Faith Stern August 1999
A JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL IN TAKOMA PARK?
"NEW TAKOMA SCHOOL INSPECTED BY 300. Costing $140,000, the school has seven class-rooms, two home economics rooms, a well equipped shop, an auditorium-gymnasium also used as a cafeteria, and a kitchen. The design of the large structure is supposed to be the last word in school building planning.
Already a move is afoot to have an addition built to the school to provide for immediate needs and anticipated requirements for housing additional pupils." Sound familiar? These comments, published in The Journal, Takoma Park, Maryland followed a description of the formal opening of Takoma Park Junior High by the Parent-Teacher Association on March 15, 1940.
"Ours is not an old town, one of the kind that nestles among the hills and slumbers peacefully one century after another--it has youth in its veins and its successive steps of progress are each one close upon the next. The dream of one decade is the reality of the next." Reflecting, in 1929, on the past development and citizen involvement in obtaining schools, Frank Skinner wrote in The Takoma Enterprise, "Who can visualize the condition of our schools ten, twenty or thirty years forward? Nevertheless, in passing the standard to our successors of the next generation, we may confidently feel that it will be held high."
The history of obtaining public secondary school education for Takoma Park students is a history of intense and continuous parent and citizen involvement.
Elementary schools in the 1900s were usually grades 1-7. High schools were anything beyond that. In 1906, Montgomery County had three high schools: Rockville, Gaithersburg and Sandy Spring, all some distance from the down county, or as it was then known: the Eastern Suburban Area. In 1912, Takoma Park citizens requested an 8th grade, but were denied. Instead, the Board of Education placed an 8th grade at Woodside for the use of both schools. The next year Takoma Park requested a 9th grade, but was again denied. Some Takoma Park students attended high school in the District of Columbia, as political boundaries were fairly elastic until 1916, when the District, responding to overcrowding, closed its schools to non-residents. This action forced Montgomery County officials to respond to the growing needs in its Eastern Suburban Area.
THE FIRST HIGH SCHOOL
The first high school specifically constructed for Takoma Park and Silver Spring students was Takoma-Silver Spring High, T--SS, (later Silver Spring Intermediate). Built in 1924--25 to house a junior high (grades 8 and 9) and a senior high (grades 10-12), the school was enlarged both in 1927 and 1928. Although the school on Philadelphia and Chicago Avenues had 22 rooms, including classrooms, laboratories, two separate gymnasiums for boys and girls, an assembly hall, and a cafeteria, by 1929, it was nearing capacity. In one year enrollment grew from 265 to 365. "It is said that plans for further enlargement will soon be taken up," reported Frank Skinner in The Takoma Enterprise in 1929.
In 1931 a bond issue was approved for purchase of the Blair site on Wayne Avenue, and in December 1934 the Superintendent of schools was authorized to secure a competent person from Columbia University to make a high school survey for the Takoma area. Within a month, the Board received the report of Dr. N.L. Engelhardt on High School building needs of the Eastern Suburban Area. By this time enrollment at Takoma-Silver Spring High was about 450. Fearing the report might not be acted upon, the Community League or Citizens Association of Takoma Park asked on February 12, 1935 that the recommendations from the Engelhardt report be carried out providing for walks, purchase of land from the Hodges Tract and additional land for Takoma-Silver Spring High.
Montgomery Blair Senior High School opened in September 1935 removing grades 10-12 from Takoma-Silver Spring High, which continued to house grades 8 and 9 in an overcrowded building.
FIRST STEPS TOWARDS TAKOMA PARK JUNIOR HIGH
The first official move towards creating Takoma Park Junior High took place April 14, 1936, when a Board committee was appointed with authority to work out an option and possible means of purchase of the Hodges Tract to safeguard the land for future school needs. In 1937, cost of land and construction of a junior high were estimated at $190,000, but no further action was taken, although a proposal was made that Silver Spring Intermediate could be used for elementary grades.
In January 1938 the Takoma Park Chamber of Commerce was invited to designate two members to an Advisory Committee on School Matters to act as a fact finding council on the views of the school plant problem. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, in March the Montgomery County School Board received six bids for land as school sites, but rejected all of them. Three of the more interesting bids were:
1. W.P. Meads and J. Dann Faber offered 12 1/2 acres at Saratoga and Takoma Ayes, for $3,500 per acre.
2. J.M. Parker offered 20 acres at Greenwood and Carroll for $30,000.
3. J. Roger Hodges offered 15 acres at $3,000 per acre adjacent to the Philadelphia Avenue elementary schoool.
CITIZEN PETITION URGES BOARD OF EDUCATION TO TAKE ACTION
Even in those days, getting a needed school didn't happen automatically--at least not in Takoma Park. With action seemingly stalled at the County level, a petition was presented, on April 1, 1938 calling on the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education to provide a new school to relieve overcrowding. In June the Takoma Park Chamber of Commerce recommended to the Board of Education the purchase of the Hodges tract as a site for a future junior high.
Finally, on July 15, 1938 the Board of Education applied for a PWA grant for building its two most pressing priorities:
a) in Takoma, 11 classrooms, an auditorium, and gym and
b) to extend the Massachusetts Avenue elementary school.
Funds were approved on August 12 to build a two-story school with an attached one-story auditorium. On August 16, the Board approved purchase of land and appointed Pierson and Wilson architects. The Journal published a notice, October 21, of the Board of Educations purpose to purchase 3 tracts for school use. Item 3 was "From Sarah Lee Hodges the purchase of 11.08 acres more or less, and a contract for later purchase of 4.6 acres more or less, and from Eleanor (sic] Hodges Judd purchase of 0.91 acres more or less, at a purchase price of $2500 per acre, the land lying along Saratoga Avenue in Takoma Park. The site is located one block east of Hodges Lane and adjacent to the B.F. Gilberts Subdivision. The land in the purposed purchase is to be used for the location of a new Junior High School. By Order of the Board of Education, Lena D. Walser, President, Edwin W. Broome, Secretary." Broome was also the Superintendent of Schools.
On November 26, the land was purchased from Sarah V. Hodges Roberts, Elinor Louise Hodges Judd, and Dean W. Judd, the sale being recorded December 21.
By December 6, 1938 the estimated cost of $191,000 was for acquisition of Hodges Tract and construction of the first unit of a new junior high school. One week later, bids were opened and a contract for $142,245 went to Morrison Brothers.
The first unit was to be erected on part of the original Hodges tract abutting Saratoga Avenue (now Piney Branch Road). It would contain 10 classrooms, Including special rooms with a capacity of 300. Later an auditorium and cafeteria were to be added. Twelve acres had been purchased, and it was reported that additional land adjacent to the tract might be bought at a later t irne.
Takoma Park citizens looked forward to seeing the new school built, but, as usual, there were delays. On February 14, 1939 a right-of-way difficulty was brought to the Board of Education and referred to its attorney. This problem was not resolved until April. In May an additional $29,000 was set aside for procuring more land for the Takoma Park Junior High and Massachusetts Avenue Extension projects, but on September 1, it was reported that the construction of Takoma Park Junior was delayed by strikes, and that it could not open before February 1940.
Even in January of 1940 the way was not clear. The Superintendent of Schools was authorized by the Board of Education to continue talks with the Mayor and Council of Takoma Park in the "matter of providing sidewalks leading to and adjacent to Takoma Park Junior High and at the Junior High School .
STUDENTS MOVE IN
On March 12, 1940, the Board of Education accepted the building, and students moved in March 15. At the formal opening of the school by the PTA, a tour of the building followed short talks by Mr. Frank L. Davis, supervisor of Montgomery County school property; Mr. George McCeney, assistant supervisor of school property; Mr. Leo R. Hubbard, chairman of the School Committee of the Takoma Park Chamber of Commerce; Mr. A. Hamilton Wilson, architect on the building; Principal Marks, and Mr. Kenneth Craglow, president of the P.T.A.
Seven classes were moved over from Takoma--Silver Spring Junior High. There were five units of the 9th grade and two units of the 8th grade. (The new building was not large enough to accommodate the entire 8th grade.) Professor William B. Marks was the principal of the new school and the Takoma-Silver Spring Junior High, which together were actually one school organization. In June 1942 Takoma-Silver Spring High School was officially closed and then reopened as Silver Spring Intermediate. SSI became an elementary school in June 1949.
Not all Takoma Park students could attend Takoma Park Junior High when it opened in 1940. Takoma Parks African-American students continuing beyond sixth grade had to travel to Rockville where they attended Lincoln Junior High School. A Takoma Gazette article written by Luke Mines during Black History month this year, quotes Thelma Dawes, "Ophelia Withers was our bus driver and she picked us up on Ritchie Avenue and drove us up to Lincoln Junior High School on Stuart Lane in Rockville."
"White kids would walk through our yards to get to junior high while children whose yard was abutted by the junior high were bused all the way to Rockville for junior high," Montez Boatman, who moved to Ritchie Avenue in 1952, told Mines. "It wasnt a very pleasant thing, and we were willing to pay tuition to make sure that didnt happen to our youngster." It was not until April of 1955 that the Montgomery County Board of Education ruled that African-American children could attend their local elementary and secondary schools in the upcoming school year.
ADDITIONS and RENOVATIONS
The 1940 Board of Education report included an estimated $51,000 for construction and furnishing of a 6--classroom addition to Takoma Park Junior High, with the contract going to Allen Minnix on August 12, 1941.
In December 1941 an estimate was made for a 3-classroom and shop addition, but this construction was delayed by war-time shortages. The next additions did not occur until September 1949: 7 classrooms, a library, office and gymnasium. A 1950 report described the school as having 25 classrooms, art, crafts, home arts, two shops, library, cafeteria, gymnasium, and office. In 1961 four teaching stations and an office were added.
In 1966 a new Library was added. The school also received several renovations during its lifetime.
Beginning in 1978 Takoma Park Junior High survived redrawn attendance boundaries, threatened closures, transformation to a magnet school, to an intermediate school, and finally to a middle school as a result of Board of Education policies affecting enrollments, curriculum, and grade configurations throughout the county. An account of these struggles and changes is in progress. Within the new building, the PTA plans a display case featuring highlights from the history of the school.
In 1986, funds for a modernization of Takoma Park Junior High were first requested with an expected completion date of 1991. Considerable controversy over whether the project should be a renovation or new construction delayed all progress for several years. The building was demolished in October 1997.
When Takoma Park Middle School students and staff return to Piney Branch Road this fall, they will see several concrete medallions decorating the brick facade of their new building and placed in the garden, reminders of the Takoma Park Junior High School building, opened on March 15, 1940, and at that time described as "the last word in school building planning."
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