In 1985, the superintendent of the Sarasota School District, Dr. James Fox, contacted the Dean of the College of Education, Dr. William Katzenmeyer with an interesting proposal. Dr. Fox asked Dean Katzenmeyer if the College of Education at USF would be interested in serving as the organizational home of the National Resource Center for Middle Grades Education. The center had originally been located in Indianapolis but lost its federal funding and was about to be closed. As a national leader in middle grades education, Dr. Fox was working with the Florida Legislature to establish the center in Florida and was looking for a university to serve as host. Dean Katzenmeyer readily agreed that the College of Education would serve as the host of the center if approved by the Florida Legislature.
Through the legislative efforts of Senator Robert Johnson of Sarasota and Representative Mike Friedman of Dade County, the Florida Legislature in 1985 established the National Resource Center for Middle Grades Education. The legislature allocated a grant of $185,000 to serve as seed money for the center but stipulated that the center could have a fee-based relationship schools and school districts for its products and services. The understanding was that the center would eventually become fiscally self-sufficient through its entrepreneurial activities.
Dean Katzenmeyer invited Dr. Dick Puglisi to serve as Acting Director of the newly created National Resource Center for Middle Grades Education. Dr. Puglisi also was director of the Gus A. Stavros Center for Free Enterprise and Economic Education. Dr. Puglisi accepted Dean Katzenmeyer’s invitation and suggested that Dr. Sandra Schurr, science supervisor for the Sarasota School District, be invited to take a one year leave of absence to join Dr. Puglisi in building the center. Dean Katzenmeyer agreed and after conferring with Dr. Fox, Dr. Schurr was invited to join the center. Ms. Lucy Smith was hired as the secretary of the center shortly thereafter.
Two ideas suggested by Dr. Schurr quickly made the Resource Center a player on the local and national scene. One idea was the notion that an advisory board of national leaders in middle level education be established for the center. This would provide the center with national recognition, hopefully, credibility as an excellent resource for schools throughout the nation. Several national leaders were recruited for the board including Dr. Howard Johnston, Dr. John Loundsberry, Dr. Alfred Arth, Dr. Paul George and others. The other idea was to establish a cadre of master teachers who would participate in the development of curricula and other materials that the center could use in its outreach efforts. The cadre would also serve as the center’s consultants to providing training to school districts throughout the nation.
At the national level and in Florida, the 1980s and early 1990s witnessed a resurgence of interest in middle level education as the preferred way to educate adolescent students. Middle schools (grades 6-8) also became the appropriate vehicle as opposed to the traditional junior high structure. Because of this national and regional interest in reconfiguring schools, the Middle Grades Center quickly became a go-to resource for schools and school districts interested in reconfiguring their schools. Because of the commitment to the restructuring of schools throughout the nation from the traditional junior high school model to the middle school concept, considerable funding support became available in support of this goal.
After approximately three years of legislative funding, the funding expired and the center evolved into fiscally self-sufficient entity. Because of its superb reputation at both the national and international levels, the center thrived financially and was responsible for restructuring schools and school districts throughout the world.
The Resource Center’s cadre of outstanding educators included Ms. Kathy LaMort, Ms. Sharon Lewis, Ms. Kathy Shewy, Ms. Kathy Hunt and many others. Over the next several years, the center became the national resource for schools and school districts throughout the nation, especially as it related to teacher training, assessment and curricula development. The effectiveness of the center caused it to become known to key officials of the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS) and soon, center consultants were delivering programs throughout the world via the DODDS network of schools.
In 1991, Dr. Puglisi recommended to Dean Katzenmeyer that Dr. Schurr be named director of the center. Dr. Puglisi’s acting role had lasted six years and he was involved building a new facility for the Stavros Center and growing the Stavros Center in its outreach to school districts. Dr. Schurr, whose one-year leave of absence had been extended for several years, accepted the role of director. Eventually, Dr. Schurr resigned from the Sarasota School District, applied for a faculty position and was hired by the College of Education as a faculty member of the Department of Secondary Education. Her tenure as associate director and then director was extremely successful and responsible for the great success of the center. Because of her contributions to middle level education and her numerous publications, Dr. Schurr became known as a national/international leader in the field. Dr. Schurr retired from the College of Education in 2004 and currently serves as an adjunct faculty member on the USF Sarasota campus.
Since its inception in 1985, the National Resource Center for Middle Grades Education has emerged as a national and international leader in middle level education. Through superb leadership and the contributions of cadre members, advisory board members and many others, the center has contributed to an enhancement of education for adolescents in the middle grades. Today, schools and school districts throughout the nation and world reflect the influence of the center.
The center, which is now the National Resource Center for Middle Grade and High School Education, is now housed in the Department of Secondary Education with Dr. Greg Jordan serving as its administrative leader.