About Us

History of Summerlin Institute

Summerlin Institute traces its institutional lineage to the 1858 one-room log schoolhouse built in the community of Fort Blount. The log cabin school served the local pioneers until 1866. A cattle baron, Jacob Summerlin endowed the locals with a 120 acre land grant. It provided for the establishment of the county-seat, churches, and a school. He personally donated $1100.00 dollars for the construction of Bartow’s first two- story building housing the Masonic Lodge, and a school. The school was named Summerlin Institute in his honor, and families paid tuition to attend. The city of Bartow experienced a boom in population after the arrival of the railroad in 1885.

South Florida Military College

In 1887, the sale of the original Summerlin lands generated the funds needed to commence building. It was the first brick schoolhouse in the state of Florida, south of Jacksonville. The cornerstone of the new school was laid on “Summerlin Day” May 12, 1887. On this day, Summerlin became a free public institution, and Bartow High School recognizes this day as its birthday. Besides teaching students, the school also housed a Teacher’s Academy to help train new educators. In 1902, the upper grades moved into a new facility east of the 1887 building. In 1917, city growth prompted another move, to the site of the present day Bartow Elementary Academy. During the roaring twenties, continued expansion of the city, necessitated the need for a new high school. In 1929, land once belonging to the South Florida Military College was selected for the new Summerlin Institute. The post World War II baby boom was the catalyst for additional improvements. The 1950’s witnessed the completion of Bartow Memorial Stadium, new classrooms, and a gymnasium. The 1964 Civil Rights Act mandated desegregation. In 1969, Union Academy became Golfview Junior High School, and its students were transferred to Summerlin. Since the early 1900’s Summerlin Institute had been unofficially called “Bartow High School”, and in a show of unity the diplomas for the 1971 graduating class were changed to reflect the new name. Summerlin Institute’s proud heritage then passed to Bartow High School.

South Florida Military College 1895-1905

 In 1895, General McIver Law founded the South Florida Military Institute located on what is now the present day campus of Bartow High School.

Cadets from all over Florida paid tuition to attend SFMI. The Cadets participated in college level courses including surveying and military skills. The name was changed to South Florida Military College to help distinguish its self from the local high school Summerlin Institute.

SFMC produced several famous alumni including Robert Gray the former Secretary of State of Florida. The school became a parent institution of the University of Florida 1905 because of the Buckman Act. The Buckman Act created several large state funded universities by closing smaller state funded colleges across the state. The South Florida Military College was one of those schools.

Union Academy

Union Academy was the outgrowth of earlier schools dating back to J.A. Wiley’s Colored Institute in 1887, and the First Providence Missionary Baptist Church School, later known as the Brittsville School, dating to the same period. In 1893, leading African-American citizens petitioned the City of Bartow for a new school. The Odd Fellows Hall was rented as the school site, until a new building was completed in 1897. The school consisted of four large classrooms, and by August, boasted an enrollment of 120 students. Union Academy’s first day of instruction was on September 14th, 1897. This day marked a new era for the African-American community in Bartow. The first principal was Professor A.N. Ritchie. Union Academy in Bartow was named for the fourth African-American school in Florida, founded in 1867 by the Freedmens Bureau in Gainesville.

Enrollment continued to climb through the 1920’s forcing the addition of satellite classrooms at the Knights of Pythias Hall. In 1923, a longtime dream was fulfilled when the school added a secondary department bringing it to high school status. The first high school graduate was Lela Burkett. She became Polk County’s first graduating African-American Senior on June 4th, 1928. The old 1897 school was razed and in 1929 the high school moved to new facility on East Wabash Street. Union Academy became a centralized elementary & high school keeping pace with the growing population.

James E. Stephens

In 1938, James E. Stephens became the principal. During the next thirty-one years he was the guiding light through growth, expansion, desegregation, and consolidation with Summerlin Institute.

In 1955, the high school and primary school buildings were upgraded making Union Academy one of the leading schools in the state. The 1964 Civil Rights Act mandated desegregation in public schools and in the fall of 1969 all high school students from Union Academy were transferred to the Summerlin Institute site and later became known as Bartow High School.

Summerlin Academy

In the late 80’s and early 90’s during the push to increase the number of magnet schools, BHS Senior Army Instructor LTC Froberg and then Assistant Principal Ron Pritchard began a discussion about the possible success of a JROTC magnet school. The idea didn’t receive much attention until early 2002 after the charter school movement gained momentum in Polk County.

In September of 2002, Bartow High School Principal Ron Pritchard asked Assistant Principal Mike Butler to research the feasibility of opening a military school in Polk County. After months of research and visits to several military schools, it was decided to present the proposal to a select group of community leaders from Bartow. In January 2003, it was presented for formal evaluation to the BESTT group and received an initial go ahead. It was decided by the Summerlin Academy Charter Committee to pursue the project as a charter school and prepared for a July 2004 charter application submittal.

Michael Butler

July 17th 2004, project coordinator Mike Butler submitted a charter school application to the Polk County School Board. The initial application did not pass committee, but however the Summerlin Group refused to withdrawal the application. During a morning work session of the Polk County School Board, the new superintendent Dr. Gail McKinzie asked “could Summerlin be done as a choice program?” This was a turning point for Summerlin Academy. The following day after several discussions with Dr. McKinzie, the Summerlin Group decided to withdraw the application and to pursue Summerlin Academy as a choice program. The group met with Dr. McKinzie and staff January 20th, 2005 and a new direction began for Summerlin Academy.

Construction Of Summerlin Academy

The property for Summerlin Academy was purchased April 12th 2005. A choice application was submitted June 1st, 2005 and received Choice Review Committee approval on June 16th, 2005. It was endorsed in concept by the Superintendent on July 26th, 2005. It was submitted for school board approval during the September 11th, 2005 meeting, the project was pulled off the agenda to answer questions about the facility needs to house the program. On September 15, 2005 the Summerlin Group met with the Senior Director of Facilities Bob Williams and he discussed to possibility of using a new modular concept for Summerlin Academy.

The school board approved the Summerlin Academy project on November 8th, 2005 officially making November 8th Summerlin Academy’s birthday. Implementation approval was received on the February 14th, 2006 school board consent agenda.

Summerlin Academy Cadets

In August 2006, Summerlin Academy opened its doors using 6 classrooms and 3 portables located on the existing Bartow High School Campus. The morning of August 7th 2006, 213 Summerlin Academy Cadets stepped off the buses to begin their journey in our first Cadet Corps.

The mission of Summerlin Academy is to motivate Polk County's young adults to be better citizens by promoting academic achievement, personal accountability, civic responsibility, and leadership skills in order to excel in higher education, career, community, and life.

Unified Mission Statement:

BHS/IB/SA is a cohesive and diverse learning community, promoting a global perspective.  The three schools are dedicated to providing distinct pathways of rigorous academic and social excellence encouraging students to achieve their greatest potential.  Graduates will become contributing, influential citizens with a passion for lifelong learning.

Unified Vision Statement:

BHS/IB/SA will become an “A” school, graduating 100% of our students.


Learn More about Summerlin's Distinctive Insignia


The Summerlin Academy Distinctive Unit Insignia consists of many elements.  The first being the full insignia associated with the school.  The second being the Bartow High School JROTC distinctive unit insignia (shoulder loop) approved by the United States Army Institute of Heraldry on 23 September 1996.  The third being a shoulder loop insignia attributed to the academy.  The fourth being the shoulder insignia and it’s subdued counterpart as approved for the Bartow High School JROTC department by the United States Army Institute of Heraldry on 23 September 1996.  The fifth being a shoulder tab insignia attributed to Summerlin Academy.  The description and heraldic terminology and symbolism for the full achievement follows:

  1. Summerlin Academy Full Achievement

The Summerlin Academy distinctive insignia termed full achievement in heraldic terms is as follows:  (the terminology is in the form of heraldic blazon)

Shield of Arms:  Tenne, a chevron embattled azure fimbriated argent between three Yellow Jackets (Vespid Wasp) of the last.

Motto:  Attached below the shield a silver scroll inscribed “POSSIM SI VELIM” in blue letters

Supporter:  The shield of arms rests on a Cadet Sword of the United States Army Military Academy in pale, hilt and pommel in base proper.  The grip and point of the sword extend beyond the extremity of the achievement.  Encircling the shield and extending from the shoulder of the Cadet Sword two olive branches fructed proper.  Surmounting both the dexter and sinister olive branches a book locks open and clasps extended.  The dexter book inscribed with “DUCTUS” and “HONOR” the sinister book with “LITERA” and “CIVITAS” all proper.

Crest:  Resting upon the shield three mullets in fesse or.  The center mullet oversized.

Banner Scroll:  The banner scroll, in base and lying upon the grip of the Cadet Sword, inscribed “SUMMERLIN ACADEMY”

Symbolism:  The symbolism of the insignia ties directly to the history and heritage of Bartow High School and was designed with that end in mind.

The Yellow Jacket has been the only mascot associated with the school and is expressive of the Cadet Corps for being swift, aggressive in team offense and vigilant in defense.

The chevron is indicative of the roof of a building and is suggestive of the school.  The embattled or castle design on the top of the chevron alludes to the Reserve Officer Training Corps military and educational disciplines.  In addition the castellated chevron memorializes the South Florida Military Institute  (A military college 1895-1905 combined with other colleges to form the University of Florida in Gainesville) of which Bartow High School in part occupies the former grounds.

The colors orange (tenne) and white (argent) recall Bartow High Schools origin as Summerlin Institute in 1887.  The colors Orange and White were first used in 1907 and continue to present.  The color Blue (azure) echoes the heritage of Union Academy whose school colors were blue and white.  Union Academy was Bartow’s African-American high school founded in 1897 and amalgamated with Summerlin Institute in 1969.

The three yellow jackets are symbolic of each school and the combined heritage of Summerlin Institute joining with Union Academy to create Bartow High School.  Summerlin Academy at Bartow High School is named for the two former secondary schools.

Heralds dating to the time of the 15th century often attributed moral attributes and character to colors and emblems employed on shields.  Orange (tenne) then is indicative of “worthwhile or worthy ambition, strength, and endurance”.  White (argent) is indicative of “faith, purity, and sincerity”.  Blue (azure) is indicative of “piety, loyalty, and truth”.

The motto of the school is in Latin “POSSIM SI VELIM” which translates to “I CAN IF I TRY “or “I MAY IF I WILL”.

The supporter of the shield is an upright United States Military Academy Sword and is indicative of the Corps of Cadets.  The sword is the true emblem of military honor and alludes to preparation for service to ones country.  The point is upright with the hilt in base denoting active service that which would incite the bearer to a just and generous pursuit of honor and virtue in deeds.

The two olive branches are indicative of a witness to peace and being in their natural color and fructed (bearing fruit) is further symbolic of continual pursuit of those virtues that result in peace, harmony, and concord.  The olive is symbolic of liberality, felicity, and peace.

The ancient books are symbolic of knowledge and wisdom.  The books illustrated in an unlocked and open attitude further signifies learning. Another attribute of an open book is Manifestation. The inscription “DUCTUS” is translated “Leadership” and “HONOR” is a derivative of the Latin word for distinction and integrity.  The inscription   “LITERA” is translated “Scholarship”,   “CIVITAS” is translated “Citizenship”.  Leadership, Honor, Scholarship, and Citizenship are the core values that each Summerlin Academy Cadet strives to personify.

The crest is placed directly atop the shield.  This was deliberate and precludes the standard use of a torse or wreath (the twisted silk normally employed in Coat of Arms upon a helmet) for overall artistic value.  The crest consists of three gold stars.  In heraldry a five-pointed star is termed a mullet and signifies the roundel of a Knight’s spur, which was the emblem of knighthood.   The two diminutive stars represent parents, and teachers.  The central oversized star represents the individual cadets.

Sergeant First Class Wm. Lloyd Harris designed the several school emblems.  W. Alex Harris, Cadet Battalion Commander for class year 2003-04, accomplished the graphic depiction and illustration.

NOTE:  Summerlin Institute was organized in 1867 and established as a public high school in 1887.  The school was named for Jacob Summerlin 1821-1894, Florida Pioneer, Cattleman, Philanthropist and founder of Summerlin Institute in Bartow, Florida.  Union Academy also in Bartow was founded in 1897.  It was named for the Freedmans Bureau School of the same name organized in Gainesville, Florida immediately following the close of the Civil War.  It was one of the first schools in Florida established for the education of African Americans.  Summerlin Academy’s name embodies the heritage of both schools.