North Ward No More
Photo/Text by Donna Malloy
Today, this chain link fence, which wraps around the perimeter of the school yard at North Ward Elementary, keeps students safe and strangers out. But by June, "No Trespassing" signs will serve as a sad reminder that the school has permanently closed.
Neither North Ward's "A" rating from the State of Florida for the seventh consecutive year nor the elementary schools' partnership with Pinellas County Government were enough to keep the 94 year old school alive. Citing declining enrollment and budget cuts, North Ward Elementary school was one of five schools Pinellas County considered closing this school year. The district's goal was to cut $48 million from its budget; cuts they claim would save the district. Last year, the district closed South Ward Elementary, along with Riviera Middle School and Largo Elementary.
Both North and South Ward elementary schools were the brainchild of E.R. Ward, who moved to Clearwater with his wife and children to open a general store and be near the train depot, according to "75 Years of Tradition" by Susan Thompson. Once settled in, the Wards soon realized that schooling presented a challenge, so they built a one-room schoolhouse where Mrs. Ward taught her 11 students for free.
In 1985, local historian Mike Sanders wrote this account of North Ward: "North Ward Elementary is a quaint red brick school house which dates to 1915, when it opened on two acres of land. It cost $8,000 to build. Originally, North Ward had six classrooms, six teachers and 120 students. In 1921 a PTA was formed, and in 1926, a $6,900 addition expanded the space. The walls were built 17 inches thick. As we look to government and private industry to help downtown become the center it once was, it's nice to know two educational institutions have always been there-at least for 80 years or so." Unfortunately, history doesn't always repeat itself.
Local pioneers Elsie Duncan and Frances Belcher taught and were principals at North Ward Elementary. Duncan used to ride her horse "Pet" to South Ward Elementary and it was at South Ward that Duncan realized she wanted to become a teacher. Her love of teaching was inspired by her 4th grade teacher, and "from then on I knew I wanted to be a teacher" stated Duncan when I interviewed her in 1986. In 1931, then Area Supervisor Professor McMullen asked Duncan to teach the students at Clearwater High School and there she remained for the next five years.
After teaching at Clearwater High School, Duncan went on to become Principal of North Ward Elementary at the coaxing of then Principal Miss Francis Belcher, who encouraged Duncan to seek her accreditation for the position.
Steeped in tradition, yearly school events such as the spring Maypole Festival will soon become a fond memory, just as its sister school, South Ward Elementary, has become. North Ward's history will be archived in attics and the memories of all those young minds who walked through the open arms of its white, double doors. To date, there are no plans for the future use of this historic building. North Ward students will be rezoned to other local schools in the district. For information on the 2009-2010 Student Assignment Plan, go to: ww.pcsb.org.
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