How the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state, Part I

Note: This is the start of a series about the biggest change to ever hit Georgia public school education, the Minimum Foundation Program.

With most of the action happening in the 1950s, the Minimum Foundation Program completely reshaped school systems throughout the states, building new or adding to thousands of schools. It caused widespread consolidation of white high schools and eliminated more than 75 percent of black schools over a 10-year span, from 1949-50 to 1959-60.

How did it happen and why was it so huge?

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School stories: Wilson (Ringgold)

Wilson (Ringgold)

A rear view of Ringgold’s Wilson High in 2013.

This was an all-grades school.

No, not the giant two-story building in the background. The one with the chimney. The one that resembles a small office.

This was Wilson High School, one of the smallest black high schools in Georgia.

Wilson opened in the building in September 1955. The history of black education in the preceding years was not well-publicized in the Catoosa County News.

From 1949-52, it was a two-teacher school. Teacher counts were not included again until 1956-57, when it had expanded up to three.

Wilson was not only quite small, it was the only school for African-Americans in the county. If any others had existed, they closed prior to the 1949-50 school year.

What sufficed as a school building prior to Wilson’s construction was not described in Catoosa County’s state survey, which was published in the newspaper January 3, 1952. It can be assumed that it was a frame building. A new building was in the works as soon as Catoosa revealed its improvement plans in 1953.

The Georgia Department of Education’s first attempt as a reasonably thorough list of black schools did not come until the 1956-57 school year. In that edition, Wilson was a 10-grade school. It was also listed as Ringgold Colored.

When exactly the Wilson name was applied to the school was unknown.

The Georgia Department of Education did not pick up the name in its directory until the 1959-60 school year and the first reference found in the Catoosa County News as Wilson was in October 1956.

The Educational Directory upgraded Wilson to 12 grades in 1957-58. It was listed as having four teachers in 1965-66, which may have been its final year as a school; Wilson is not in the 1966-67 directory.

Georgia Interscholastic Association records (housed by the Georgia High School Association) list Wilson’s average daily attendance at the high school level as 17 in 1959-60. If it still existed in 1966-67, Wilson’s ADA had increased to 22.

(Oddly, the Georgia Department of Education does not list Catoosa County as having a black high school in its 1961-62 publication, Public High School Data.)

Wilson’s existence as a high school was perhaps an odd one. Its ADA was one of the smallest of any public high school on either GIA region list.

It was not uncommon for counties with minuscule black populations in Georgia to bus school children to a neighboring district. Nearby Murray County was sending its high schoolers to Emery Street in Dalton – a county that also abutted Catoosa.

Eventually, Ringgold High grew around old Wilson. That school is the one in the background of the top photo. Perhaps surprisingly in the era of segregation, they were virtually neighbors after new schools opened in 1955.

Luckily, RHS had a use for the building.

Wilson is now the JROTC headquarters for Ringgold High. It’s a bit frightening that one department of a school is located in what was an entire grades 1-12 school.

Though a tornado came through in 2011 that damaged both Ringgold High and neighbor Ringgold Middle, Wilson still stands.

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Wilson is now a JROTC building. A careful examination of its walls show where windows were bricked over.

School Stories is a series of current-to fairly current photos of school buildings. Some are long abandoned, some are still in use. Most will be rural or small town schools. Information is provided by newspaper archives and editions of the Georgia Educational Directory.