Warren Hope Dawson Elementary School is making history. It’s the district’s only new public school to open its doors this school year. On the first day of school – ever – the school’s namesake, Tampa attorney Warren Hope Dawson, was there to greet all 500+ kids.
“We’re going to start off as a small school, which is wonderful, because not everyone has that opportunity, and even when we grow to be a big school, we can still have a small school feeling. It’s just going to be our way of life,” said Principal Derrick McLaughlin.
The 85,000 square-foot school has the capacity to serve 950 students, pre-kindergarten to fifth grade. It’s located in the Triple Creek Subdivision, south of Big Bend Road and East of Balm Riverview Road. The state-of-the-art school pulled students from nearby Boyette Springs, Collins, Sessums, Stowers, and Summerfield Elementary Schools and will accommodate future growth in the area.
“It’s the modern neighborhood school, but with traditional school values,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin, former principal at Summerfield Elementary, was appointed in December and has seen the school built from the ground up. This year, the principal spent his birthday picking out the school’s interior colors.
McLaughlin and Assistant Principal Ashley Wiese have worked with contractors, The Beck Group, to craft unique features for the new school. The chairs in the Media Center are engraved with the Dawson “D” and dragon. There’s a green couch – that with some imagination – looks like a fire-breathing dragon. Visitors walk into the main office to energy-efficient LED circle lights that appear to be clouds against the blue-painted ceiling.
Their innovative ideas, like colorful squares in the classroom carpet, are also saving the district money.
“We worked with the architect and in most schools you’ll see an area rug in primary classrooms that are very colorful. They’re costly, and they have to be replaced every few years, and they get dirty and they have to be washed. This is actually integrated directly into the carpet and saved us about $17,000 dollars,” said McLaughlin.
The Media Center is filled with 9,000 books, and Makers Space and robotics kits for STEM projects. In between the buildings, there’s a center courtyard area that can be used for school family meetings or concerts. Parents also have plenty of space in front of the building to drop off and pick up their kids that’s designed for a fluid traffic flow. “It’s left turn in and right turn out,” said McLaughlin.
Leaders know these small decisions will add up to make a huge impact on everyone who comes to the school.
“We’re not just making (decisions) as administrators, as a principal and assistant principal, but I’m the mama of a kindergartener, and my daughter will be coming with me and Mr. McLaughlin’s two kids are coming with him, so we make decisions as a mom and dad would, too. We want what’s best for all of the Dawson Dragons, including our own,” said Wiese.
They’re also building a family atmosphere. When teachers arrived to get ready for Back to School, they participated in a team-building activity by painting the letters, “H-O-P-E”. It’s not only a tribute to the school’s namesake, it also reflects their mission: building hope for the future, one child at a time.
The $20 million facility is named after 77-year-old Warren Hope Dawson, a Tampa civil rights and labor relations attorney and community leader. Mr. Dawson was instrumental in the desegregation of Hillsborough County Public Schools, an effort that began in 1974 and continued for 27 years.
“This school has been a star in my eye. It is fantastic. It’s a beautiful institution, well-built and well thought out,” said Dawson. “It’s nice to have something named after you and to have it done while you’re still alive and well. I’m going to run around the school to demonstrate just how alive I am,” Dawson told staff members at the school’s ribbon cutting ceremony. “It will give students the hope we should give them to prepare them for life."
On the first day of school, students lined up to have their pictures taken with the school’s namesake. Students, parents, and staff realize they’re a part of history in the making.
The school’s official dedication is planned for April.
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