Sea Park turns 60: Elementary school is model of resiliency

In 1959, Satellite Beach wasn’t much more than a strip of sand with about 800 residents.

The town, like other beachside communities, was being developed to provide housing for the booming space industry. Along with that development came the need for a new school, and Sea Park Elementary was born.

Sea Park recently celebrated its 60th anniversary with a special program at the school that included songs, former teachers and students, and a look back at the history of the school.

“The sense of the community around the school is awesome,” said Sally Deabenderfer, who has served at the school in different capacities since 1977. “That is our school.” Deabenderfer has been a Sea Park parent, substitute teacher and was the school’s bookkeeper for 20 years. She still volunteers at the school in South Patrick Shores.

Sea Park principal Ena Leiba said students loved learning what Satellite Beach was like back in the days of the space race, with wide-open beaches you could drive on. “The kids of today can see where the school was and where we are today,” Leiba said.

No one could have predicted the journey Sea Park would take when the school was dedicated on April 12, 1959. Eighteen years later the little beachside school would grow to some 650 students when the elementary school on Patrick Air Force Base closed.

Fast forward another 35 years, and Sea Park was almost shut down due to dwindling enrollment after the Florida housing crisis and the shutdown of the space shuttle program. Three times the school was targeted for closure by the district, and each time parents rallied to keep it open.

The decline hit a low in 2016 when Sea Park received a “C” grade from the state. Sea Park bounced back quick – the school’s grade went to an “A” the past two years, and last year Leiba was selected as Brevard County’s principal of the year for leading the recovery.

Enrollment has held steady at around 320 students the past two years, which still makes it one of the smallest schools in Brevard County.

To Deabenderfer, that’s one of the things that makes Sea Park so special.

“The kids all know everybody,” she said. “The parents know all the kids. You can’t get away with much.”

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