XHS in ruins
On April 3, 1974 the make-up of the schools in Xenia changed forever. Change had been part of the fabric of education for a while in Xenia since 1957 when school integration began. It proceeded at a glacial pace and was not finally accomplished until after the mid-60’s. Xenia schools were getting organized with an integrated student body by the early 70’s but what was coming would be much more disruptive and catastrophic than phased integration. The Xenia Tornado would wipe out buildings, change what time and where kids went to school for years.
In anticipation of integration and the blending of all students, which of course meant closing the black schools,East High and Lincoln Elementary, ( in Xenia there has never been a public school in the East End after integration–something I have no idea why the black population did not protest) a junior high had been built in the west side of Xenia which was becoming more populous. The first housing development on that west side of town, Laynewood, was made up of quite modest homes, mainly with aluminum siding on small lots. The newer development, Arrowhead had homes that were larger, with more amenities, in many cases larger yards and most with some part of the facade or the entire house of brick.
West Junior Hi was on Arrowhead Trail in the middle of the new development and meant to serve students from that section of town. Arrowhead, unlike Laynewood was always integrated from the beginning. Laynewood took much longer to have black residents, not sure why. West had grades 7, 8 and 9, the Xenia High School being too small to hold the freshmen. Its counterpart, Central Jr. Hi was on East Church Street– and was housed in what had been the white high school, called Central High. Central too had 7,8 and 9th grades. I went to Central which integrated when I was still in junior high.
After the tornado when McKinley elementary was destroyed, Central Jr. Hi was destroyed, Xenia High School on Edison Avenue was destroyed and several other buildings were damaged the only viable secondary school left was West, which had been renamed Warner in honor of Mr. Warner who had been the long time superintendent.
Not known as a champion of social justice to say the least Mr. Warner’s honor was not popular with the black community. As a way to placate the African Americans for not having a public school in the black (East) section of town, the school board had given West ( later Warner) the colors of East High–green and white. Some of the black families took a perverse pleasure in the fact that the school named for Warner fielded teams and bands sporting East High’s colors. I was witness to yet another example of karma when Mr. Warner’s grandson Rodney, my classmate, began one of the first open interracial dating relationships with Carol Mc, a very beautiful, dark-skinned classmate from Wilberforce when we were in high school.
From virtually the beginning of West Jr Hi’s history there was a perception that it was the step-child. It was not close to the center of town and many of the neighborhoods with the most expensive homes fed into Central, not West/Warner.
I began to teach at Warner in the fall of 1973. I taught French, History and Civics, primarily to 9th graders. From the beginning I found most of my students sharp, intellectually curious and with a good feel for social justice issues. Being viewed by at least some as going to the “wrong side of the tracks” school, they related well to the need to avoid stereotypes and to the need to be proud of who and what you were and to make sure your pride was justified.
Warner was, and I am not an objective judge I admit, more progressive, more scholarly and more innovative than Central. (All of my children eventually went to Central, except for Nicole doing one year at Warner. ) We tried quite often to get Central to agree to a quiz bowl with us, but they never would agree to.The athletic teams at Warner and the cheerleaders and drill teams were often quite superior to Central’s, but it was, of course, cyclical. Some years Warner dominated sports, some years Central did. I was the adviser–the original drill team leader having gotten into hot water, of the Warner drill team, however, and can quite honestly say that it was the best drill team in Xenia!
So after the tornado when the only secondary school left standing was Warner the school district had no choice but to use the school for both the high school and both junior highs. But, Warner had been badly damaged, especially the gymnasium that stuck out–still does, in front of the building. Therefore, no one could use the building until renovations were made, which would take several months. Not only were the damages extensive but with houses and businesses blown down all over town finding a contractor or even building materials was very difficult.
We ended up borrowing classrooms from neighboring school districts. When they left for the day we took over and taught into the evening. I was assigned to Fairborn High School, part of which was still in process of being built and added onto itself.
Fairborn was interesting. To begin with at the time there was virtually no racial diversity in Fairborn. Blacks had been historically forbidden to live in Fairborn ( Two towns merged, one called Fairfield, the other Osborn) and although that would begin to change in the 1970’s in 1974 the school was still overwhelmingly white. A lot of the students who hung around after school for practice or just to kind of scope out the Xenia kids were fascinated by our diverse student body. I do not recall any racial incidents, but there were some interracial romances that budded during the time.
The primary thing that happened at Fairborn High was that some male members of the student body took it as their duty to provide us with entertainment through the then popular practice of streaking.
As I would begin my classes each evening it was a rare evening that we did not have three or four naked male teenagers run past our windows au naturel. The students enjoyed it mightily, of course, but it was not good for class discipline or academic concentration.
I would have pulled down the blinds, but since the wing we were in was brand new there were no blinds, so the show went on, and on.
I had an infant at the time, Chris having been born January 1 that year, so teaching in the late afternoon and evening worked out well for me. We were home by 7. That meant I had time in the morning to take Christ out in the stroller, take him to meet Mike, who was in kindergarten, getting off the bus, spend quality time with both boys before I had to report to school. My mother was my babysitter and my husband would pick the kids up around 5 after I had dropped them off around 2:30. It was a great schedule for a young family, but I was glad that fall when Warner was ready.
Next time: Tales of Xenia: Wild times at WJHS!