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Key Largo School marks half a century as island chain's northernmost public school

A man addresses a crowd in folding chairs outside of Key Largo school.
Ed Caputo, who was the first principal at Key Largo School when it opened 50 years ago, addressed the crowd at the school's anniversary celebration.

Key Largo School celebrated its 50th anniversary Wednesday. That celebration should have been in September — but the school had some delays along the way.

Students, teachers, parents and school board members gathered at the Key Largo School Wednesday to mark a half-century of the pre-K through eighth grade school in the Upper Keys.

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It opened Jan. 19, 1972. School Board member Sue Woltanski said it was supposed to open in September 1971. But construction was running late. The community came to the rescue.

"The Lions Club, the Civics Club, the Elks Club and churches like Burton Memorial, San Pedro and Key Largo Baptist all created spaces so those children would have an uninterrupted education," Woltanski said.

The school opened four months later. And it's been there ever since, through major growth in the Keys and the fallout from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

With homes and schools destroyed in Florida City and Homestead, the Upper Keys saw a sudden surge of new people.

"Within one week, we enrolled 300 new students," said Frankie St. James, who was the school's principal at the time. "We had to create classrooms for these students — in the cafeteria, on the stage, in the media center and even in the hallways."

Almost 800 kids are enrolled at Key Largo School now. They've been celebrating the anniversary with a time capsule to be opened on the school's 100th anniversary, a display about the school's history and costume days celebrating the five decades that have passed since it opened.