Similar to many other cities in the nation, Connersville followed the general trends of progressive education in the twentieth century. Its education system changed much like the urban system — from a small, one room schoolhouse to an expanded system with leveled grades and separate buildings. By the middle of the twentieth century, the American schoolhouse had become an icon. Educators throughout the country had developed the idea that schooling and the schoolhouse were indispensable to education.
Much like the curriculum, the outward appearance of schoolhouses changed over time in response to the evolution of its economic and social purposes. Having a specialized core of training with specialized trainers required grand, public buildings that would be permanent and prominent, whose design should encourage and stimulate learning for the students and serve as the nucleus in the community. Although architectural styles differed throughout the United States, the high school never failed to be an impressive structure, becoming more and more elaborate as its importance increased.
Connersville’s senior high school before 1969 was located in the heart of the city, right off of Grand Avenue. Built in 1924, it was an ornate and overwhelming structure; the only building nearby that rivaled it in size was the hospital, which was built in 1950. Located in a predominantly residential part of the city, the senior high school served as a nucleus for activity – students could walk to and from school easily. The Spartan Bowl (the name of the basketball court that descends into the ground with impressive amounts of seating) was where everyone congregated for basketball games on the weekends. Community members used the facilities in the evenings for their own programs.
But by 1965, the school was not fitting the needs of its students. Although there were a number of problems, the most prominent was overcrowding. Articles in the school newspaper, The Clarion, such as “Walk Defensively,” and also in the Connersville News Examiner like “Crowded Conditions at Senior High School Are City’s Foremost Problem,” highlight the need for new school facilities as classrooms were too full, hallways were packed, and simply getting to class proved to be a hassle.
Architects were employed, and a 124-acre lot was purchased in 1966; educators and administrators worked together with an educational consultant to develop specifications for educational programs, which were interpreted in preliminary building plans that were approved in 1967. The ground-breaking ceremonies followed in April of 1968.
Everything about the new high school was geared towards students moving on, but the layout of the complex was the biggest adjustment for students. Rather than navigating a single building, students had to walk between a number of different buildings in the new complex, each named after a different township in Fayette County. This layout introduced students to what it would be like going between classes on a college campus. The library is in a different building from the cafeteria, which is in a different building from music classes, and so on. The new complex had students thinking about their future and what they would do beyond high school.
Educators, administrators, and architects all believed that the new design was beneficial to students and their education: they would learn more, grow personally, and the school would continue to do its job teaching children moral values as well as educate them to do their duty to the surrounding community. This mission is written in the dedication for the opening of the new school:
The edifice is dedicated to the betterment of mankind, now and in the future. May this be an instrument in the search for true understanding between all ages, all races, all religions, and all beliefs.
May it also serve as a catalyst to search for the ways of peace between all peoples.
May the persons who pass through this school, learn of their heritage and their responsibility to make a greater America.
Students, on the other hand, did not think of their new school in these terms. It was cold and unsociable in comparison to their old location.
Pam Taylor was one of the first students to attend classes at the new school complex. Moved to the new school as a senior, she and her classmates missed the old high school; they felt that the new campus was more like a college. It was hard to see anyone between classes, and it was cold walking between the buildings in the complex:
“I did attend the old high school and we loved it… the main difference was we were all in one building and people could congregate around their lockers. It seemed like we had a little more time between classes and people visited during that time, you saw all your friends and “meet you in the next class” or whatever. Whereas they built the new high school… There were multiple buildings and the concept was they wanted it to be more like a college campus… going back and forth between buildings, but as a result it cut down on the time we had available. People’s lockers were stationed in different buildings rather than all in the same building. We never saw anyone and it was disheartening. Although we loved the new school and the facilities and everything, it was so socially different than what we were accustomed to, it was – we didn’t love it as well, you know… On top of being cold in between classes… you just went back and forth between the buildings without a jacket or whatever.”
The different perceptions of the new building demonstrate the lack of agreement between students’ wants and needs and what the leaders and adults in the community believed they needed. This phenomenon is not unique to Connersville or even to this period as it continues to be an issue in education in the present.
From the first seminary built in 1829 to the new high school opened in 1969 and several new elementary schools, the city and surrounding county have provided facilities and curriculum adapted to meet the changes in the community; from an emphasis on classics to the computer age, new subject areas have been offered to meet the needs of each new generation.
Throughout the state of Indiana, school consolidation proceeded rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s and closed the gap between resources available to different districts. Connersville High School and the Fayette County School Corporation is one such example of consolidation: in 1964, the city and county voted to consolidate the schools into one system.
Some of the biggest changes to Connersville’s education system came in the 1960s and 1970s during their boom: industry and corporation owners lived in Connersville and wanted to see the school and town progress. The programs at the new school all provided skills that were applicable to future work in town and the new building, more of which is discussed in the next section on specifically vocational education in Connersville: “A Unique Educational Approach.”