The Junior High
By Dr. Pelham K. Mead III
(Disclaimer: This story is purely fiction, and no person in the story is real or otherwise, nor are the places real either. Any event or story that seems to correspond to real facts is purely accidental. This is book of pure fantasy to provide entertainment only.) ©January 2012, Pelham Mead III
Dedication: This book is dedicated to John Carucci in memory of his excellence in teaching, his years as a Football Coach, and his contribution to the spirit of a school like Cucamonga Junior High School.
Chapter 1- Cucamonga Junior High School
The name Cucamonga came from a local Native American Tribe that used to live near the High Mountain town on the Canadian border in New York. When the High Mountain school district began to explode in student population in the 1960’s, it was decided that an additional Junior High School needed to be built. At that time there was only two Junior High Schools, North JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL and South JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL. The students at South JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL were overcrowded in their school, and they were on double sessions for a few years. The Board of Education of High Mountain school district put before the community a bond approval to build a third Junior High School. This bond issue was meant to deal with the overcrowded conditions of the existing schools.
The South Junior High School students’ population was being split in half to reduce overcrowding. Half of the South JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL students would go to the new junior high. The South Junior High School students were allowed to vote for the name of the new junior high. The choices were:
- Central High Mountain JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL,
- Washington JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL,
- Cucamonga Junior High School.
The students in South Junior High School did not want to go to the new Junior High School, so as spoilers, they choose the worse name they could, and that was Cucamonga, a name for a once existent local Native American tribe.
The current Assistant Principal of South Junior High School was to be transferred to the new Cucamonga Junior High School when it was finished in 1960. He was given the choice of what teachers he wanted to bring with him, so he chose his best friends, whom were all department chairman. They were all older men in the late 50’s and early 60’s. This seemed like a good base from which to start a new junior with experienced teachers. Actually, few teachers transferred, only administrators that were selected by the new Principal. All of the rest of the teachers were hired as new teachers. In 1960, 75 teachers were hired in the High Mountain school district to begin work at Cucamonga Junior High School. In 1967, fifty more teachers were hired at Cucamonga Junior High School. The hiring frenzy was to meet the every expanding student population expansion in the 1960’s. Cucamonga Junior High School started with 600 students, and by 1975 had doubled to 1600 students in the one building built for only 1,000 students.
When the fall of 1960 came about the construction was not completed, however, the district moved the students into the unfinished building anyway. Construction delays caused the problem of not having the building finished on time. While teachers were teaching in their classrooms, workers were drilling and nailing walls together in the next classroom. “Bang, bang, mmmmmm, bang, bang, and that students is why the Indians surrendered to the white man,” said Mr. Torres. Everyday during first period Social Studies, English, and Science classes, the hammering would start usually in the middle of a lesson. Teachers were used to being drowned out. They complained to the Principal. “Mr. Whire is there something you can do to stop the hammering during the day,” said Mr. Tores. “No, Mr. Tores, I am sorry but the work has to be finished now rather than later. Bear with it for now. “Said Mr. Whire the Principal.
The noise problem was difficult to teach without distraction. Teachers learned to write notes on the board in advance of when the drilling started. Once the drilling started no one could be heard. A positive note is that none of the students were noisy or could talk among themselves, because they could not hear one another.
The auditorium was half finished with the seats not completely installed. Technically it was illegal to occupy a building that had not been finished, but the district had no Plan B in case the building was not completely finished. Somehow the school district managed to avoid being fined by the local building code inspectors.
No sooner had Cucamonga Junior High School been built, than it became overcrowded, and an extension was planned for, and built in 1967. A small gym was started in 1968, and finished by 1970 to accommodate the increase in student enrollment. A lot of problems developed with the heating and air circulation systems in the new extension requiring more construction, and repairs to be made. Some classrooms lost all heat, and were as cold as the outside weather in the fall and winter of 1967. Teachers had to move classes to the cafeteria or auditorium or library when the classrooms had no heat.
A fire was started in a closet in the large gymnasium when a worker with a blowtorch accidently ignited the insulation in the ceiling while he was wielding metal braces under the roof. Fortunately, the damage was limited to the storage closet, and the fire department was able to get to the fire fast enough to prevent serious damage. The real damage was water damage to the gymnasium flooring and a few dozen fried footballs and basketballs.
The boy’s locker room had showers, but no hot water until the plumbing was fixed. In the 1960’s it was normal to give out soap, and towels to students to shower after class. It was mandatory at that time. When the 1970’s came in with the concern for individual liberties, student’s rights, and many lawsuits.
It was determined that student’s rights were being violated when they were required to take showers. So the mandatory use of showers was abandoned, and adopted as a district-wide policy. Showering after Physical Education class was strictly voluntary.
Eventually a shortage in funds caused the expensive towel and soap program in Physical Education to also be dropped. Eventually, only the sports teams would use the shower rooms. The end result was that the Physical Education students went to class smelling and sweating. Not many teachers were happy with that conclusion.
The teaching staff grew from 70 teachers initially to over 120 teachers by 1975. Many part-time teachers also joined the teaching ranks and teachers who traveled from one school to another. Para-professionals came into use, and were known as “Teacher Aides.” They needed only two years of College to be eligible for the job. The district used to have team teaching of certified teachers, but para-professionals provided a cheaper approach than two full-time paid teachers to one class. For a few years there was a program allowing a special education teacher and a mainstream teacher teaching a mixed ability group of students including special education students. Budget considerations would eventually cause that excellent program to be discontinued. The Teachers Union fought against the use of para-professionals and lost.
Community voting on public bond issues was always difficult because the majority of the High Mountain school district was represented by Jewish private schools called “Yeshivas.” The private Yeshiva population grew from 7,000 students in the 1960’s to 15,000 in the 1990’s. The Jewish community had to be courted by the Superintendent of High Mountain school district in order to secure their support of the public school budgets. Many trade offs had to be offered to the private school community such as: universal busing, used textbooks, used school furniture, and special professional services. The Jewish community voted as a block against the expansion of the public school bond issues by busing Jewish voters to the voting poles. No public referendum could be passed without getting the Jewish community vote. The Orthodox and Ultra-orthodox Jewish parents were paying both for Yeshivas for their children to attend, and for public school tax. Under New York State law the High Mountain school district Superintendent was legally responsible for all public and private schools within the borders of the High Mountain School District. Therefore, Yeshivas had to meet New York State Education requirements or they would not be certified. The High Mountain school district was one of only two major Jewish districts in New York State that had a significant number of students attending Yeshivas (1990-10,000 students) instead of Public schools. This meant that the formula for repayment to the High Mountain School from New York State did not include the private Yeshiva students. The public school system of High Mountain did not get any revenue from New York State to offset the cost of carrying thousands of Yeshiva students who were not in public school. This also included Catholic Schools that had a much smaller number of students. This lack of funds from New York State would eventually cause the High Mountain School district to develop a major shortage of funds to pay for the school budget every year. The shortage of funds developed into:
a- Threatened teacher strikes,
b- No teacher contracts for three years or more,
c- Cutting back in hiring new teachers,
d- Cutting back in sports programs such as elementary soccer, softball and basketball programs were also cut.
Concerned Parents had to form their own sports associations to provide sports for elementary school children. This community sports program eventually grew to include Junior and Senior High students that could not qualify for the school teams.
The 1960’s were a turbulent time in American with the Civil Rights movement taking hold, Black Power, radicalism in student organizations, and the anti-Vietnam war movement. Coupled with the “drug generation,” and the “Anti-war movement” of hippies and beatniks, the 1960’s and 1970’s were troubled times in American, and Cucamonga Junior High School. These problems translated down to the local level with students mimicking what they saw on TV, and what was happening in the media. Student protests were the thing of the day. Fake bombing calls were also the fad of the 1960’s and 1970’s generation. Fake bomb calls came on a daily, if not weekly basis, and the entire school had to be evacuated every time. No one was ever caught. This fad went on for years until a Principal from another school district had enough of the fake bomb threats, and decided not to evacuate the building. After that many other school districts follow suit, and made changes in their fire alarm systems with a yellow detection spray, video cameras, and a new approach to bomb threats. Twenty years later bomb threats would be a thing of the past, just as the Vietnam War became a thing of the past.
Some teachers were considered militant when it came to anti-Vietnam policies, and that was unfortunate because they affected the minds of the children they taught. Militant teachers painted their rooms with psychedelic colors and logos to mirror the slogans of the times. Some of the militant teachers had long hair, and dressed in blue jeans, and worn t-shirts with logos like “No WAR,” or “Peace.” Militant song groups appeared on the music scene and could be heard in the militant teacher classrooms. One Social Studies teacher even had a toilet in his classroom for some unknown reason.
The administrators were useless in being able to stop the militant teacher activities. The anti-War issue divided the faculty, but no one would support an administrator trying to make a stand “for or against the War,” or “Militant teachers.”
The term “politically incorrect, “ came into play. Black students could not longer be called Negro students. “Black or Black Americans or African Americans” became the buzzwords. The word “nigger” was the ultimate insult for black students especially, when a white student or white teacher used it. However, it seemed OK for one black student to call another black student a “nigger.” It became known as the “N” word for white teachers or white students. There was a lot of racism during the 1960’s and 1970’s and many teachers tried to straddle the line but did not succeed. Expressions such as “your people,” from white teachers or white students smirked of racism. Black parents, and black students were very race conscious during these turbulent years. All of these issues translated to problems at Cucamonga Junior High School as in all schools in the United States.
Teachers at Cucamonga Junior High School had to be especially careful in their language and how they treated black students in regard to how they treated other students. The sensitivity of race issues was on the surface, and would not go away. Many teachers got into trouble when they used language that was misinterpreted by black students. Black students would often run to administrators, and tell false tales to get a teacher they did not like in trouble. The sensitivity of the racism issues during the 1970’s and 1980’s made teaching during these years difficult. Teaching during these turbulent times was no picnic.
One paradox was the militant teachers twenty years later, cut their hair short, and became part of the mainstream society, as if they were never militant in their lifetime. It was amazing how some militant teachers became moles for the administrators after fighting the administration for so many years. It demonstrates how a teacher can go from one radical philosophy to the opposite administrative philosophy over a period of ten or twenty years. It shows that in time you either conform to the rules, and policies or get out. If a teacher wanted to make it to retirement age they all had to change over time and become more liberal or conservative in their philosophical approach to teaching and issues of society.