Faculty, staff reminisce ahead of Jefferson Junior High transition

Saturday, July 13, 2013 | 8:42 p.m. CDT; updated 9:01 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 13, 2013
Current and former faculty and staff members from Jefferson Junior met at Stephens Lake Part to reunite before the district's grade reorganization in August.

COLUMBIA — During her career as an educator, Cheryl Haynes taught at schools in Missouri, Kansas and Colorado, but she called her 14 years as a health sciences teacher at Jefferson Junior High School the highlight.

"The most powerful professional learning I experienced was at Jeff," Haynes said. "I became a better teacher."

Haynes, who retired in 2005 but still takes on long-term substitute positions at Jefferson, recalled the familial atmosphere of the school.

"Everyone shared everything," Haynes said, looking back on how teachers would swap lesson plans, teaching strategies and new teaching technologies. "You never had to re-invent the wheel."

For the current and former faculty and staff who gathered at Stephens Lake Park on Saturday — its July 13 date picked to commemorate the school's 713 Rogers St. address — the original Jefferson Junior High will always have a place in Columbia's history.

"For many Columbians, when they think about that corner, they think about going to school there," said Greg Grupe, a former Jefferson administrator who now works at Hickman High School.

Jefferson Junior High was founded in 1911 as Columbia's first public high school, then known as Columbia High School. When Hickman opened in 1927, the school become a junior high school. Staff members, many of whom taught in different decades, all remembered being close-knit.

"Jeff was always more than bricks and mortar," said Nyle Klinginsmith, Jefferson's principal from 1998 to 2008. "It was the people there. You're so honored to be part of that when you work there."

Following Columbia Public Schools' grade reorganization in August 2013, Jefferson Junior High will become Jefferson Middle School. Ninth graders will leave for high school, sixth graders will join seventh- and eighth- graders in middle schools, and more than half the staff, including the six longest-serving members, will move or retire.

"It really is very much the end of one era and the beginning of another," Grupe said.

Roy Willard, who worked at Jefferson for more than 30 years, 20 of which he spent as principal, said he understands the necessity of the transition. Ninth-grade students at Jefferson took credits toward graduation, but Willard said the junior high atmosphere prevented some of them from taking their work seriously.

"It's a logical progression," Willard said of the district's transition to four-year high schools. "It was fun, but we understand why it had to change."

Klinginsmith said Jefferson staff stuck together even during difficult years. He recalled a year when the school was so overcrowded that it took more than a dozen trailers to accommodate all the students.

But he said his biggest memories as an educator were of the children he taught. Some students came to Jefferson after facing difficult times. After receiving support from teachers, many left ready for success. Klinginsmith said that as the school transitions to a middle school, he hopes the staff will be able to keep its old dynamic.

"We hope that Jeff will always be Jeff," Klinginsmith said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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