Madison in the Sixties – the public schools, 1965
The new school year opens with almost 32,000 youngsters in the public schools, ranging from 203 at Cherokee elementary to almost twenty-two hundred at West Senior High. But the numbers are not good at Madison’s first high school.
On September 8, the fifty- seventh anniversary of Central High School’s first day, the school is warned that it will likely close due to declining enrollment. “The central area of the city will not furnish enough junior and senior high school pupils to maintain Central High School in its present role,” chief district analyst Clifford Hawley reports to a special committee of city and school officials. That’s just fine with vocational school director Norman Mitby, who wants to take over the building for his growing program. In November, a group presents petitions signed by 1300 residents pledging “a concerted fight to defeat any plan” to close the school. And the NAACP warns that closing Central could lead to de facto racial segregation, and vows to monitor the move closely. The board promises to consider the petitions and the concerns when deciding the school’s fate and sets a special meeting for next January to do just that.
It’s A Rough Start for Abraham Lincoln Junior High
Within weeks of its opening, the new south side school is rocked by reports of violence, widespread theft, and harassment, even a schoolwide extortion ring forcing pupils to hand over nickels and dimes for protection. A group of about eighty parents meets on September 30 to form an advocacy group; more than 25 parents say their own children have been threatened or hit, or had items stolen. Lincoln’s founding principal, Jack Stickels, acknowledges that his experience as principal of Lakewood School in Maple Bluff did not fully prepare him to handle the ethnic and economic diversity on the south side. There are material problems as well— the school opened with construction still under way in the gym, commons, and library, making it impossible for the school to use its innovative modular system. Stickels tries to solve things with a schedule change, while the board applies for $35,500 in federal funds to hire guidance counselors and a social worker.
One problem Stickles can’t solve – Madison has only four or five Blacks among its 1500 teachers, and School Superintendent Robert Gilberts says he’s having trouble hiring more because they’re in such high demand. Gilberts says hiring a Black teacher is as hard as recruiting teachers of foreign languages and mathematics.
Lincoln isn’t the only school with behavior problems. As the school year opens, West High closes its lunch period, keeping kids inside because there are so many continuing complaints from area residents and businesses about disruptive pupils. Students will have to eat lunch in twenty- seven- minute blocks from 11:20 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. Principal Douglas Ritchie also enforces a stricter dress and behavior code, banning smoking and ordering several boys to get haircuts. And in December, The Madison Bus Company threatens to cancel service to Van Hise Elementary and West High schools due to rowdy students. Pupils, particularly from Van Hise, have been shooting heavy paper clips and other objects at drivers’ heads, and a bus nearly jumped a curb after the driver was conked on the noggin with a potato.
In September, The school board votes, 5–2, to distribute a list of fallout shelters and other civil defense information in sealed envelopes brought home by schoolchildren. City civil defense director Richard Wilson proposed the plan because the shelters in the public schools can accommodate only 14,129 people, less than half the total enrollment, and parents need to know what other protection is available.
In November, the board of education learns that it is indeed covered by the new city ordinance that all government meetings be held in public buildings. Board member Arthur Dynie Mansfield, the UW baseball coach who chairs the board’s policies and procedures committee, had planned on holding the committee’s next meeting at his home until city attorney Edwin Conrad ruled he couldn’t. On the committee’s agenda – a proposal by board vice president Ruth Doyle that board agendas be publicly available prior to the meetings.
Madison’s growing cultural and religious diversity causes several schools to reduce and even eliminate their traditional Christmas programs this year. Requiring students “to sing praises to Jesus was not quite right,” Silver Spring school principal Dorothy McClinnon determines, so she cancels the program entirely. “I’ve felt this need for many years,” she says, “but could not screw up enough courage to do so until this year.” The school’s staff and PTA support her decision. Other schools seek a balance between sacred and secular songs of the season. “Once in a while some people of the Jewish faith have a reaction to the Christmas program,” Orchard Ridge principal Ron Fox says, “but most go along with it because they don’t want to be different.”
And 1965 is a sorrowful year for the school board. Herbert J. Schmiege, sixty- seven, 1824 Yahara Pl., a member of the Board of Education from 1950 until his narrow defeat in April, dies on May 20 after a brief illness. A former alderman and president of the East Side Businessmen’s Association, Schmiege retired in 1962 as director of the State Bureau of Purchasing.
Attorney Glenn W. Stephens, seventy- three, 1102 Sherman Ave., a member of the Board of Education since 1927 and its president since 1950, dies July 31 after a long illness. A native of Chicago Heights, Stephens remained in Madison following his graduation from UW Law School in 1916. The new elementary school on Rosa Road was named in his honor in 1961. On August 24, Mayor Otto Festge appoints attorney Richard Cates to succeed Stephens. Cates, who served with the US Marines in World War II and the Korean War, is a former chief deputy district attorney and special prosecutor in a state John Doe proceeding. In 1958, he unseated GOP state representative Carroll Metzner but did not seek reelection.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, mask-wearing, hand-washing, socially distant WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan