Educators share visions of school's past, present and future

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CIRCLEVILLE - As students, staff and alumni say goodbye to their old high school this week, at least two local educators balance their nostalgia with a strong sense of hope for the future.

As a teacher, Wallace Higgins remembers making the big move from one high school to another. Higgins taught World History at the high school on South Court Street from the fall of 1955 through the spring of 1966, then continued his 30-year teaching career at the current Circleville High School.

Ty Ankrom was a ninth grader in the fall of 1966 and spent his entire high school career in the current Circleville High School. After college, he would return to Circleville, serving as a teacher, principal and superintendent in the district before moving on to his current career as superintendent of the Pickaway County Educational Service Center.

Though they viewed the transition from two different perspectives, both Higgins and Ankrom viewed the new school as an exciting opportunity for growth.

"It was a good change," Higgins said. "Sure, we all had our feelings about that, a bit of nostalgia about the leaving the old building, but it had its disadvantages and it was extremely crowded."

Though Ankrom wouldn't begin high school until his 10th grade year, he remembers attending the open house for the new building and being awestruck by the then-modern facility.

"Knowing what the Everts building was like and seeing what the new one was like, I thought, 'Wow, what a great place,'" Ankrom said. "At that time, it seemed huge. There were modern classrooms and nice facilities. As a basketball player, the only disappointment for me was the gymnasium because the Mill Street gym was such a fantastic facility. The new one was a disappointment by comparison."

Higgins said he found a few disappointments with the new school as well, but he appreciated its advancements in technology and tools, including blackboards and a variety of audio-visual equipment.

"The cafeteria area was much superior to the one at the old building, and the office space was much greater," he said. "There was a much larger chemistry area, and the laboratory area was much superior. There was a new gymnasium and an auditorium that was large enough to hold the entire student body at that point. It didn't remain true, of course, but it was at that point."

Nothing lasts forever, though, Higgins points out, and the current Circleville High School served its purpose longer - from 1966 to 2013 - than the Everts Middle School building before it, from the early 1920s to 1966.

"They tend to outgrow the buildings," Higgins said. "As the town progresses and it grows, they outgrow the system and have to do something else."

Ankrom said space was not the only consideration when the decision was made to pursue construction of a new school.

"Technology has really changed the way you have to go about instructing and how classrooms have to be set up," Ankrom said. "A building from 1966 becomes outdated, and the infrastructure and things that are needed for technology just aren't there."

The new school, which will host an open house Jan. 5 and welcome students back to class on Jan. 8, also will provide better security than the current building can.

"There are systems for entrance into the building and that will better facilitate lockdowns," Ankrom said. "In today's world, unfortunately, these considerations have to be made. That's one of the primary considerations of construction - how to enter the building for people trying to come in with good intentions and how to deter people with possible harmful intentions. Security was always in the conversation, making sure these new buildings are secure."

In addition, Higgins said updated facilities and a conducive learning environment definitely affect not only how students learn but how teachers teach.

"There is a definite advantage," he said. "If you have 30-some kids crammed into a space they really don't fit in, that's not the best way to teach a class. I once taught a class of 40, and that's almost impossible in the space you're given."

Higgins said he believes today's Circleville High School students do not yet fully comprehend that they are part of history in the making for the district.

"I don't think the kids realize it now, but in a generation they will," Higgins said. "History is something that sneaks up on you. You're not aware you're part of it until you're past 30, and then you suddenly realize it was something historic. That has been my experience, anyway."

As a former student, Ankrom would agree, particularly after taking a final tour of the current building during the Lights Out event Dec. 28.

"Walking through the high school that night, I started getting pretty sentimental," Ankrom said. "I wasn't remembering it as an administrator or a superintendent, but as a student. That was my geometry class, this is where I sat, those kinds of things. A lot of remembrances came back and flooded through my mind from years and years ago."

Ankrom said he believes the community will be proud of what has been accomplished with the new Circleville City Schools campus.

"They should have a lot of pride for the time and effort and thought that went into it," Ankrom said. "What this group has done to bring together what they have for the dollars they've been given is amazing. Sure, there will be things in the new buildings they people won't like, they'll wish they had more of something or whatever. But these people have worked hard, and what they'll bring to the community is something we should really be proud of."

Higgins said during his tenure, former superintendent Fritz Jacobs deserved a lot of credit for bringing the current Circleville High School to the district.

"When they overhauled things and began the process of building, he was an important element," Higgins said. "Every once in a while, you'll find a person like that who has managed to overcome the local indifference to education and get something like this accomplished. I think Kirk McMahon is one of those people, too."

"I'm glad (Kirk) had that job and not me," Ankrom admitted. "But it wasn't just Kirk, it was a community of people contributing to what the building should have and what it should be. I can guarantee a lot is being considered, and the community should be very proud."