COLUMBIA — Major changes await Jefferson Junior High School’s students and teachers returning to classes this fall.
Columbia Public Schools will eliminate its three junior highs this fall and turn them into middle schools. Columbia’s first junior high will become Jefferson Middle School, ending 86 years of service to students and families.
Highlights of Jefferson Junior High School's history will be displayed on a bronze plaque in a commemorative sign on the corner of Eighth and Rogers streets.
- 1927 – Founded for students in grades 7-9
- 1963 – Achieved full racial integration
- 1974 – Accredited by North Central Association of Schools
- 1984-85, 1989-90. 1992-93 – Named a Missouri Gold Star school
- 1992-93 – Named a Blue Ribbon School by the US Department of Education
- 1994 – Became an 8th and 9th grade school as Columbia adds a middle school program
- 2003 – Named a notable property of Columbia
- 2013 – Transitioned to Jefferson Middle School for students in grades 6-8
Teachers will move, ninth-graders will relocate and the name Jefferson Junior High School will become part of history.
“We have become part of Columbia’s identity,” Nyle Klinginsmith, former principal at Jefferson Junior High, said. “Columbia identifies itself stronger with Jefferson High because we have been there for longer, from grandparents to grandsons.”
To commemorate the school’s history and identity, Klinginsmith and Sondra Flaker, along with other members of a committee of mostly former staff and parents, are working to place several historic markers at the school.
The project consists of a large bronze plaque highlighting important dates from the school’s timeline, mounted between two red brick pillars at the corner of Eighth and Rogers streets that would blend with the architecture of the school, and two smaller bronze plaques to be mounted in the school’s lobbies.
“It is such transition period that children need to be at a place where they can be part of something and get involved in it,” Flaker, mother of five Jefferson Junior High graduates, said.
Through the athletics and extracurricular activities, such as the arts program or the science club, Jefferson High has been successful in reaching out to children and getting them involved, Klinginsmith said. He has worked at the school for 38 years.
“Jefferson Junior High has given a sense of belonging to the students,”Klinginsmith said.
Flaker still remembers how excited her youngest daughter, Lauren, was after an overnight tour of the school’s history given by her basketball coach, especially when it referred to the years of the Depression.
“Sometimes history is what makes you proud of your school, what makes you desire to be part of it. Giving that to others is meaningful,” she said.
Klinginsmith recalls the intense competition and spirit between the school’s red and white Cyclones and the West Junior High Vikings as one the most memorable chapters of the school’s history.
“Tickets were sold out before the games even started,” he said.
Every year, since 1948, Jefferson Junior High hosts a basketball tournament for ninth-graders. Since there won't be a ninth grade at the school next year, the competition will come to an end.
“Middle schools have a different philosophy on athletics. They focus more on participation than on competition,” Klinginsmith said. “It is the start of a new era.”
Not everything will change. The school's iconic two-tower building at the corner of Eighth and Rogers streets will remain untouched, and so will the annual Bob Burton award, which rewards a child that has improved and become more involved as a student.
“Every year, there is a strong personal story that must be celebrated,” Klinginsmith said.
The estimated cost to build the bronze plaque as a historic marker is $12,000, which will be covered by donations. Organizers have raised 35 to 40 percent of the total cost, Klinginsmith said.
The large bronze plaque was designed by Peckham & Wright Architects Inc., which took the idea from the Introduction to Engineering Design class, taught by Craig Adams at Jefferson Junior High.
This summer, the concrete base for the sign will be set up and the committee is hopeful to have it built by fall, when the school opens again, this time as Jefferson Middle School.
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