School History

Washington Park School was expanded to a high school in 1927. This two-story red brick building was erected adjacent to the elementary school site. In 1928, Washington Park expanded its grade levels from one through eight to one through eleven. Reports indicate an enrollment of nine students in the first eleventh grade class.

Prior to 1928, there were only five black high schools in the state of Florida. The cities in which these schools were located were: Jacksonville, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Miami and Quincy. Black students had to commute or temporarily live in various locations within the state in order to attend high school. Some local residents recall coming from cities and towns around Polk and Hillsborough Counties to attend Washington Park.

June 8, 1930 marked the date that the first graduation occurred at Washington Park. Professor Edward W. Murray was principal. The class of 1930 had ten graduates. They were: Elnora Bryant, Velma Dickerson, Peaches Felder, Celeste P. Green, Inez Harris, Lucy Lloyd, Maxwell Saxon, Inez Shipp, Vera Lucas and Maggie Jordan.

In 1937, Mr. Quinton Adderley was appointed principal and served until 1942. In 1942 Mr. S.. N. Lewis became principal and served until his induction into the U. S. Army. Mr. J. H. Webb assumed the position of principal of Washington Park and served in that capacity until Mr. S. N. Lewis returned from the army in 1946.

Washington Park School continued to serve the high school enrollment of Lakeland until 1949. It was then that the school’s name was changed from Washington Park High School to William A. Rochelle High School. This change occurred in honor of the late William A. Rochelle, a pioneer black teacher in Lakeland.

The school continued to grow. In 1951, a larger facility was built on a parcel of land on North Dakota Avenue about three blocks northeast of the existing high school. In 1951, the old building site became the first Rochelle Junior High School for the black community. Mrs. E. L. Dunbar was appointed principal.

During the school year 1953-54, a new junior high school plant was constructed next to the new senior high school. The junior high school was ready for occupancy at the start of the 1954-55 school year. The buildings on the southwest corner of Dakota and Tenth Street became the elementary school facilities. The classes of 1959, ’60 and ’61 made up the enrollment of the new junior high school. Mrs. Louise Diggs was appointed principal of the elementary facility. Later, Mrs. Birdie V. Oldham became principal of the same school.

In 1969-70, the dual system of education was eliminated, and the integration of schools became a reality. History records the class of 1969 as the last to graduate from William A. Rochelle High School. The class had ninety graduating members.