Lawton Chiles Elementary in Tampa Palms is finally as old as some of its fourth graders.

On November 3, Chiles celebrated “a decade of excellence” with a rededication ceremony to honor the school’s success in the Tampa Palms community for the past 10 years. Parents, teachers and staff members from years past reunited to hear former principals Tom Dessey and Shari Beaubien retell the story of the school’s beginning years and highlight the people who helped it grow. Other notable speakers included Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) superintendent MaryEllen Elia and current Chiles principal Kim Pietsch, who emphasized the impact the community has had on the school’s success.

“You are what makes our school so special,” said Pietsch to the crowd of teachers and community members. “And, such a wonderful place for children to learn.”

Other speakers at the ceremony included District 3 Hillsborough School Board member Jack Lamb, as well as HCPS Area 3 director, George Gaffney, who oversees all of the public schools in the New Tampa area.

Chiles assistant principal Mary Booth also commended the school for its consistent achievement. Since opening its doors ten years ago, Chiles has been awarded the distinction of being an “A” school

by the State of Florida Department of Education every year. Booth noted that the school has become a cornerstone of the Tampa Palms community.

School Board Member April Griffin recapped her personal acquaintance with the former governor and state senator whose name the school proudly bears: Lawton Mainor Chiles, Jr., a veteran of the Korean War and the 41st Governor of Florida from 1991-98. Chiles never lost an election and he died during his second term as governor.

Gov. Chiles was nicknamed “Walkin’ Lawton” for hiking more than 1,000 miles in 90 days across the state of Florida during his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Chiles recalled that his walk allowed him to see Florida’s natural beauty, as well as its problems. His “walking shoes” are permanently on display at the Florida State Capitol.

Chiles once said, “I didn’t come to stay, I came to make a difference.” This philosophy was reiterated in the heartfelt words of Chiles’ faculty and parents at the rededication ceremony.

“I felt so much pride, wandering down memory lane at ‘what was’ and ‘what is now,’” Pietsch’s secretary Janet Wright said. “Looking out at the sea of red and black (Chiles’ school colors) was inspirational. Chiles is like a (second) home (for us). I know the children are blessed to have such wonderful teachers…It has been a wonderful trip these last ten years.”

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