‘Miss Dean’ brings unique discipline to school board

MOORE HAVEN — Gloria Dean Reese feels as though she was moved by God and her faith to bring her perspectives on education to a loftier perch. Her outlook will be especially fresh as one of the five people sitting in charge of the public schools and the newest face on the Glades County School Board.

Mrs. Reese is a Moore Haven native who attended the segregated Booker T. Washington School in Washington Park as she was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s but was moved to and graduated from Moore Haven High School when integration was imposed here in 1967. “Miss Dean” (as she’s become affectionately known around town) learned about schooling and discipline over the decades she worked in the public schools, from a position probably much different from that of her four women colleagues on the school board.

Her own upbringing and education are quite unique, fused as they were through the realities of a different time and an even smaller rural place than it is today, not to mention the maelstrom over segregation when she was a girl and then integration as she entered adulthood. Her mother, father and siblings all were field workers as she was growing up.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Glades County School Board member Gloria Reese was wrapping up Christmas gifts the day of a chat at her Moore Haven home.

“We worked in the fields. I would say we were the real migrants because we traveled from state to state to work, and that’s how we made our living,” she explained. “And I continued to do that, working in the fields until maybe 1969. If you eat it, I’ve picked it,” she said.

It was an interesting way to grow up, she said, but added: “You know, when I was younger, I didn’t realize I was poor. We had clothes to wear, food to eat, a bed to sleep in. I thought everybody lived the same way. We had outdoor plumbing, but so did everyone else in the community. I didn’t realize we were poor people until I think I was in my 20s.”

That was when she stopped field work for a time and went to toil in the school cafeteria kitchen; “started there as a dishwasher, because they used real plates!” She says she worked there for a long time until applying for a job as a teacher’s aide. Miss Dean got it and, she says, “worked there for years and years.” After another field job and returning to the B&B Grocery where she’d labored part-time as a young girl, she was back at the schools for a spell as a substitute.

She took a few college classes, she said, “but my life was busy. It was more of raising my children, and trying to make a living. And then we couldn’t; after the children were born, we didn’t have the money to do that. Her husband, Dean, was a semi-trailer truck driver for 35 years.

One year, “Linda Taylor, who was superintendent then, came and asked me if I wanted to learn to drive a school bus. I said, ‘Sure!’” At the time she had a chauffeur’s license so they trained her, and “I drove a bus for maybe 20 years or better.”

She said her experiences being able to enforce discipline with the kids’ parents helped her establish a firm authority. “I’m a good disciplinarian, so I had no problems getting sub jobs,” she related. Eventually, she ended up putting an application in for lunchroom manager, and Scott Bass, who’s now superintendent, hired her.

Her school board run “was just a fluke,” she said. Someone suggested that she ought to. “I laughed and said, not me!” But “that hit a spark or something, and I just thought, ‘Why not?’” She went and got the papers. “So I looked at them and I thought, ‘Ah, you can’t do that.’ So I thought I’d say me a prayer. I got to the Scripture that says, ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.’ And I filled out those papers and I took them back.”

Then she thought, “Uh-oh, now I got to put up signs and talk to people, which is no problem. Cause I know ’em all. I had their children, I had their grandchildren, I had their great-grandchildren and their great-great-grandchildren.” Either they passed through when she was working in the cafeteria or as a bus driver.

Mrs. Reese gained her seat outright in this year’s election cycle when no one else filed to run for the District 4 board seat. It was a surprise to her at the time, but now she thinks it’s awesome. It said something to her about her place in the community, she says. “I thought, ‘How well I’m liked among every constituent in this county,’ that nobody wanted to run against Miss Dean.”

Her faith is what makes her tick, she said. And wanting to pass along life lessons.

“In order to learn, you have to go through something, you have to strive. And so, I’m hoping something I’ll do in these four years will touch some young person’s heart to say, ‘If Miss Dean could do it, I could at least try.’”

She likes the group on the board and has known many on school staff including Mr. Bass for years. “It’s five of us ladies now. We’re good together. We talk like we’re all adults and we’re ladies, and we’ve all got the same goal. I think we’re going to do good together.”

As for Mr. Bass, he said: “I am thrilled that she is on the board. And, to me, it’s … about what she brings to the position. She sees things in a different light. She’s just a wonderful, good-hearted, Christian person, and I’m really looking forward to working with her.”

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