Olecia James, 11th grader at East Side High School posing with a mural of their mascot, the Trojan. Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

CLEVELAND – Olecia James, an 11th grader at East Side High School, finished her last day of school last week, but on Monday she roamed the hallways of her school, reflecting on memories and preparing herself for what’s to come.

“I was actually done with school on Friday, but I’ve been coming to school because I know this will be my last time walking the hall, last time seeing everything,” said James.

“It’s bittersweet,” she said, contemplating the last days of East Side, which won’t be a high school next fall because of a federal desegregation order. “It’s like you’re the first to graduate from Cleveland Central High School, but couldn’t be the last to graduate from the school you originally wanted to graduate from.”

The school year ended for Cleveland schools on Tuesday.

Beginning this fall, the consolidated high school, Cleveland Central High, will house ninth through 12th graders at the former Cleveland High and Margaret Green Junior High facilities. The campus of the district’s other high school facility, East Side, will serve as the new consolidated middle school, renamed Cleveland Central Middle, for seventh and eighth graders.

Students from the four schools being merged – East Side, Cleveland High School, D.M. Smith Middle School and Margaret Green Junior High School – expressed feelings of loss, but also hopes for next year.

Some students said they’re going to miss tradition, friendships and the family environments of their particular school.

Patrick Davis, 10th grader at Cleveland High School Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

Patrick Davis, 10th grader at Cleveland High, said he’s sad because he loves the homey environment, his friends, and the school’s mascot.

“The Wildcat was pretty cool,” said Davis. “It was a pretty cool mascot.”

Tyler Smith, 10th grader at East Side, said he is unsure about how he feels about the closing of East Side, but he is for certain he will miss “the black and gold,” the school’s colors.

“It goes a long way,” said James in relation to the school’s pride. “Everywhere we go, I don’t care how far it is, the fans are there, the pride is there. No other words to describe it, it’s just the pride.”

Jovona Mason Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

Jovona Mason, 8th grader at Margaret Green said it’s hard leaving her school. “I’m going to miss being a Wildcat, my teachers, the pep rallies, everything,” said Mason. “Wish me luck on being a Wolf.”

For others, it’s graduating from their dream school.

Ava Lubin, 10th grader at Cleveland High, said with tears in her eyes that she hates not being able to graduate from her school. Lubin mentioned how as a middle schooler she told her father consistently of her dreams of attending and graduating from Cleveland High.

Ava Lubin, 10th grader at Cleveland High school Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

“I want to go to Cleveland High, I want to be a Wildcat, I want to do this,” said Lubin.

For others, forming strong friendships are on that list of things they will miss.

“It hurts because we made new friends here. We used to not get along and now we’ve came together … one bond, and now it’s going all away because we’re becoming a bigger school and a bigger community,” said Valecia Wardy, eighth grader at D.M. Smith.

Wardy said it’s nerve wracking knowing there will be no more D.M. Smith because they’ve progressed so much as students and as family.

Jeffery Rigdon Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

“I like this school because I’ve met new friends,” said Jeffery Rigdon, sixth grader at Margaret Green. “If I could have stayed here a little more, then I would have actually learned more people’s names and become more people’s friends.”

He said he’s unsure if he will attend the new middle school, but he’s excited for the new middle school.

Students also gave opinions about the school consolidation.

“I wish they could have thought it out more,” said Lubin. She said she’s fine with the consolidation now, but she said she wishes the district would have built a new school instead of using old facilities. She said the process feels rushed.

Toney Williams Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

Toney Williams, 8th grader at D.M. Smith, said he felt honored to be a part of one of the last classes to depart from the school: “We’re all going into one school, and I feel like we should all come together as one.”

Smith agreed: “It’s a new experience. Moving up to 5A (competition level based on school size), leaving 3A, there’s more opportunities.”

Davis said he’s excited for the prospective talent at Cleveland Central High.

“Since we’re coming together and being moved to 5A, we’re gonna have more talent and we can be a better team altogether,” said Davis. Despite the sports rivalry between East Side and Cleveland High, Davis mentioned how the two teams worked well together during spring training practices.

From being a former teacher, coach, and administrator to principal at Cleveland High over the course of  26 years, Steven Craddock said it’s sad that this institution will be no more, but is hopeful for the years to come.

“With that being said, I am very excited about the potential for next year and the years to come, so it’s bittersweet, sadness and pride, but at the same time excitement and hope,” said Craddock.

“I am hoping under Dr. Grierson’s leadership with our pooled resources of people and talents that we can become a model for the Delta and also a highly competitive district right up there academically with the Desoto counties and Madison counties schools,” said Craddock.

A hallway in East Side High School in Cleveland Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

“One thing we have is an opportunity to do something that most people say can’t be done because historically in the Mississippi Delta this never worked,’ said Randy Grierson, current East Side principal. He is designated to be head principal for Cleveland Central High.

“This is the last opportunity in the Mississippi Delta to make this work and we’re bound and determined to do that.”

L’Kenna Whitehead, current principal at D.M. Smith and the designated head principal for Cleveland Central Middle School said he thinks the consolidation is a great opportunity: “It’s progress in the right direction. I think the consolidation will allow the students to benefit more academically.”

Archie R. Mitchell, current principal at Margaret Green Junior High, stated that he had mixed feelings towards the consolidation.

“In one hand I see the traditions and culture of two dynasties being lost. In the other hand, I see where two cultures could merge to be great only if it is done properly,” said Mitchell. “So far as uniting the town, time will only tell if the Cleveland School District’s effort will result in a productive unification.”

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.

One reply on “Era ends for Cleveland students, staff”

  1. Time for Steven Craddock to acknowledge that the Southern bigotry of the slave owner days is corrupt. Blacks can be just as smart or SMARTER than whites… ref: Eric Holder, Joy Reid, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and millions more.
    Time for you to get educated.
    Time for you to man up.
    ref: forcing Black valedictorian to share title with white student with lower GPA

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