The Foundation of the Seaside Neighborhood School by Laura Holloway
It has been said that the true value of a community is a reflection of its education system. The future leaders of tomorrow find their beginnings in classrooms around the country, and in Seaside, the chances for greatness are heightened by the existence of the Seaside Neighborhood School.
In 1993, Dr. Rosemary Williams, a homeowner in Seaside since 1988, bumped into Seaside founder, Robert Davis, who mentioned that a small group was meeting regularly to discuss South Walton’s school system. He recommended that she, an educator, attend, and she soon found herself immersed in a group of individuals who were trying to improve K-12 education in the area.
After several meetings over many months, it became apparent to Rosemary that the educational void in the area could only be filled with the foundation of a new school. At the time, there were no charter schools in Florida, but when Rosemary and Robert began discussing the possibility of a school in Seaside, they discovered that a group of senators in Tallahassee were working on the Charter School Bill. After a few trips to Tallahassee to meet with the senators and their legislative analysts, the two felt they had enough information to push the idea of the school forward.
The Charter Bill was passed in 1996, and everything went into fast forward. With a six-week window closing rapidly, it was what Rosemary calls “a race to the finish.” The public schools in the area were starting the year on August 13, and the team scrambled to draw up appropriate documents and plans to open on time.
Tracey Bailey, who had been appointed Charter School Director, helped Rosemary define the proposal for presentation to the board, which was approved by the Walton County School District. This triggered a request for a contract, and Beth Folta and Linda Dwyer, who were working with Seaside Community Development, joined the team to lend their expertise in development and financial planning.
The board approved the contract the night before the day legally required to open the school, and again, planning went into fast motion. Rosemary laughs telling it, and said, “When we came out of the meeting where they approved the contract, the teachers were signing their teacher contracts on the hood of a car in the parking lot of the Walton County School District Administration Office!”
The board knew they had teachers, but they still, even at this point, did not know whether they had students. Many families were waiting to see whether the organization would open as a private or public school. But the next day, the school welcomed in its first 36 students, along with two faculty members and one administrator, proudly existing as one of the first charter schools in the state of Florida.
The school’s first classrooms were located in two modular units, and the enthusiasm and dedication behind the project prompted Robert Davis to donate the land for the first building. Soon after, the location fees from the locally filmed movie “The Truman Show” were donated by the homeowners of Seaside to fund the construction of the building.
The passion behind the project was extraordinary, and the founders are fortunate to have moments of true appreciation for their dedication, to see the good that they have helped bring to the area. Rosemary recalls one moment: “Before the school was even under way, I had a complete picture of the school in my head. I had a vision of the Lyceum being filled with students, playing soccer. And I remember during that first year, I was walking past the Lyceum and it was as though my dream was transferred to the school. All of the kids were outside playing soccer. It was amazing.”
The Seaside Neighborhood School would have never been possible without the complete support of the community, particularly Robert and Daryl Davis, and the board members, who continue to selflessly push the school towards greatness. The parents of those very first 36 students were instrumental, with “so much time and energy donated — even supplies were donated.” The earliest teachers also “took the risk to come to a place that no one was sure would survive,” and the principles handled the continued evolution of the school with skill. Even the students, who Rosemary describes as “incredible,” were patient and attentive in the primitive early stages of the school, contributing to the success of the school.
If a community is in fact a reflection of its school, Seaside, like the Seaside Neighborhood School, will continue to inspire and innovate, always remembering the perseverance and dedication that made it all possible.
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