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 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.
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.
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.