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Northeast Academy backers bemoan name change

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Northeast Academy supporters Dahn King-Elam, Joan House, Christie Clark, Terry Duncan, Bobby Johnson and Richard Clark, from left, are shown in front of their alma mater on Thursday. The group is holding out hope that the Oklahoma City Public Schools will reconsider changing the name of the building to Classen School of Advanced Studies High School. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Northeast Academy supporters Dahn King-Elam, Joan House, Christie Clark, Terry Duncan, Bobby Johnson and Richard Clark, from left, are shown in front of their alma mater on Thursday. The group is holding out hope that the Oklahoma City Public Schools will reconsider changing the name of the building to Classen School of Advanced Studies High School. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

Like many with ties to Northeast Academy, Richard Clark is unhappy about the school's pending name change.

Clark, though, remains hopeful that Oklahoma City Public Schools will reconsider a decision to rename the 82-year-old building Classen School of Advanced Studies High School.

"I'm hoping that they will listen to us and do what's right for both schools," he said. "We want to let them know that we are fighting for the name of our school."

Clark, 50, grew up within walking distance of Northeast High and graduated from the school in 1986. He currently serves as president of the school's alumni association.

"Northeast has a tradition, a history. It's a beacon in the black community," he said. "A lot of black history came out of this school. A lot of memories. A lot of friendships."

Some, including school board member Charles Henry, have suggested the school be called Northeast Classen School of Advanced Studies.

"I think that, if you have a school called Northwest Classen, why can't we have a school called Northeast Classen School of Advanced Studies," Henry told panel members May 13.

The district is exploring other options to honor the legacy of Northeast, 3100 N Kelley, Superintendent Sean McDaniel told The Oklahoman.

"OKCPS remains committed to working closely with Northeast families and alumni to honor the legacy and traditions of Northeast High School during this transition," McDaniel said.

Under McDaniel's direction, the district will close 15 schools and reconfigure or relocate 17 others to align facilities and resources with instructional needs. Increasing access to Classen SAS and other application schools is part of that plan.

Application schools have selective admission requirements and specific areas of focus.

Northeast, a mid-high known for its health sciences and engineering programs, will become the new home of Classen SAS, a mid-high known for its International Baccalaureate Diploma and Visual and Performing Arts programs.

High school students currently attending Northeast will attend Classen SAS in the coming year and receive needed support to meet the Classen SAS program requirements, officials said.

Classen's existing building, 1901 N Ellison, will be home to middle school students, including those from Northeast who choose to make the move. Those who don't can attend their assigned neighborhood school, officials said.

Jelani Toure is a Classen SAS graduate and parent who lives in northeast Oklahoma City. Toure, 39, said he understands some of the frustration being felt by Northeast alumni.

"I'm glad that Classen is going to be able to offer more spots," he said. "I hate that it was at the expense of Northeast closing. The numbers also say that it was a move that was going to be made one way or the other."

Toure said many of his Northeast friends are upset because they're losing their school's identity.

"Northeast is closing, and Classen is moving into the building," he said. "I understand finding some way to preserve the school's history, to keep it alive. But it doesn't necessarily mean that Northeast needs to be part of the Classen SAS name."

Bobby Johnson, 66, graduated from Northeast in 1970, a period marked by voluntary busing between Northeast and Northwest Classen high schools, he said.

"This is hard for me because I don't want to go against Classen," said Johnson, who helped form the school's alumni association in 2003. "They have a history, too."

Johnson said the school board should have tried to maintain "some sort of high school in that neighborhood for Northeast."

"If you're going to have a high school on the east side why would you change the name of it?" he asked. "They should have just come out and said 'we're closing Northeast but we need the building."

At last week's school board meeting — the last to be held in the Northeast auditorium after nearly two years — supporters, including alumni, parents and students quietly protested the district's decision to rename the school.

Alexus Stephens, 19, graduated from Northeast in 2018. She said years of dwindling enrollments amid rumors of closure have damaged the school's reputation.

"I'm not upset about the merger. I’m actually kind of excited about it," she said. "The problem I have is with the name change. I think it should combine the two schools together."

Like Clark, Deborah Binkley-Jackson is a product of Oklahoma City Public Schools. She told the board nothing good will come from changing the name on the building.

Binkley-Jackson asked members to consider "your role in perpetuating that nothing good is coming from the northeast quadrant of Oklahoma City."

"Names are important, inclusive of the name associated with this building since 1936," she said. "Will Northeast Classen really be considered as a name, when the Pathway to Greatness has already been made great by the illustrious alumni in attendance, as well as every other student who’s a current student here and those yet to follow."

Clark said McDaniel has been put in a tough spot.

"I think he’s pulled between different people," he said. "I think he wants to do the right thing but because of certain people within the district or the board he’s trying to please everybody. Unfortunately, you can’t please everybody. I feel sorry for him because he’s been put in a bad situation."

Tim Willert

Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers K-12 education, including Oklahoma City Public Schools and the state Education Department. Before that he covered district, federal and appellate courts in Oklahoma County. Prior... Read more ›

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