Opelika's Public Schools
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There have been a total of six schools that served as High Schools.  This is the History of the Public Schools in Opelika.

Part 1


   Although a numbers 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 7th Street.  Called Opelika Public School, it held all ten grades, because initially, Opelika was not financially able to support a separate high school.



Palmer Hall

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 as the old one.  It 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.  The wooden stairs developed grooves

Opelika Colored School (East Street School)

from the daily tread of so many feet and by the 1950's, 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 facilities.  City growth necessitated more building resulting in two additional elementary schools; Jetter 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.



Darden School - Opelika Alabama

 As was true with the white schools, there were several good private schools for black children before public schools became a reality.  In the early 1900’s, 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. 


circa 1950's
Clift High School - Opelika, Alabama

 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 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.


 Submitted by:  Lee County Heritage Book Committee and Written by:  Doris Canon, 601 Avenue B, Opelika, AL 36801

Opelika’s Public Schools


Part 2


   Today Opelika has a school system made up of ten school sites, serving all area children.  The Board of Education offices are located in the renovated Morris Snower School on Simmons Street.  Over 4,500 students from kindergarten through 12th grade are enrolled on Opelika’s schools.  The three primary schools (grades K-2) are Carver, Jetter, and Southview Primary.  The three intermediate schools (grades 3-5) are Morris Avenue, Northside and West Forest Intermediate.  Northside School, completed in 1929, changed its name to Alma S. Martin School in the 1960’s, but after undergoing a complete renovation and addition in 1996, 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 also named for Alma S. Martin.  The middle school known as Opelika Middle School encompasses grades 7-8.  It is housed in the high school that replaced Clift High.  Opelika High School consisting of grades 9-12 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, and athletic department, a new media center with a 27-station Internet lab, a full video production studio, and the current construction of the science labs and gym.


   An alternative school for students who need an alternative school setting (grades K-12) is known as the Miriam S. Brown School.  The Brown school which will be relocated to the existing Jetter Primary School in the Fall of 2001, also houses the Opelika School Dental Clinic, which provides full dental care to over 500 underserved children each year.  In addition to the dental clinic, the Brown Center also houses facilities for the “Choices” program, a volunteer education service for pregnant teens, adult education classes, the parenting and family center, and a teacher resource 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 the Opelika City Schools takes nine weeks of violin instruction.  In fourth 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.




June 2011
Northside Intermediate School - Opelika, Alabama

The Opelika City Schools system has been recognized at the local, state, and national level.  The Opelika City Schools system was recognized and honored with national award including the prestigious National Kennedy Center award for Arts in Education in 1995, and a $750,000 RJR Nabisco grant to build a Next Century School (West Forest Intermediate) in 1990.  Opelika Middle School was selected as one of two top middle schools in the State of Alabama in 1999. 
Both the Opelika High School band and the Ovations show choir won national championships in 1999 in Washington D.C.   In 1988 the Opelika band "Spirit of The South" under the leadership of Mike Stough traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the 'National Cherry Blossom Festival'.  The 225 students who participated won first place and were awarded the prestigous title of "National Cherry Blossom Festival Champions" for that year.   
The Opelika City Schools system serves as a middle system for IBM.  Many visitors spend time in our schools reviewing the incorporation of technology in the classroom.

Brown Alternative School - Opelika, Alabama

   Public education is a top priority in the City of Opelika resulting in tremendous financial support for the school system.  A new 6 mil tax increase was overwhelmingly passed in January of 2000.  This will provide over $3 million annually in local property taxes.  $2 million in sales taxes, and with a $1.7 million in City Council appropriation continue to support the many programs of the schools system.  In the past twelve years, over $20 million in new construction and renovation of facilities have taken place, with over $5 million improvements currently underway.  These renovations include a state-of-the-art science wing and competition gymnasium at Opelika High Schools, the $1.5 million renovation and additional wing at Carver Primary School, the recent completion of a new wing at Southview Primary School, and the construction of a new Jeter Primary School at the corner of Jeter Street and Fox Run Parkway scheduled to open in the Fall of 2001.  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.

Submitted by:  Kat Larkin-Opelika

The above article was written sometime in 1999 or 2000.  Some images updated in 2011

Return to: Clift High School