WICHITA FALLS, Texas (TNN) - For a teenage J.W. Harris, going to Booker T. Washington High School meant everything. Ask anyone who graduated from the school and you will see instant nostalgia.
“It was just exciting because the road had been paved so well. When you walk through the hallways and you could see the trophies of all the championships that had already been won – whether it be the choir that had went to state or the track team that had went to state – we are the leopards, the mighty, mighty leopards,” Harris said.
The nostalgia is quickly followed by a wave of sadness, “When I think about what it was…as I'm talking, I get kind of teared up about it because it was so valuable.”
The all black school was a staple for Wichita Falls’ Eastside. In 1969, a federal mandate called for the school to be closed. “When that was taken away from the community, it's like ripping your heart out.”
In the last half-century, more than 10 schools in Wichita Falls have been closed for several reasons.
More could be added to the list soon.
Current Superintendent Michael Kuhrt said, “We have 6 campuses that will be a hundred year's old this decade, so those have been discussed. Some of them have foundation issues, some of them have air quality issues, different things like that.”
But the mere mention of closing schools tends to light the community on fire.
In 2016 the Wichita Falls ISD School Board decided to tear down one of the city’s oldest schools at the time – Alamo Elementary.
Richard Graham was a part of the group that fought against it, “There’s people that went there that I’ve met from the ‘30s…it should not be torn down.”
Before Booker T. Washington was torn down, parents and students fought against it too, but it still ended up being demolished.
Now the Wichita Falls Police training center sits where Booker T. once was.
While studies show that kids can improve academically when they are sent to a better school after their old school closes, it is not only academics that residents are concerned about.
“Here’s the things that came in: gangs, drugs,” Harris said of the Eastside after the school was closed.
Even though the two brand new high schools the Wichita Falls School Board is planning to build in the next few years will sit on opposite sides of the city, and they will be of equal size, Harris feels it will not be accessible to students in every neighborhood.
“Whatever they’re going to do for youth, for children, they need to invest right there.”
The Wichita Falls ISD school board is still discussing which schools they will decide to close in future long-range facility planning meetings.