- September 5, 2022
Students and staff at one elementary school are having to say good-bye to their leader this week. Dr. Patricia Ramsey is retiring as principal of Whispering Oak Elementary, in Winter Garden, after nearly 34 years with Orange County Public Schools.
However, she is going out on top: Ramsey was named this year’s OCPS Principal of the Year, and the school recently received a national award.
“I felt it was time for me to move into the next chapter of my life,” Ramsey said. “I am healthy, but as I age I know that I can’t continue at the same level of commitment required to do this job. It is not within me to do less than my best.”
About 125 people attended a retirement party thrown in her honor last week.
“I have never been so humbled by the amount of work they did and the love I felt and my family felt,” Ramsey said. “I will never forget it.”
She won’t soon forget her colleagues or students, either.
“The hardest part (about retirement) will be leaving my people,” she said. “This includes my awesome faculty, staff and education colleagues, because many of them have been a part of my life for 10 years and even more for those who worked for me or with me previously. I will miss the children. When I get really stressed or down, just walking into the classrooms and seeing the students helps me remember what this is really about. They ground me.
“I will also miss the parents and community; they have been so supportive and worked so hard to help however they were needed. I have worked with many of them for years and some since the school opened. I have watched their children grow. A part of my heart will remain at this school forever.”
Ramsey’s replacement is Lee “Kip” Montgomery, who comes from Southwood Elementary School in Orlando. A reception was held for him this week to welcome him to his new position.
Ramsey and three others on the staff traveled to Washington, D.C., last November to accept the school's National Blue Ribbon School award. The program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. The U.S. Department of Education has awarded more than 7,500 schools since 1982.
“If you have a strong front line, you’ll have success. You have to have strong teachers. Our kids deserve the best. We impact lives. How many jobs can you say you change lives?” — Dr. Patricia Ramsey
Whispering Oak was one of 10 Florida schools to receive the award for the 2015-16 academic year. A framed plaque — featuring the education department's single-tree logo, which closely resembles the school's logo with one oak tree — now hangs in the front office.
“I am extremely proud of the hard work and dedication of my students, teachers and staff along with the awesome parental support in our community,” Ramsey said. “There has been a united commitment to excellence by all stakeholders. It has been my pleasure to open this school 10 years ago and be a part of this journey.”
In addition, the school has maintained its A rating in the state and has been a Five-Star School since the first year.
“If you have a strong front line, you’ll have success,” Ramsey said. “You have to have strong teachers. Our kids deserve the best. We impact lives. How many jobs can you say you change lives?”
Leading the charge
Ramsey opened Whispering Oak Elementary as its principal in 2005. Six hundred students were expected that first year; there were 1,100 on the first day. Sixteen portables were moved onto the campus during the inaugural year. By the second year, 50 portables were set up on all available ground; enrollment peaked at 1,500.
Relief came a few hundred students at a time when Sunset Park, Keene’s Crossing and SunRidge elementary schools were built to reduce overcrowding. Today, Whispering Oak has almost 900 children.
Cathy Moore, the instructional resource staffer who was among those attending the Blue Ribbon ceremony, said Ramsey has always been an outside-the-box thinker, which was important with such an influx of students. Ramsey started science and math labs and introduced the county’s first elementary school STEM lab at WOES. Her teachers taught students primary Spanish.
In 1992, at another elementary school, she was a fifth-grade teacher when NASA hosted a naming contest for its space shuttle, The Endeavour. To prepare for the contest, students studied astronomy and rocketry and wrote scripts, and their project won at the state level. Ramsey said parents told her years later that their children sought careers in science based on that project.
“When kids have a reason to learn and are excited about it, they learn so much more,” she said.
Ramsey has been known to rally when she believes in something, too.
There was the time the state announced education budget cuts and Ramsey put all the Whispering Oak students in red T-shirts and had them spell out SOS on the school lawn.
“She fights tooth and nail to get something for the kids and teachers,” Moore said.
Because of Ramsey’s dedication to quality education, the neighboring homes are highly desired and sometimes up to six tours a week are scheduled by families wanting to move into a good school zone.
Prior to her move to Whispering Oak, Ramsey served in the top position for a decade at Orlo Vista Elementary, which she helped rebuilt as a Title 1 school model for Orange County. She was previously an assistant principal at Waterford and Eccleston elementaries, held administrative internships at Palm Lake and Washington Shores elementaries, served as curriculum resource teacher at Tildenville Elementary and was a teacher at Ridgewood Park and Lockhart elementary schools.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected]