Paying tribute

Newtown Alive, School System Partner to Honor an Education Pioneer

The organizations plan to commemorate Dorothye Smith, the first African-American principal to be hired at an integrated Sarasota County school.

By Shelby Schwartz December 20, 2019

Dorothye Smith

Newtown Alive and Sarasota County Schools are teaming up to commemorate the first African-American principal to be hired at an integrated Sarasota County school, Dorothye Smith. Their plans call for the installation of a large bronze plaque at the entrance to Southside Elementary School, where Smith was the principal beginning in the early 1970s.

Smith, who died in 2017, had a reputation for being a strong and caring educator. After graduating from Bethune-Cookman University, Smith started her educational career at Emma E. Booker Elementary School’s original campus. There, she taught African-American fourth graders for 15 years. By the late 1950s, Smith had relocated to Venice Elementary and then Phillippi Shores. All of her teaching experience finally led to Southside Elementary, where she became the county's first African-American principal of an integrated school.

Walter Gilbert, one of Smith’s sixth grade students, is currently involved with Newtown Alive. He fondly remembers Smith being a remarkable teacher who deeply cared about her students.

“She made it her point to expand our world outside of just the black community,” Gilbert says. “She took us all over Sarasota, to the Ringling, the Asolo and different restaurants, places black kids couldn’t normally go. On some trips, we were denied entry, but she stood her ground and exposed us to a world outside of Newtown.”

The plaque honoring Smith’s legacy will bear her likeness embossed in bronze, as well as a a quote. Newtown Alive trolley tours will also stop by the plaque, showcasing Smith and her influence as an educator.

Newtown Alive is currently in the process of raising $20,000 to pay for the installation of the Smith memorial. For more info, or to contribute, visit the project's GoFundMe page; you can also mail a donation to 3970 Gocio Road, Sarasota, FL 34235.

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