Florida's last remaning one-room school to close

Posted at 5:35 PM, Feb 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-29 17:35:24-05

Donna King still comes to work every day, loving her job as principal and lead teacher at Duette Elementary, Florida's last operational one-room schoolhouse.

"The country school has something special," King said.

After starting her career in teaching over 30 years ago, King heard about Duette School, and it became her dream to work there. That dream came true in 1993.    

"I really didn't know what it was going to be like, but boy, has it been the best part of my life," King said.

But King was ready to retire in 2009, until she learned the Manatee County School District wanted to close Duette Elementary.

The community came together, though, creating a nonprofit foundation to keep the school going. But when enrollment grew enough that a second teacher was needed, the funds weren't there, and it looked like the school's fate was sealed.

Despite just recovering from cancer, King quietly agreed to come back, and has been working here for no salary ever since.

"We are a family here. We help each other," King said.

Now 68 years old, King says she's now ready to really say goodbye, and when she retires at the end of this school year, Duette Elementary will close.

"I've just reached a point in my life where I can't work 18 hours a day anymore!  So I'm really going to retire, but I'm sad the school is going to close," King said.

Students like Lina Juarez are sad, too. She's attended Duette School since kindergarten, and next year will move on to a public middle school.

"I'm going to miss it so much because it's going to be really different and will change a lot. It's going to be hard," Juarez said.

While the future of what will happen to the school building isn't known right now, people in the community are organizing, hoping to save its history.

"They are meeting and going to propose to the school board to let them have the building for a community center and a museum," said King.

There's also talk of getting the school on the National Historic Register.  For now, King is reflecting on the legacy she hopes to leave.

"When you're with students, not teaching just one subject, but you're with them all day teaching everything and over several years, you have a relationship with a student, that is rare.  I'm so thankful that I've had that and could've made a difference in someone's life," she said.

Just 11 students currently attend Duette School. The last day of class will be June 9.