New name, new identity for Columbia students when Battle High opens

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:16 a.m. CDT, Thursday, May 23, 2013

COLUMBIA — A name is an identity.

For 115 years, Columbia high school students have identified as Douglass students. For 86 years, high schoolers have identified as Hickman students. For 40 years, they have identified with the name Rock Bridge. As fall ushers in a new school year, Columbia students will have a new name to use as an identity: Muriel Williams Battle High School.

Battle students will have quite the legacy to live up to, Battle principal Kim Presko said. Muriel Battle, a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent, was instrumental in desegregating Columbia schools, along with her husband, Eliot.

"Muriel Battle hired me in this district 23 years ago," said Presko, who previously was the principal at Oakland Junior High School. "She was influential in some of my success as an early administrator, and it's my opportunity now to carry on her legacy and help this building be what I know she would want it to be."

The opening of Battle High School will change the colors of Columbia. Douglass blue, Rock Bridge green and Hickman purple will be joined by Battle navy blue and gold. Spartan logos will cover the bumpers of more and more cars. Instead of two homecoming games, there will be three.

Battle will change Columbia Public Schools. In its first year, Battle will be a pilot for a new technology initiative. When Battle students walk through the doors in August, every single one of them will be handed an iPad Mini. This will be their notebook and their textbook. District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said Columbia Public Schools will look to Battle to decide how to proceed. 

In addition to iPads and new facilities, Battle students can expect a block schedule, with 85-minute classes. Presko has carried over from Oakland Junior High the idea of a 30-minute period, now called "Spartan Time," that provides students the opportunity to get additional help from teachers or work on group projects.

Community members and Battle parents can expect to watch football games in a stadium that seats 4,300 and musicals and productions in a performing arts center that seats 750.

When school starts in the fall, about 1,100 freshmen, sophomores and juniors will fill up the 300,000 square feet of Battle. A projected 1,500 will attend in 2014-2015, Presko said, and the capacity is 1,850. About $75 million was budgeted to make Battle a reality, and as of early May, Baumstark said the construction cost was projected to be $250,000 under budget.

The first graduating class of Battle, the class of 2015, had a look at the new facilities in mid-April. Students said they were excited about the new technology at their fingertips, excited about the brand new building, with floors "shiny enough to see reflections," and excited to look outside of their floor-to-ceiling cafeteria windows at the vast, green football field. 

But perhaps most of all, they are excited to be first. They are excited to be remembered.

"As part of the first class, I know my name will be left somewhere on this building," said Kyra Moss, a Hickman sophomore." I didn't want to leave Hickman because of the traditions they have in theater. But Battle will be here for forever, and I want to be remembered. I want to help create traditions, so people won't want to leave Battle."

In this Missourian special section, you will hear the voices of the future Battle students, teachers and administrators. You will see the process behind creating a school from start to finish. You will meet Eliot Battle and hear about the significance behind the name. You will have a window into how Battle High School has already changed Columbia and how it will continue to do so.

Fast-forward a year. What will Battle High School be like?

"I am really hopeful that Battle will be a state-of-the-art school, not only in terms of the facility, but also in terms of the instruction, in terms of the sense of community that we have here," Battle Guidance Director Leigh Spence said. "I'm hoping after one year people will say, 'Oh Battle, that school is really cool and close-knit. Those students really support each other.'"

Fast-forward 40 years or 86 years or 115 years. Columbia will be different because Battle High School exists. This is a documentation of the start of change.

What will the name "Battle" stand for in the years to come? What kind of culture and identity will be formed?

"The culture all comes down to the people who make up this place," said Presko, as she motioned to the gleaming building behind her.

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