New arts, science academies will have the perfect location

I.M. Terrell Elementary School occupies the building once known as I.M. Terrell High School.
I.M. Terrell Elementary School occupies the building once known as I.M. Terrell High School. Star-Telegram

When we grow too old to dream,

Terrell High we’ll remember.

When we’ve drifted far apart,

Your love will live in our heart.

— I.M. Terrell High School alma mater

I.M. Terrell — the man and the school — should never be forgotten, and thanks to what the Fort Worth school board is expected to do Tuesday, that hallowed name will live on.

Trustees will vote on a proposal to place the district’s two new showcase high schools on the historic Terrell campus, once home to the city’s oldest black high school.

Plans call for spending $68.4 million on the Terrell campus, in renovations and new construction, to house the new Visual and Performing Arts School (VPA) and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy.

Both schools, approved in the 2013 bond proposal, will be elite educational programs that will attract some of the most talented and gifted students in the district.

And while providing superb learning opportunities that can help launch exciting careers for young people in the arts and sciences, we cannot dismiss the fact that the schools’ location on that special campus east of downtown will preserve a cherished legacy of a man and an institution dear to the city’s African-American community.

The high school, which was closed in 1973, descended from the East Ninth Street Colored School, established by the Fort Worth school system in 1882 as the city’s first free public education facility for black students. Its first principal/superintendent was Isaiah (spelled “Isiah” on his tombstone) Milligan Terrell, for whom the high school was renamed in 1921, and who went on to become an administrator at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M).

In 1998, after a $6 million renovation, part of the Terrell building became home to an elementary school, which older school alumni embraced even though they were disappointed their alma mater didn’t reopen as a high school.

As an alumnus of this great institution, which had some of the most qualified and caring teachers anywhere, I commend the school board for its planned action. I’m particularly proud of trustee T.A. Sims for suggesting the Terrell location at a time when most board members had their attention on other sites.

Let me be presumptuous enough to make a few other suggestions to the board, aimed at making sure that not only the name Terrell be honored, but that future students on that campus are aware of some of the other heroes (faculty, staff and distinguished alumni) from that school.

I was glad to hear that there are plans for a museum that will house the archives that are now stored and exhibited in the building and cared for by the school’s alumni association. The leaders of that organization should be asked to help the district decide how best to preserve the memories and pass them along to future students.

And Terrell should be part of the new school names. Obviously, it will be the Terrell campus, but the schools could be the STEM Academy at I.M. Terrell, or the Visual and Performing Arts School at I.M. Terrell.

With all of the new facilities, including a 900-seat performance hall, there ought to be plenty of naming opportunities to remember some of legendary faculty and graduates who became prominent in the arts and sciences.

Consider the Ornette Coleman Performance Hall, Adlee Trezevant Choir Room, G.A. Baxter Band Hall, Dr. Bobby Jones Science Lab, Adlene James Library or Marjorie Crenshaw Piano Lab, just to name a few.

As this exciting project gets underway, a committee ought to be in place to help pay homage to those who came before, maybe also including recognition of graduates from other Fort Worth schools like stage’s Betty Buckley or singer John Denver.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.