Oct. 22 marked Izella McCree’s 50th anniversary with the Pinellas County School District.
BY DEXTER MCCREE | Feature Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Fifty years is a long time to make a commitment to children and the Pinellas County School system. On Nov. 3, Izella McCree was crowned “Queen for the Day” at North Shore Elementary for her untiring commitment and years of service.
Her day started out as a regular workday, preparing to educate her students. Unbeknownst to her, others were readily preparing to celebrate her efforts as Grandma McCree, an extraordinarily loving paraprofessional.
As students and staff headed towards the covered physical education court for their monthly “Knights in the Courtyard” recognition time, McCree was focused on caring for a child who wasn’t having the best morning.
Her partner teacher, Ms. Weiss, encouraged her to come out and join the rest of the school staff when suddenly music started playing and students were marching in celebratory style. With a red carpet laid out, McCree realized something special was happening to her.The celebration was to honor her for 50 years of serving countless numbers of students and changing lives for the better.
“This is unbelievable. They [North Shore staff] really got me today. They really did,” said McCree, speaking in disbelief of the moment of honor.
McCree was surprised by each grade level’s special tribute, from cards and flowers to homemade banners and sweet treats. Her son, daughter, and grandson even made an appearance, with her grandson walking her down the red carpet.
“Grandma McCree is the heart of North Shore Elementary; she is loved by every single child, adult, and teacher and associates,” said Heidi Bockover, principal of North Shore Elementary. “She knows what makes the children want to be better.”
Education is a significant part of Grandma McCree’s life, and helping students succeed drives her.
There was a time when teammates of one of her son’s football team had not passed the reading portion of their high school competency test. McCree brought them to her house, and while her late husband cooked dinner, she tutored each of them in reading. Her zeal for education is evident in her children.
Caring for and helping educate her five children by herself after her husband passed away more than 40 years ago, McCree’s demand for excellence produced four bachelor’s degrees, four master’s and one doctorate.
Grandma McCree’s education career began in 1960 as a kindergarten teacher at Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church before joining Lakewood Elementary in 1973, staying there for more than 30 years.
“I retired that May; couldn’t stand it. I was going crazy.”
McCree came out of retirement and went back to Lakewood Elementary. Eventually, the program she worked with was phased out, and she joined James B. Sanderlin IB World School, finally landing at North Shore Elementary.
Cooper Dawson had the unique experience of being a kindergarten student of McCree’s at Mt. Zion Progressive and her principal at North Shore Elementary.
“When I learned that Mrs. McCree was coming to us as an educator, I knew that we were getting a quality person who has positively impacted children for a long time,” said Dawson, former principal at North Shore Elementary. “It was surreal and reassuring having someone who helped in my development be on our staff to grow our students today.”
McCree shared, “When I see some of the kids now, as adults, it brings tears to my eyes. If I can make a difference in their lives, that encourages me.”
In addition to her classroom support, McCree volunteers with the little ones in her church’s nursery and enjoys watching football on the weekends. She said several former students have been through various professional football organizations.
The moniker “Grandma McCree” started about 35 or 40 years ago when some children she worked with started playing youth football.
“So, one of the coaches said, ‘You know, you could be my grandmama.’ I said, ‘OK.’ So, all the kids took after him.”
The Queen for the Day embraced the hugs from students, applause, and smiles from the staff, as well as the many gifts, cards, and flowers. One bouquet contained 50 red roses representing each year that Grandma McCree served in Pinellas County schools.
“I am so full. I need another heart to take all of this in,” said McCree.
McCree has no plans for a second retirement. She is having too much fun.
“I think I’ll be here until they push me out the door!”
Pinellas County School’s media department and Channel 10 ABC Action News were on hand to capture the historical event.