In September, the board of Indianapolis Public Schools will vote on a proposal to close four high schools in the district. Chalkbeat is collecting narratives from former students and teachers from Arlington, Broad Ripple, John Marshall, and Northwest.
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(This interview has been edited for length and clarity)
Bill Franklin, Northwest High School Class of 1980
Member, Class of 1980 reunion committee
Question: Can you tell us something about your memories from high school?
Answer: Northwest High School was a big part of my growing up. The neighborhood I lived in was right next door to the school, so it was within walking distance. And I have two older brothers who went to Northwest before me. So going to the football games on Friday nights was always a big thrilling event for me, going over to watch band practices and things like that. It was just a very good place to grow up, a very good school to go to at the time.
Q. What was the school like back then?
A. I was one of these weirdo kids who was always excited when the school year started, as opposed to ‘Oh no, summer’s over!’ Because it was a chance to go back to see the friends that you typically didn’t see over the summer, there was always new clothes to wear, and always the excitement of finding out what your classes were going to be like.
The fall was just a big buildup of school spirit because of the football games, and they would have pep rallies, and there was always the part of the pep rally where they would have the freshmen class make as much noise as they could, and then the sophomore class, and so on, and then it was judged who had the most spirit, which class it was. It was just always a good time.
Having said that, our school ratio honestly back then was probably 60 percent black and 40 percent white, so there were a couple years where there was a lot of tension early in the school year between black and white students. Sometimes it would be on the news. I do remember coming home from school one time and my mom asked me if anything had happened at the school and I said, ‘Not that I’m aware of.’ She said, ‘Well, the neighbor heard on the news that they were having problems at Northwest, some students threw rocks at a bus that was busing in black students from Indianapolis.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ (Franklin is white.)
That always seemed to be that way, just briefly at the beginning of the school year. I don’t know why, I never experienced anything myself. What was interesting was, like the cafeteria, it was kind of an unspoken or unwritten thing that the majority of the white students would sit on one side of the cafeteria and the majority of the black students would sit on the other. I thought that was kind of interesting, but again, I didn’t notice any trouble with that.
Q. Was this tension ever acknowledged by the school?
A. I just don’t think it was acknowledged. Maybe the administration just (thought) you know, as long as there’s nothing really going on with that, we’ll leave it alone. They didn’t want to get too involved in it. And like I said, it always worked itself out. Going through the hallways, between classes, I never saw anything, I never felt threatened. It was actually a good school to go to, I enjoyed it.
Q. What groups or clubs were you involved in?
A. The school curriculum was, you had to have at least one year of physical education, and so I did my one year and got out. I’m just not a sports-minded individual. Both of my brothers were, they played football all through high school, and I remember my dad telling me that when I got to high school, I’d be involved in some sort of sport activity. And I didn’t want to be. I got really involved in the arts – the art department, choir, theater, show choir. My parents noticed that I really enjoyed it, and did very well with it, and was very happy.
I remember absolutely every show I was in. We always did a fall play and a spring musical. I remember every play and musical I was in and whatever character I played. And Northwest was a fantastic school to do that in, because they have one of the largest auditoriums for a public school. So it was fun performing there, it was just great. The camaraderie in the theater department and the music department was really good.
In my junior year of high school, we did the fall play ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ and I was cast as the lead character, Tom. That was my biggest thing, being in that play as the lead. My junior year, we did the musical ‘Once Upon A Mattress,’ and I played the minstrel. My character was the very first character out on stage, and did a big solo number. We ended up taking that musical to state competition and we got number one musical in the state of Indiana.
Q. What did you think when you heard about the plan to convert Northwest into a middle school?
A. Well, I do know that the people on the (Class of 1980) reunion committee, when we first heard about Northwest closing, everyone was kind of in shock and sad to hear that, because it really was a good school back in our day. But we all knew that their enrollment had declined, and we had heard some of the wings weren’t even being used because they didn’t have the students they used to.
I live in Hendricks County. Everybody I know (from Northwest), nobody lives there, they don’t even have kids or grandkids who go there. So I don’t think a whole lot of people in my group are really affected by it, other than, it’s just sad to hear.