If you have ever visited or driven past the J.A. Thompson Administrative Center, or J.A. Thompson Rotary Field, or had a child who attended Thompson Elementary School, magnet, pre-school or Lifelong Learning Center, you may have wondered, “Who is this J.A. Thompson?”
Anyone who attended an Indian River County school between 1948 and 1969 would know that he was the longest continually serving school superintendent in Florida history. During his terms (plural because he was elected twice to four-year terms, then appointed as today), “Coach” Thompson oversaw major changes in the school district including construction of all the current Vero Beach area elementary schools and the high school, as well as the racial integration of the entire school system.
No one knew him better than his son, Jim Thompson, who at the age of 82, just retired after serving 30 years as an official for high school football, basketball and baseball games. “We moved to Vero in 1937 from Citrus County when he took a teaching job and also coached football and basketball.”
The elder Thompson taught for two years, then left to manage the Florida Theater before serving in the Coast Guard during World War II as a radio repairman. After the war, he returned to Vero and to his first loves, teaching and coaching. “Then,” according to Jim Thompson, “in 1948, he decided to run for school superintendent, and won.”
At that time there were three high schools in the county – Vero Beach, Fellsmere and Gifford, and each community had its own elementary school, including Wabasso and Winter Beach. Public school enrollment totaled 2,166, about ten percent of what it is today. “The school district administrative office consisted of three rooms on the second floor of the old courthouse,” says Thompson.