Looking at the past and future of Oscar Patterson Elementary School

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - For Charlie Barnes, Mary Brown, Mattie Gainer, and Rochella Wilson, walking through the breezeways of Oscar Patterson Elementary School is taking a walk down memory lane.

"That first room right there. These are the restrooms in sixth grade and my classroom was right there," Brown exclaimed, pointing at one of the corridors of the building.

For this group, walking to and through school was commonplace.

"When we didn't have buses, we walked to school. We communicated together. We walked together," Wilson said.

Homer Jackson, late Bay County school leader and principal, had a prayer for Oscar Patterson Elementary.

"His prayer was, 'Dear God our battle's almost won, keep us and bless Oscar Patterson, O help us to achieve our goal, revive our spirits, and improve our souls," Darnita Rivers, Oscar Patterson Principal, recited.

As a school, Oscar Patterson hopes to achieve a goal of a passing grade. Now, administrators, staff, students, and the district find themselves at a crossroads with state leaders presenting options to either close the school or have a charter take over if the school does not achieve a passing grade.

"The law as it is right now would require us to do one of three options: close Patterson if they don't become a 'C' or better, or either turn it into a charter school basically. That's the options we have and so our contention is Patterson deserves and needs one more year before that would kick in," Bill Husfelt, Superintendent of Bay District Schools, said.

While the future of Oscar Patterson is unknown, school leaders and faculty said their focus is making sure their Rockets soar up and beyond.

"The kids are dependent on their school being there. It is not about necessarily what we have to prove, but that all children can learn and deserve the opportunity to learn," Principal Rivers said.

Taking a step back from the uncertainty of what's down the road for the school, you will see the history the school has already paved.

"Oscar Patterson Elementary was a segregated elementary school. A businessman, Oscar Patterson, who's not actually an educator, but a businessman from Millville, wanted to get a school where black children could attend and have a quality education," Principal Rivers said.

According to "Bonavista to Bozeman: A History of Bay County Public Schools from 1827 to 2000," a book found in the Local History room in the Bay County Public Library, what started off as the Millville School became Oscar Patterson Elementary School in the early 1950's.

"But there were barracks set up along the fence line now where Rosenwald is. There was not this permanent structure. The structure wasn't erected until 1958 and it was to keep kids from having to walk, because there were no schools for African Americans or blacks, to keep them from having to walk long distances to attend school," said Principal Rivers.

Once the school was built, it gave students opportunities and memories to last a lifetime.

"Oscar Patterson had it going on. We were the only school who had the Kiddies' Cavalcade! We went to other schools," Gainer exclaimed.

Barnes added, "We were very competitive. We were smart kids. Seriously, we learned in the summertime. We learned how to swim, played table tennis, shuffleboard."

While the school's future may not be set in stone, the Chair of the Oscar Patterson Oversight Committee believes it's not just about brick and mortar.

"But I also recognize when things are not going the best for the children, that we have to, I feel, not look at the building, but what's best for children," Sharon Sheffield said.

"It just saddened my heart to even think that Patterson would be closed. I'm hoping and praying that they will not close the school down. I can't speak for the community, but as I said for myself, anything I can do, I'm willing," Gainer said.

The Bay District School Board plans on going to the State Board of Education to request a year extension for Patterson come March.

Husfelt said the district believes it will have enough documentation by March to give to the board to get that extension.