Goodbye Duluth Central High School, My Old Friend
I grew up in Duluth and I can tell I’m getting older because I soon will have only one school left open. I went to Grant Elementary (still open!), Washington Junior and Duluth Central High School. As Duluth Central prepares to close its doors, I see some great stories reflecting on what it has meant to this community. For me personally it was not only was the school my mom, sisters and I graduated from, it was a place that provided amazing friends and memories that I will have for the rest of my life.
I loved going to Duluth Central because it provided more than an education. I didn’t come from the richest family at Central or the poorest, but I became friends with that spectrum of people as Central truly was the melting pot school in the area. Cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity all existed inside Duluth Central High School and we all learned from each other. When I went there we didn’t have gang issues, bomb scares or the weapon issues you hear about today across the country. We were a bunch of kids from all walks of life learning from our teachers and each other. I think such diversity is crucial as you grow up as it helps teach you an appreciation and respect for others. It also helps develop an open mind, which this world tends to lack at crucial points in time.
I can rattle off the names of many friends from Central that I still keep in touch with and who I’m still proud to call friends. High School can be such a fun, drama-filled, intense and amazing experience. I’m thankful I had this experience at Duluth Central High School. Hurrah For The Red And White!
Central High School has been called the anchor of Duluth, a unifier of the eastern and western parts of town and a place where students from all walks of life find common ground.
The nearly 120-year-old institution closes its doors this school year for good, sending students to Denfeld and East high schools next year as part of the Duluth school district’s Red Plan.
The school — the city’s first high school — opened downtown in 1892 in what was thought to be among the 10 grandest buildings in the country at the time, an architectural masterpiece. It moved to its top-of-the-hill location in 1971. Historic Old Central High School remains the district administration building, but the “new” Central will be sold.
The location of both Central High School buildings showed that the city placed a high priority on education, said Tom Boman, a 1949 graduate of Central and a University of Minnesota Duluth professor emeritus.
“Old Central was the focal point for downtown, and new Central has one of the finest vantage points in the whole city,” he said. “It was more than just a convenient location; it was a symbol of the importance of a good education system.”
Several alumni, students and school employees talked about what it means as the Central High School era comes to an end.
Of Duluth’s three high schools, Central has been seen as having the most diverse student population — racially, financially and geographically.
“You have rural kids, kids from the Hillside, kids from Park Point and kids from Duluth Heights,” said Mayor Don Ness, a fourth-generation Central graduate from the class of 1992. “It’s not always easy, but kids learn from one another because of the diversity. That’s one thing I appreciated as a student. I got to interact and be friends with a wide variety of students.”
In every school you’ll find a spectrum of financial backgrounds, Ness said, “but Central had a better balance of it. No demographic or income strata was a majority. That was both special and important.”
Sebastian Witherspoon, a member of the 1994 class, said the school was a “melting pot.”
During his time, he said, the percentage of students of color was high and made the school a more welcoming place for minorities.
“Anybody can belong to Central,” he said.
Jonas Dean, a 1999 graduate, said Central was a buffer between East and Denfeld.
“It provided a lot of avenues for high school kids to come together,” he said. “I had friends from Denfeld and East. The other schools saw it the same way.”
It also was a school where students felt equal, he said, and being involved was encouraged.
“I grew up in a lower-middle-class family, and I felt like Central offered all the opportunity in the world to get involved and be successful,” he said. “Everybody had a chance.”
Longtime Central Principal Lisa Mitchell-Krocak considers the school the heart of Duluth.
The school served the entire city in the 1890s and early 1900s until Denfeld was built, she said, and it became the centerpiece after East was built.
“Having three schools is different than having two,” Mitchell-Krocak said. “Our community will now have to define itself again.”
To her, its modern identity is rooted in the generosity of the community, both financially and with time given to students. She could provide a roster of alumni and teachers who have written checks so students in need could buy a prom dress or have the money to attend field trips and retreats.
The students have a huge amount of pride in their school, she said, but it’s a spirit of honor rather than ego. When Denfeld students merged with those at Central this year, they were polite and respectful, she said.
“The students this year provided leadership without being angry,” she said. “Our kids know that we have to move forward. And it’s time to move forward.”