Most of all, Taylor was an educator.

He served as Pasco school superintendent from Jan. 8, 1957, until his resignation Aug. 31, 1972, according to school district records.

An elementary school in Zephyrhills bears his name.

“He was a man that everybody looked up to,” said his youngest son, Dade City veterinarian Chet Taylor, 48.

“Even in the political life, he was very fair. He was an astute educator. He was at the wheel taking this county through the biggest times.”

The elder Taylor was superintendent in the 1960s when Pasco County began to end segregation in schools.

In a 1998 interview with the Tampa Tribune, Taylor told of venturing out to the woods of Lacoochee in the mid-1960s where he met with Ku Klux Klan members in a one-room cabin to explain the desegregation plan.

Taylor said he told Klan members their children and black children were going to attend school together, and it didn’t matter whether they liked it.

For the children’s sake, he wanted their support.

“I wasn’t the champion of desegregation,” Taylor said in 1998. “I was just trying to do it without problems.”

He said there were predictions of widespread violence in Pasco, but that never materialized, although there were heated words and a few scuffles. He also said people threw dead chickens and rotten grapefruit on his front porch.

In the early 1960s, Taylor hired Tom Weightman as a teacher. Weightman later served as a principal under Taylor, then spent 22 years as superintendent. He recalled that Taylor was easy to work with, knew everybody and was very understanding.

“He was at the beginning of the transformation from a rural to suburban district and I think he probably set the district on a good course from that point on,” Weightman said. “He allowed people to do their jobs and be able to manage in an organized way.”

After Taylor’s wife, Vera Russell Taylor, died in 1970, he was left to raise their four children alone, and he did an excellent job, said Weightman’s wife, Jean Larkin Weightman, a member of the Pasco County School Board.

“They are the most devoted, loving children you have ever seen,” she said. “It’s a tribute to him that his children adore him so much.”

Chet Taylor, owner of Dade City Animal Clinic, said his father led by example.

“He taught us to be fair with people and always do what you think is right,” the younger Taylor said. “You can walk down the streets of Dade City and mention Chester W. Taylor and there would be very few that would have anything but praise.”

After Taylor resigned as superintendent, he worked for Saint Leo College, now Saint Leo University. He coordinated the real estate program, then became dean of the the college’s Military Education Program, which grew to resident centers in five states. He retired from Saint Leo in 1988.

Taylor’s health had declined in recent years, and after living with his son, Rusty Taylor, and his wife, Kathy, in Port St. Lucie, he recently moved back to Dade City. Taylor died at Heritage Park Care Center.

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