LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: The Spingarn I Knew
8/21/2013, 3 p.m.
I am a proud 1966 graduate of Joel Elias Spingarn High School. I was saddened to read about the closing of Spingarn High School. The Spingarn that closed was not the Spingarn I knew. The Spingarn I knew was considered one of the top high schools in the city. We held thespian plays with talented student actors. We read Beowulf in Old English, Shakespeare, the Iliad, the Odyssey and many more classics. We had an outstanding choir, we had a Latin club, and we had an honor society and many more student organizations. Our teachers were excellent and could have worked anywhere outside of education for a lot more money, but they were dedicated to their students and saw to it that we had an excellent education.
Our principal, Purvis J. Williams, was a scholar and a gentleman. He was always immaculately attired in suits and vests. He had old school values and held us to them. When there was an assembly program students came in orderly and quietly; any deviation to this rule and the entire assembly was sent out and required to return correctly. There were many rules at Spingarn that were enforced. One which I remember involved the coveted grass. No one was allowed to walk on the front lawn; any infraction merited a suspension; there were consequences in those days. Today, there is an ugly black walkway on that coveted lawn. Annie Dunn, the assistant principal for girls, roamed the halls with a ruler checking to see that girl’s skirts and dresses were not too short.
The Spingarn that I knew held high expectations for the academic success of all its students regardless of the academic track they were in. Parents reinforced those expectations; there was no acting out in class during those days. Parents told their children that if they were called about any misbehavior, there would be serious consequences. Spingarn was known not only for its academic excellence but also for its talented athletes. Elgin Baylor and David Bing were two of many Green Wave champions. Most of my classmates were expected to go to college and many did on academic scholarships. My graduating class of over 300 was as large as if not larger than the total current enrollment. I wish this was an anomaly but today’s Spingarn is a reflection of many of our elementary and secondary schools.
Something tragic happened during the years that followed my graduating class. Drugs devastated our neighborhoods and all norms, values and morals that were once so important to our people vanished. Rules deemed too demoralizing to students self esteem were dropped without alternatives to govern student behavior. Consequently, a few unruly students could thwart the education of entire classes, intimidate teachers, administratively handcuff the school administration and ultimately contribute to the exodus of middle class families. I wish this closing of Spingarn would be one of the last school closings in our city.
Unfortunately, I believe that our public schools are past the point of no return and the future will belong to the public charter and private schools.