Northeast High School athletic uniforms were declared surplus by the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education Monday along with those of several other schools being closed.
With that move, the district continues its steady march toward eliminating the memory and traditions of Northeast High School completely as it disregards the pleadings of NEHS alumni.
Also, the district has not provided any kind of input to the current student body of Classen School for Advanced Studies high school program set to move into the NEHS building at 3100 N. Kelley.
By ignoring NEHS alumni and the Classen SAS student body that will inhabit the building, OKCPS departs from decades of careful, respectful practice in both types of situations.
Classen SAS “Comets”
In light of the current plans to eliminate all visible legacy of Northeast High School as Classen SAS moves in, it is significant to recall district actions when Classen SAS was formed decades ago.
When the new application school was started in 1994, the original Classen High School had been closed in earlier years and turned into a fifth-grade center, which was then closed in 1992-93. The students and administrators were dispersed to other neighborhood high schools when Classen was closed and then when the fifth-grade center was closed.
The formation of Classen SAS was, by any measure, the beginning of a completely new school.
Yet, OKCPS kept the Classen name, the original school colors, and “Comets” team name for the new Classen SAS.
In addition, as a gesture to the legacy of Classen High School, the district gave a space with a separate outside door for a Classen High School Museum open to the public. The Classen High School Alumni Association still provides volunteers to run it.
All of those decisions were made to honor the legacy of Classen High School even though the school was no longer the neighborhood high school it had been since the earliest days of the district.
Capitol Hill “Redskins” to “Red Wolves”
In 2015, OKCPS found itself in an untenable position with Capitol Hill High School’s mascot being the “Redskin”, one that went back to the high school’s beginnings in the earliest days of Oklahoma City.
Over the years there were variations in the image of the mascot, but it had always been some sort of stereotype of a Plains Indian warrior or chief.
As colleges and public schools across the U.S. abandoned school names and mascots based on ethnic stereotypes, the pressure for OKCPS to take action on the “Redskin” mascot and team name grew stronger.
Locally, Oklahoma City University on N.W. 23rd Street had already changed their team name from the beloved “Chiefs” to “Stars” in 1999 with little incident.
But, when the discussion began in OKCPS, the predominantly white alumni of Capitol Hill High School engaged in loud protests at Board meetings. That group was smaller than the predominantly black NEHS alumni regular attendees at Board meetings this year.
The district’s response was to task then Senior Communications Officer Tierney Tinnin to carry out a process with alumni and with the student body of Capitol Hill High School to come up with a different team name.
Tinnin met individually with alumni leaders and then several times with groups of CHHS alumni.
The principal of CHHS and Tinnin then led a school-wide process with the student body to develop a new mascot and team name.
In the end, about 25 alumni and the entire student body witnessed the change of the team name and mascot from “Redskins” to “Red Wolves in a loud, celebratory event at the Capitol Hill High Field House in May 2015.
What next in 2019?
From recent history, there is a precedent in OKCPS for respecting the history of a school building, the alumni, and the current student body when large, symbolic changes are made.
It remains to be seen what will be the eventual outcome of the current controversy.
The next regular meeting of the OKCPS Board of Education will be Monday, June 10, 5:30 p.m. at Metro Tech (Springlake Campus), Business Conference Center Auditorium, Parking Lot D, Entry 6, 1900 Springlake Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73111.
To know more about the district’s overall consolidation plan that has included Classen SAS and NEHS reconfigurations see the Pathways to Greatness page on the district’s website.
Update: In the original version of this story we left out the time period the old Classen building was a fifth-grade center between the original Classen High School closing and Classen SAS beginning.