After 61 years of homeroom bells, yearbook pictures and legions of graduates, student life at Joel Elias Spingarn High School came to an end June 21, with a few tears and lots of memories.
When Spingarn opened its doors in 1952, it was the first high school to be constructed in the District in almost 40 years, costing $3.5 million. Now, it is one more shuttered D.C. public school, the latest casualty of education budget cuts and the District’s changing demographics.
In addition to a sports legacy that is unmatched by any other D.C. public school, the closing of the school marks a time to reflect on people and events that influenced adulthood, said 1965 graduate Joseph McCormick, who just retired as dean of academic affairs at Penn State University in York, Pa.
“Thank you, Ms. Miles,” McCormick, who holds a doctorate in political science, wrote in his just-launched web log. He was referring to Isadore W. Miles, one of his English teachers, who challenged him and his classmates with a question on the blackboard: “Do you possess intellectual curiosity?”
“Yes, I do indeed possess intellectual curiosity,” he wrote. “However it took me a long time to fully appreciate the thoughtful question.”
Spingarn’s closing triggers other thoughts, he said. “This is a city in transition and Spingarn’s closing is a piece of the changing demographics,” he said, noting that as the city gains more White residents, Black institutions are being shut down.
“I can’t believe it. It’s a good school. I love this school,” Reginald Crews whispered as he ran his hand across the door of his old classroom on June 19, the day the school closed. Several alumni attended a dinner in their honor on the last day. Crews taught print shop for 22 years at Spingarn and ran into former student Joseph Champ, now a stand up comedian, with whom he shook hands and laughed about old times.
Champ, a 1998 graduate, said his family attended Spingarn and he viewed the school sitting atop a hill overlooking Benning Road and the historic Langston Golf Course as a starting point in his life. “I do stand-up comedy now,” he said. “It all started right here in these hallways.”
Some are still in disbelief about the end of a D.C. icon. Roy Barber, who was visiting Spingarn for only the second time since he graduated in 1958, was still a little stunned. Barber told the AFRO. “I heard rumors about the school closing, but I didn’t think it would come about. That’s progress, I guess.”