After years of anticipation, months of planning and weeks of preparation, our historic moment has arrived – the 50th Anniversary of the Desegregation of Little Rock Central High.
The events of 1957 forward have indeed placed Central in the spotlight of the world: for some, as a time and place when “separate but equal” would be no more; for some, as a constitutional struggle between federal power and the rights of states; and for others, as a milestone event in the 80-year continuum of LRCH as an educational institution of the highest caliber.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to sort out all of the various contexts in which this anniversary exists, much less to place a definitive focus on the true significance of this experience for America as a whole. Perhaps we will need another 50 years to gain that perspective. We should, however, not let this time pass without recalling what we do know and feel in 2007 about this special school.
Literally hundreds of newspaper pieces, magazine articles, television clips and documentaries around the globe have sought to define LRCH. We are grateful to those who have earnestly sought to be fair and balanced in their coverage. At the same time, we are dismayed by some who have chosen to tell the Central story tainted by their own agendas. Even when provided with the facts and figures, some writers and producers have come to the school with pre-judged prejudices and have selectively edited their facts to support less than truthful views.
Like no other school before, the 2,400-plus students of Central High have been placed under the public microscope. This examination has exposed the good, the bad and the ugly about life in society and in public education today. In this regard, we are no different from the majority of high schools in America. We are challenged by the high-profile problems of crime, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, poverty, truancy and lack of parental support. Additionally, we are dealing with teacher shortages, disparity in test scores, controversy relating to the balance of remedial and advanced placement courses and the tendency of students to segregate themselves. Every day these facts of life in high schools from coast to coast hamper the vital mission of why we are here in the first place: to educate, to motivate and to inspire our students.
Hopefully, this 50th commemoration will be instrumental in bringing a new understanding about today's teenagers and those who seek to teach them. We need to accentuate the positive in recognizing those students who place their emphasis and energies in making the most of their education. Plus, we need to underscore efforts in aiding those students who struggle to succeed in light of their reading levels, their lack of parental support and their low self-esteem.
Central High has been recognized nationally as one of the top 30 high schools in the United States, as ranked by Newsweek magazine. We annually lead the state in National Merit and National Achievement Semi-Finalists. Justifiably, we are a proud school filled with spirit, with heritage and with diversity.
A key to maintaining the envied position as a school of quality and achievement is Central High's faculty and staff. This school family of almost 230 professionals has an individual and collective desire to advance every child every day. We are dedicated to partnering with our students and their parents, to the degree that today almost 90 percent of our students graduate and 86 percent of those students continue in higher education.
One unique quality that can be found at 14th and Park can only be described as “the magic” of Central High. Those who enter her doors feel the presence of a school with heart and grit and history. Walk the halls of this majestic building. Cheer in the stands of Quigley Stadium. Wear the black and gold just as students have done for eight decades. Sing the Alma Mater with our outstanding band and choir. Remember the country's tributes in stamps, coins and national historic site status. Ultimately, feel the glow of each family at graduation when its child has his or her own “golden hour.”
This pride and passion for Central High is a spirit that says so much about who we are today and what we can be tomorrow. Be assured — working with the community — we will strive with commitment to always aim higher and higher.
Said best, we will fight like Tigers!
Nancy Rousseau is principal of Little Rock Central High School.