Former Head of School Susan Grady traces the beginning of Tampa Preparatory School to a conversation between University of Tampa (UT) President Dr. B.D. Owens and South Tampa developer Al Austin at a football game in the early ‘70s.
“It was from that meeting that the genesis of Tampa Prep began,” she says. The two men discussed their vision of a nonsectarian, coeducational school located in an urban setting, and decided to make it happen.
On Sept. 16, 1974, 40 young men and women filtered into an old livestock barn on the edge of University of Tampa’s campus in an area formerly part of the old Florida Fairgrounds. The converted stables lacked windows, and flooding from heavy rain often cancelled classes.
A Higher Purpose Than Self
In that humble setting, an ambitious administration defined a vision and mission for Tampa Prep. Founding Headmaster George Wolfenden believed the School should provide more than rigorous intellectual training — it should aim to create responsive and responsible human beings, foster meaningful relationships and teach the concept of service.
The need for a strong sense of community inspired Wolfenden to create the motto: “A Higher Purpose Than Self.”
The founding trustees—Al Austin, Eugene Shearer, John Hammer, Dr. Philip Adler, Fr. George S. Burchill, Dr. Robert Courtney, Bill Ebsary, Dr. Bob Owens and Richard Spoto—set Wolfenden’s motto in motion. With a few families willing to trust Prep’s people and philosophy, the school had its foundation.
In 1977, three years after opening, Tampa Prep had grown from 40 students to over 200. The lecture hall where the student body gathered also doubled as the theatre, music room and study hall. The school was taking root and would keep growing.
New Building at UT
In 1985, the school’s new building on the UT campus was under construction. The new facility was dedicated on Sept. 11, 1986, and 325 students would soon fill its halls. As more students enrolled and new facilities were developed, Head of School Laird Davis and Associate Head Susan Grady noticed the need for growth in another area: the addition of a middle school was imperative.
Adding a Middle School
Tampa Prep’s students were coming to the high school from numerous institutions around the Bay area. To ease the transition of incoming Terrapins and “get them all on the same plane,” Grady proposed Prep add grades seven and eight.
Similar to its first days, Prep had the opportunity to build something from the ground up, and the school took full advantage. “We could think completely outside the box,” Grady says. “We weren’t held in by any preconceived notions at all.”
After visiting schools around the country, looking at research and interviewing leaders in education, Tampa Prep welcomed its first group of seventh and eighth graders in 1991. A few years later, Prep would add grade six as well.
Anchoring Our Downtown Presence
In the mid ‘90s Tampa Preparatory School came to a crossroads.
The school had grown considerably and sought to expand in order to serve the needs of a growing student population. This required additional facilities and land it could call its own.
An urban setting was always part of the vision for Tampa Prep. Determined to reaffirm the founders’ vision, school administrators and the board of trustees began searching for property that would permanently anchor the School’s presence in downtown.
In 1995, Trustee Chris Peifer—along with with Lyle Blandon, Alan Oak, Bob Walter and Head of School Susan Grady—signed a land deal to secure Tampa Prep’s purchase of 11 acres at Cass Street and North Boulevard for $1.2 million. Tampa Prep now had its own home right across the street from where it all began.
727 Cass Street Breaks Ground
In 2000, plans were unveiled for a $21 million, 150,000-square-foot campus to ease the classroom crunch, and trustees broke ground at 727 W. Cass Street.
In 2002, students were welcomed into Tampa Prep’s new campus.
Head of School Kevin Plummer looks back at the school’s journey and is amazed by all the people who committed to upholding the founders’ vision and mission along the way.
“We find a weird alchemy of getting students, parents and faculty who will affirm these bedrock, founding elements, which is so valuable,” he says.
On that foundation, Prep continues to stand out as a place to think, create, be yourself, aspire to excellence and go beyond while learning to live with a higher purpose than self.
Active Learning Environments Introduced
In 2013, Prep transformed its courtyard area with the addition of the Student Center, which freed up space for new college counseling and STEM facilities on the third floor. The middle school hub and classrooms were transformed as well, and Associate Head of School and Head of the Middle School Joe Fenlon was one of the first to enjoy taking a sledgehammer to the old hub. The entire project was completed in 2014. Not long after, the Upper School hallways and classrooms received the same renovation as the middle school. Both renovations focused on creating collaborative study hubs and active learning environments in every classroom with multiple screens and whiteboards and mobile seating that allowed for Harkness discussions.
A School Like No Other
Today, the 150,000 square-foot school complex, including a 32,000 square-foot sports complex, affords Tampa Preparatory School students an unparalleled learning and training environment and unsurpassed amenities. The School’s proximity to the many cultural assets of the City of Tampa includes the Straz Center for Performing Arts, Patel Conservatory, Tampa Bay History Center, Tampa Museum of Art, Glazer Children’s Museum and the historic Tampa Theater, all of which both students and faculty take advantage. Tampa Prep’s community partnerships flourish as students volunteer countless hours to community service organizations in Tampa Bay.
While just 18 students graduated in the first class of Tampa Prep in 1977, our alumni base currently includes more than 3,500 proud Terrapins! Seven Heads of School have guided and directed the School’s progress, together with the Board of Trustees. They are: George Wolfenden, 1974-79; David M. Delo, 1979; Joe Wandke 1979-83; L. Laird Davis, 1983-88; Susanna F. Grady, 1988-98; D. Gordon MacLeod, 1998-2007; and Kevin Plummer, since 2007.