By Lee Brown
There are three main entities that anchor all communities in Western Civilization: churches, libraries, and schools. The churches provide one type of education, while the libraries and schools provide another. They combine to make up the three legs of our educational stool. When one leg of this stool is removed, the community begins to falter. It is at this point neighborhoods reach their “tipping point” as the stool has tipped over. In Northwest Jacksonville, William Marion Raines High School is one of those legs. This is why it is critical Raines remain in its current form as a senior high school dedicated to providing its students a quality education while preparing them for the challenges of an ever-changing economy.
Recently, the Duval County School Board has released its Facilities master Plan wherein their goal is to consolidate some schools and repurpose others, which is the case with Raines. The current plan is to tear down Raines and rebuild it as a school that will house 6th through 12th graders. When the plan was rolled out last month, there were lots of questions, but few answers. The rationale was Raines was an aging school and needed to be torn down. Meanwhile, older schools in other parts of town were not facing the wrecking ball. Schools such as Fletcher High, which was built at the same time as Raines, were undergoing much needed expansion. Robert E. Lee High School, which is an older school, recently underwent a 35-million-dollar renovation, yet Raines was to be torn down. The overarching question, which has yet to be answered, is why?
There seems to be two official answers to this question depending upon who you ask. If you ask an employee of the school board why, the answer is because the school is old. If you ask someone to speak off the record, the answer becomes, if we can get Raines and neighboring Ribault torn down and replaced with new schools, we would automatically become an “A” school district, which fits into the district’s long-range goals.
Let’s be clear why Raines was built in the first place and why it is important today. The Supreme Court ruled on the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education that “Separate but Equal” was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The court said that we should have a unitary school system, thus overturning Plessy v. Ferguson, which created separate but equal in our public education system. Because of the racism that was pervasive, and because our board consisted only of white men, they realized that the law required the ever-growing population of black students go to schools that were just as good as the white schools. Realizing that, and to thumb their noses at the court, they built school number 165 so that the black kids would not have to go to neighboring Jean Ribault High School, which at the time was all-white. School number 165 was built, became Raines High School and its rich legacy began. Yet it wasn’t until Mims v. Duval County School Board years later that the courts finally forced the school board to desegregate the school system. By that time Raines had begun to flourish. Its leg of the stool was strengthened by the academic standards set forth by its founding principal Dr. Andrew Robinson. Dr. Robinson instilled pride in those early classes. They were NOT going to be inferior to their white counterparts. They were going to get a just as good as, if not better education. They were going to be Ichiban (Number 1)!
While the school flourished, so did the surrounding neighborhood. There was bourgeoning pride in Magnolia Gardens. Our school was on the move! Not only was Raines turning out great students, it was educating citizens. Teachers and administrators knew that this brand of student was different, they were inquisitive, and they wanted to be successful. Their drive meant that the teachers who guided them had to be sharp as well. They had to be able to answer the tough questions. They knew that to educate these students they needed to be prepared. Prepared they were. The Northwest side of town was on the move during the decade of the 70’s. As some of these graduates are now preparing for retirement, they still speak fondly of their time at Raines. They will tell you how Raines gave many of them the leadership qualities they exemplify today. For many of us, Raines was the first time we went to school with each other, but certainly not the last time our lives would intertwine. Some even found their soulmates roaming those same halls.
Lastly, the building at 3663 Raines Avenue is a tremendous part of an already neglected part of town. It is an area where resources are few, the housing stock is older, and people to this day look to school number 165 as a beacon in dark, stormy night. The third leg of that stool, though it is strong, can be made stronger. If the school board cares about the students at Raines and the surrounding neighborhood, they should show them by improving the school. By upgrading its technology so that it can compete with other schools. By incentivizing teachers so that the best wants to teach at Raines. There is not a logical reason to tear down a building because you want to create something new.
Raines can be remodeled in the same manner as Robert E. Lee. It can be expanded in the same manner as Duncan U. Fletcher. To tear down one leg of that stool is no different than to pull the rug out from under us. We all know the school board has done that before.
-Lee R. Brown III