Showing posts with label Omaha Central. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Omaha Central. Show all posts

Thursday, April 05, 2012

So square they have corners

June 1966: In New York, "Mad Men" Don Draper and Harry Crane are backstage at a Rolling Stones concert. Harry's trying to land the Stones for a TV commercial -- "Heinz is on my side." Yes, he is.

Meantime, four-cornered Don waits in the corridor and quizzes a flirty teenage girl about the ascendant youth culture. The only thing he gets out of the encounter is --
perhaps -- a slight contact high from all the pot smoke.

Harry inhales directly and lands the Stones for the TV spot. Only it wasn't the Rolling Stones . . . try the Trade Winds

"Why do you think they call it dope?

A THOUSAND-SOMETHING miles to the west, the radio men of Omaha's KBON also want to know what the deal is with this teen-culture thing. They come up with a great idea -- basically, "Hey, guys! Let's put on a show!"

This explains the above advertisement in the
Central High Register. And as Megan said to Don before he set off to see "the most dangerous band in the world," the KBON folk leave no doubt that they're so square they have corners.

They would have known this had they "asked the teenager" before placing that ad.

Like, who is that supposed to be anyway?
Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd?

BEATS the hell out of me. Maybe I can ask a "telephone gal."

They always know what's going on.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The radiophone voice of Central High

Omaha started to go "radiophone" crazy as far back as the end of December 1921, when R.B. Howell over at the municipal water-and-gas works fired up his transmitting apparatus, and station WOU became Nebraska's first broadcast voice.

A few months later WAAW chimed in from the Omaha Grain Exchange, and then station WOAW just a year later. By April 1923, radio fever was getting the river city a little bit radiophone delirious.

Take Central High School as a case in point.

In 1922, students were agitating for a radiophone receiver to be installed at the school on "Capitol Hill" downtown. By May 1923, Central had opened its own broadcast station -- KFCZ, operating on 360 meters.

Think of it . . . we fancy ourselves today as quick to embrace transformative new technology. We got
nothing on the teachers and teenagers of nine decades ago.

Nine decades ago
in Omaha, by God, Nebraska. High-school radio . . . in 1923.

Every generation, in its youth, thinks the well-worn path it trods is
terra incognita. For some reason, I think this phenomenon is worse in the South -- in the late '20s, Louisianians actually thought they were being progressive by implementing free textbooks in public schools. Instead, they were finally catching up to the Yankees.

N 1977, we thought we were some sort of a first when WBRH signed on with a whole 10 watts of FM power at Baton Rouge High. Not exactly.

And a half-century before, my college alma mater, Louisiana State University, got its first station in 1924, months and months after Omaha Central High.
KFGC was Baton Rouge's first radio station; KFCZ was Omaha's fourth --maybe fifth.

For a while, at least, Omaha's high-school station was on a par with everybody else in town -- the suits at the grain exchange and the fraternal bigwigs at Woodmen of the World, WOAW's owner. At least in terms of the oomph behind those "Hertzian waves" that emanated from the KFCZ aerial.

IN 1925, the radio voice of Central High would become KOCH, running with as much as 500 watts by the next year. Back then, that wasn't nothing -- that was on a par with the "big boys" of broadcasting. Well, at least as big as Midwestern broadcasting got in the mid-'20s.

Broadcasts were received 100 miles away and, according to the school paper, The Weekly Register, "students and teachers participated in making our broadcasts equal to the best in the city."

of 1928, though,
KOCH was no more. Back in Washington, D.C., the Federal Radio Commission had decided that high-school radio stations weren't a compelling use for precious frequencies on the now-crowded broadcast band.

I suspect many student broadcasters thought that was complete bushwa. Imagine . . . nonsense emanating from the rarefied ether of our nation's capital.

Nine decades on, some things never change.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Shoot the messenger principal

Denial in the name of "school reform" is going to do no one any good.

And in Omaha, politically correct political posturing may have just turned into full-blown delusion. Unfortunately, Washington has the clout -- and state officials are craven enough -- to turn a public-policy psychotic break into a world of hurt for children . . . and for those struggling to teach them.

Here's the story: One day, Nebraska education officials are praising the excellence of four local high schools. The next, the state puts the schools on a "persistently lowest achieving" list, qualifying them for federal stimulus money aimed at lifting troubled schools out of the educational gutter.

To qualify for these stimulus funds, Omaha Public Schools must institute "reforms" at the excellent-yet-underachieving schools, reforms ranging from removing the "excellent" administrators to shutting down the "excellent" schools.

We are Americans. That means we do insane things, from destroying Vietnamese villages in order to save them from the Red Menace to closing "excellent" schools to rescue them from dissoluteness.

AND IN OMAHA, according to a story in today's World-Herald, Americans are about to elevate their "crazy" to a whole new level:
The full list includes 28 high schools, eight middle schools and 18 elementary schools. Two of the schools house both middle and high school students.

Included on the list are five Omaha area high schools Omaha Central, Omaha North, Omaha South, Omaha Benson and Bellevue East. Indian Hill Elementary School in OPS also made the list.

The designation could mean federal grant funding for the schools if their districts agree to reforms prescribed by the Obama administration such as staffing changes at each school building.

John Mackiel, superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools, expressed frustration Wednesday at OPS schools making the list.

The four OPS high schools made the list because they have graduation rates below 75 percent.

Mackiel sharply criticized state officials for labeling the schools in order to receive federal funding.

“I don't believe there's anything more reprehensible than gaming the system to access $77 million of federal money by accepting it and then labeling schools that two months ago you just celebrated in terms of the educational opportunities going on in those schools,” he said.

Schools on the list are eligible for a total of $17 million in grants, but there probably will only be enough money to serve schools with the greatest need of improvement. As a result, many of the districts with schools listed won't have to make difficult decisions on whether to remove principals or take other drastic measures.

Schools that accept federal School Improvement Grants would have to implement one of four models. The models range in severity from removing the principal to closing the school.

Nebraska sought and received a waiver in the federal rules allowing use of a graduation rate of 75 percent instead of the 60 percent called for by the federal government.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Roger Breed said no Nebraska high schools except for Native American schools would have qualified for funding at 60 percent.


Mackiel called it “a curious Alice-in-Wonderland contradiction” that in February, the Nebraska Department of Education performed an annual assessment of the district and issued a “glowing” report commending the leadership at South, North, Central and Benson high schools.

In the next 10 days, Mackiel said, graduating seniors at the four high schools will be awarded more than $25 million in scholarships, “but to see the list today you wouldn't know that.”
MACKIEL is right. Both Central and North, to name just two, are excellent schools. Both feature first-rate facilities, and Omaha North also is a magnet school.

What all Omaha's "failing" schools also happen to be are smack-dab in the inner city. What all Omaha's "failing" schools happen to be charged with is educating most of the offspring of the city's underclass.

These are the young victims of a failed culture, one which values many things, just not education, responsibility, achievement or familial stability. Back when I was taking just enough college sociology courses to be dangerous, one term of art for such was "deviant." Another was "dysfunctional."

As in "deviant behavior." Within a "dysfunctional environment."

According to the state -- and to the feds, eager to remedy a crisis, just not the right one -- the likes of Benson, North, South and Central are "persistently lowest achieving" schools because they graduate only 75 percent of the children who wander through their doors. According to the real world, Jesus Christ never performed a bigger miracle when he caused Peter to walk on water or fed more than 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

Verily, I say unto thee if North, South, Central and Benson were more white, less underclass and a lot more suburban, the quality of teaching going on there would have the world beating a path unto them as the new MIT, if not the new Jerusalem.

But you cannot say that in America, because that would be impolitic.

IT IS BETTER for state and federal officials to ignore that Omaha, for example, has the third-highest black poverty rate in the nation. Ignore that its percentage of African-American children in poverty is atop the American hit parade of suck.

No, it is much more expedient to pretend that none of these things stack the deck against even the best educators and the best-resourced schools. It's a lot easier to downplay the fact that this kind of endemic poverty breeds real cultural deviance -- as opposed to America's everyday, middling cultural deviance -- and that a deviant hip-hop subculture glorifying Every Wrong Thing takes real cultural deviance and supersizes it.

Why, oh why, open up that can of racially-charged Whoop-Ass when you can just blame the schools instead?

Not acknowledging plain facts does not make them any less plain. Or factual.

It certainly doesn't make stigmatizing certain schools and punishing the educators formerly known as "excellent" any less of an insanely stupid starting point for embarking on the Sisyphean task of trying to fix broken people and a deviant culture.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Grateful in a strange land

I have lived in Omaha, by God, Nebraska for 22 years now and -- still -- there are times when I feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Saturday was another one of those times.

That was the day Central High School opened its doors to the community to celebrate its 150th-anniversary school year -- it was founded in 1859 as Omaha High School, just four years after the city's incorporation and eight years before Nebraska would win statehood. Its present building, the "new" Omaha Central, went up between 1900 and 1912.

You see what a beautiful structure it is.

ALMOST half a lifetime ago, I immigrated to Omaha from a foreign land . . . so to speak. Specifically, an exotic and strange Caribbean outpost by the name of "Louisiana."

It has been rumored that "Louisiana" is not a foreign land at all, but instead one of these United States. Technically, that may be true.

Technically, the cop running the small-town speed trap doesn't have a quota to make, either.

Anyway, I grew up in Baton Rouge, where I graduated from the oldest school in the city. Baton Rouge High came into being sometime around 1880 -- this in a city settled in 1699 and incorporated in 1817, five years after Louisiana became a state.

Its present building, the "new" Baton Rouge High, went into use in 1927.

You see, in this 2007 photo, what a dilapidated structure it is.

Having done no meaningful maintenance --
obviously -- on Baton Rouge High since I graduated in 1979, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board managed to get a sales tax and millage renewed so it would have the money to fix the school facilities.

This after toying with the idea of tearing down the building after years of
never toying with the idea of keeping it in good repair.

OF COURSE, "fixing" Baton Rouge High now requires tearing down the entire campus, save the historical main building. And the fate of the original building will involve more "renovation" than "restoration" -- there's not enough money for a full restoration.

All this will require relocating the entire student body for two years as the campus is renovated and rebuilt.

AT OMAHA CENTRAL, meanwhile, keeping up with the times -- and technology -- hasn't meant destroying the charms of a bygone age, save some false ceilings in classrooms here and there. Above is Central's courtyard, created when the "new" school was built around the old, which left what you see here upon its demolition.

Some years back, covering the courtyard with a clear roof created an atrium, now used as a gathering space and food court.

WHEN A NEW gynmasium opened at Omaha Central, workers renovated the old gym (above) into a second cafeteria and multipurpose space. Another view is below.

WHILE WE'RE speaking of gyms, I guess you might want to see Central's new one:

AND WHILE I'M showing you Omaha Central's new gym, I suppose you might like to see Baton Rouge High's gymnasium:

IN CASE it isn't obvious, there are no potholes in the floor of the Omaha Central gym. There are large ones in the floor of the Baton Rouge High gym.

And, yes, the locker rooms at my alma mater are as nasty as they look. Tetanus may be a concern, I don't know.

It is difficult to explain things like this to Omahans, who support inner-city public schools like Central -- that of the beautiful old building, and of the brand-new gymnasium and football stadium.

In fact, about two-and-a-half years ago, when I got some of my Baton Rouge High pictures developed at an Omaha photo lab, the proprietor asked my wife about them. He wanted to know whether the photos were of a school destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

In other words, what people in my hometown had come to accept as normative, people in Omaha assumed was a victim of a catastrophe.

I come from a foreign land. Things are different here in the United States.

Potholes are what you try to avoid on city streets after a rough winter. Potholes are not what you worry about breaking your ankle in during phys ed.

At dear old Baton Rouge High, the old gym will not be renovated into cafeteria space. It will be bulldozed.

THE NEED for bulldozing speaks volumes about the esteem in which public education is held in my old Louisiana home.

Above is a common sight in the 1927 main building at Baton Rouge High. Moisture intrusion is causing plaster to fall off the walls in chunks. Has been for years, apparently.

MEANTIME, IN OMAHA, this is what it looks like in the hallways of Central High. Remember, this building is a couple of decades older than Baton Rouge High. Here's another view:

What it comes down to -- as I've said over and over, ad infinitum -- is culture. The South, and particularly Louisiana, never has been inclined toward public education.

Likewise, the South -- and particularly Louisiana -- never has been inclined toward a strong civic culture . . . or functional egalitarianism.

Recall that my alma mater, Baton Rouge High, did not exist until around 1880. Baton Rouge incorporated, remember, in 1817.

In 1859, the year Omaha Central came into being, there were public schools in Louisiana -- and at least one in East Baton Rouge Parish, I gather, but they were few in number and less than rooted in their communities.

That is because the South was -- and is, to a substantial degree -- a society based on class, and the privileges thereof. If your station in life allowed you the luxury of an education, that could be purchased.

If one was of mean estate, that's how one was apt to live out one's days -- poor. And ill-educated.

And for the vast majority of Southern blacks in 1859. . . .

A CENTURY AND A HALF later in Baton Rouge, those who have the means can purchase a fine, private education -- and that's where you'll find most white kids today. In private schools. Where they fled, starting in 1981, when "forced busing" came to town in the name of racial integration.

Meanwhile, the most prestigious public school in town looks like a casualty of Katrina. More than 30 years ago, when I was a student there, Baton Rouge High was notable for being the least decrepit school I'd attended.

To hell with all that.

To hell with a system where, yes, a school board can erect a nice, new facility where one once lay in ruins -- laid waste by official malfeasance and profound civic indifference -- but where one also has little confidence that what soon will be state of the art won't, in a decade or three, be in just as sad a state as the ruins it replaced.

To hell with it.

Children are a society's treasure, and if what befell Baton Rouge High is any indication -- and it is -- my hometown for decades, if not forever, has been casting swine before pearls. Children also are not stupid, and also for a couple of decades or so upon reaching adulthood, they've been voting in a referendum on the Gret Stet of Loosiana.

With their feet.

THEN THEY BECOME -- like so many of my generation of native Louisianians -- transplants in a strange land, one day walking into a public school and finding they have no frame of reference for the relative wonder they behold.

Like refugees stepping off a plane just arrived from some Third World enclave, they find themselves strangers in a strange land.

And "strange" is good.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poise amid the storm

Omaha Central threw a 150th anniversary party Saturday, and the festivities at the city's oldest high school featured a concert by alumni of the A Capella Choir.

You may think handing out programs for the performance was a pretty easy job. Amid that teeming mob? That child is made of tempered steel, let me tell you.

Mein Gott, ist Götterdämmerung! And remember, keep smiling,

Offer a program, smile. Offer a program, smile. Offer, smile. Offer, smile.

Trust me, that part of the job would kill an old curmudgeon like moi.

Then . . . blessed relief.

Happy sesquicentennial, Central.