Sebring High School Assistant Principal James “Jim” Howard was looking forward to retiring in two months after 35 years with the School Board of Highlands County.
But, after leaving school Friday afternoon, he was critically injured in a two-car crash on U.S. 27 just north of the Sebring city limits.
A group of Sebring High School faculty, staff and students gathered at the school’s flagpole Monday before classes to say a prayer for Howard, who is in the intensive care unit at Lakeland Regional Medical Center.
Most faculty members wore their Sebring Blue Streaks golf or T-shirts in support of Howard.
The slogan on the back of one shirt seemed appropriate during this time when a member of their school family is in need of prayer and support - “One Team, One Heartbeat.”
Sebring High administrative secretary Penny Decker, who was at Lakeland Regional Medical Center on Monday, posted the following update on Facebook, “Good news today! Jim is showing definite signs of improvement! Praise The Lord! Keep the prayers coming; they are being answered! Thank you all so very much!”
Highlands Today contacted LRMC, but the hospital could not provide an update of Howard’s condition.
At Sebring High School, senior Jesse “J.T.” Gaskins said Howard is a real nice guy.
“I’ve known him for the four years I have been here, and he’s been real nice to everyone,” Gaskins said. “He’s a great assistant principal and gets along great with students”
School Resource Officer Deputy Sheriff Shannon Purvis said she and Howard worked together at many school sporting events.
“One night we sat and looked at a bunch of pictures; he had just gone on vacation, he and his girlfriend,” Purvis said. “He was talking to me about retirement and they had just bought a beautiful house and he was really banking on his retirement coming up, and they were making their bucket list of all the things and places they wanted to go and see.
“It’s hard to think that something so tragic happened so close to retirement time.”
Purvis noted Howard’s subtle sense of humor.
“He can make you laugh so hard; he doesn’t even crack a smile, but what he says is so funny and you walk away and catch yourself, ‘Oh, he’s trying to be smart there.’ He’s a great guy.”
Purvis, along with about 15 school staff members, went to Sebring High on Saturday and made more than 200 blue-and-white lapel ribbons.
Every teacher and staff member received a ribbon, and the extras went to a few students, she said.
Former Avon Park High athletic director Chet Brojek said Howard was driving his (Brojek’s) old Corvette when the accident happened.
Brojek has known Howard for many years, noting he was a baseball coach and athletic director at Sebring High before becoming an assistant principal.
“He’s a great golf partner and a very hard working guy and great with the kids,” he said. “My heart and prayers are with him and the family. Hopefully, he has a rapid recovery.”
Superintendent Wally Cox said Sebring High Principal Anne Lindsay kept him updated on Howard’s condition with emails throughout the weekend.
Cox said he attended the voluntary prayer service for Howard at Sebring High.
“I think he is a servant leader,” Cox said. “Everybody that knows him, cares about him, whether it’s staff, district office, other schools and students.”
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Victoria W. Grant, 61, died in the accident in which Howard was injured.
Grant was driving a Lincoln Town Car west across U.S. 27 and Howard, 66, was driving the Corvette north in the inside lane of U.S. 27 when the vehicles collided, according to an FHP report.
Grant was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, which happened at about 2:44 p.m., the report states.