Learning through the years
Although a number of good private schools existed
in Opelika well into the twentieth century, public schools were not established on a permanent basis until 1897.
At that time, the schools were departmentalized
for the first time to include three elementary, four grammar, and three high school grades. In 1902, the
city erected a three story brick building on the corner of Avenue A and Seventh Street. Called Opelika
Public School, it held all ten grades, because initially, Opelika was not financially able to support a separate high school.
Beginning in 1911, the State of Alabama
offered support for a high school in each county. Opelika raised private funds for a building on the corner
of North Eight and Seventh Avenue. This school operated as Lee County High School for two years.
The city then took over the operation and it became known as Opelika High School.
All went well, until 1917, when the school burned.
There were 186 pupils that had to be housed temporarily. It was back to the old public school building
on Avenue A, with double sessions, morning and afternoon.
Work began at once on a new building on the same site at the old one. I was named
Henry G. Clift High School in honor of the Mayor of Opelika at that time. Mr. Clift, a long time supporter
of education for the community, was instrumental in building the new school.
The Opelika Public School continued to serve younger children
until 1929, when Northside and Southside elementary schools were built. Elementary schools were also erected
in each of the mill villages. Clift High School grew as Opelika grew. By the 1950s,
the building was no longer adequate for a high school.
Plans were made for erecting a new building on Denson Drive, and using the Clift High building as the
Junior High. The renamed Opelika High School opened in the winter of 1959 and included modern expanded
growth necessitated more building resulting in two additional elementary schools; Jeter Street in 1958/1959 and Carver Elementary
in 1962. A new high school was built in 1972 on the Lafayette Parkway and the building on Denson Drive
became Opelika Middle School.
As was true with the white schools, there were several good private schools for black children before public school
became a reality. In the early 1900s, neighborhood schools were established in the home of teachers and
upper classes were held in the former Baptist High School near Friendship Baptist Church.
Between 1910 and 1912 the Opelika Colored School was erected
by the city on East Street. It had ten classrooms and held all ten grades. East Street
High, as it became known, served as the only black public school until 1951. Then the J.W. Darden high
School was built on South Fourth Street. East Street High became Carver Elementary.
In 1967, Opelika’s public officials
and Board of Education made plans for an orderly transition from a segregated school system to a totally integrated one.
The transition was made over a period of several years with an exchange of teachers and a gradual integration of students
at the high school level. Because of dedicated leadership in the schools and cooperative parents and students
total integration was achieved in an orderly manner.
Today Opelika has a school system made up of ten schools sites, serving all area children.
The Board of Education offices are located in renovated Morris Snower School on Simmons Street.
The three primary schools are Carver, Jeter,
and Southview Primary. The three intermediate schools are Morris Avenue, Northside and West Forest Intermediate.
Northside School, completed in 1929 changed
it’s name to Alma S. Martin School in the 1960s, but after undergoing a complete renovation and addition in 1997, it
was decided, with the favor of the Martin family, to change the name back to Northside. A beautiful reading
room overlooking Municipal Park is named for Alma S. Martin.
The middle school known as Opelika Middle School encompasses grades 6-8. It is housed in the
high school that replaced Clift High.
Opelika High School consisting of grades nine through twelve opened its doors in 1972. Since
that time, the school has seen the construction of an on-campus football stadium, a state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center,
new band room facilities, a foreign language wing, an athletic department, a new media center with a 27-station
Internet lab, a full video production studio, and the construction of the science labs and gym.
An alternative school for students who need an alternative
school setting was known as the Miriam S. Brown School, now called the Learning Center.
The Opelika City Schools system has long
been recognized as a statewide innovator in areas of classroom technology, challenging instructional programs and varied co=curricular
activities – including – but not limited to, athletics, music programs, club activities, extended day childcare
programs at all elementary schools, and parenting and family programs.
One music program involving the introduction of the violin started in 1998 with a grant from the Alabama
Civil Lawyers Association. Every third grader in Opelika City Schools takes nine weeks of violin instruction.
In forth grade, those students audition for the opportunity to continue with a professional violinist.
The program will continue in 2000-2001 for fifth graders with the ultimate goal of beginning a string orchestra in
the near future.
education is a top priority in the City of Opelika resulting in tremendous financial support for the school system.
Opelika can be proud that the city provides the best in education opportunities for its young people including the
commitment to upgrading its facilities and staffing these with competent personnel.
Information compiled from The Heritage of Lee County, Alabama