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Wheatley High School (Houston)



Phillis Wheatley High School is a secondary school located at 4801 Providence Street in Houston, Texas, United States with a ZIP code of 77020. Wheatley is a part of the Houston Independent School District. Wheatley, named after Phillis Wheatley, is located inside the 610 Loop in the Fifth Ward.

Wheatley has a technology magnet program inherited from the closure of Middle College for Technology Careers in spring 2006; Wheatley's program began in fall 2006.

In 1979 Wheatley principal Charles Herbert said that "For many, Fifth Ward is Wheatley High School" and that African-Americans who grew up in the Fifth Ward "still cling closely to Wheatley" even after they had moved to other parts of the United States.

In 1927 Wheatley High School was one of the largest Black high schools in the United States with 2,600 students and 60 teachers, and it was such throughout the segregation era. By 1949 Wheatley's first facility on Lyons Avenue became so overcrowded that students attended in shifts. During that year the 14-acre (5.7 ha), $2.5 million 4900 Market Street campus opened. The most expensive high school built in Houston at the time, the campus was designed by the firm MacKie & Kamrath in a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced modernist style. The campus, described by the Houston Chronicle as "the finest Negro high school in the South," had a 1,500-seat auditorium, a gymnasium, an industrial arts facility, and a swimming pool. The school district spent attention on Wheatley in order to promote the argument that segregated minority schools can be equal to segregated White schools. The former Wheatley campus became E.O. Smith Middle School, and later the Carter Career Center.

In the 1970s Houston ISD had been desegregated. As the Fifth Ward as a neighborhood experienced a surge in crime, Houston ISD rezoned the Denver Harbor neighborhood, which had many White residents, to Wheatley. At that time the neighborhood was quickly becoming Hispanic. Many area Hispanic students preferred to attend Austin High School and Furr High School as they became the majority population at those schools. John Nova Lomax of the Houston Press stated that pride and discipline at Wheatley began to disintegrate in the 1970s, as counselors complained about a low level of morale among the students. The school abolished corporal punishment around that time, since White parents did not want Black teachers to physically punish white students, and Black parents did not want White teachers to physically punish black students. In addition, many of Wheatley's new White teachers, many of whom did not live in the Fifth Ward, had a lack of experience in teaching inner city Black students. Wylie Henry, a former HISD board member, said that many of the new White teachers "came in and tried to be kids' friends instead of their teachers." In 1979 Principal Herald stated that integration caused the best students and teachers to leave the school.

In the mid-1980s, as crack cocaine became an epidemic in many inner-city neighborhoods, Wheatley students and teachers complained about security issues regarding some area apartments. In 1985 three youngsters walked onto the campus and shot an English teacher who had been conducting drill team rehearsals in the cafeteria. In 1986 a Hispanic student who had transferred from Dallas shot another Hispanic student in the face. After Joan Raymond became superintendent in 1986, she considered closing Wheatley because of difficulties in making the school have acceptable academic achievement and safety. Michael Berryhill of the Houston Press said that it was not politically possible to have the school closed since there were too many Wheatley alumni who did not want their school to be closed.

A new campus for Wheatley High School, designed by Willie Jordan, a Wheatley alum, was under construction in the same plot of land as the first 4900 Market Street campus, although the address changed to 4801 Providence Street. The construction ended in fall 2006 and the new campus opened. The old 4900 Market Street campus was demolished. The new campus's original budget was $35,000,000. Construction began in summer 2004 and ended during summer 2006. The lead architect was ESPA Architecture, with the lead manager as Gilbane.

The current $35 million Wheatley campus opened in June 2006. The architect of the campus, ESPA Group, won an award for "Outstanding Architecture and Design in Education" by School Planning & Management magazine for the Wheatley campus. The school appears in the June 2008 issue of School Planning & Management's Education Design Showcase.

In September 2014 the HISD school board approved the demolition of the 1929 Wheatley High School building. That year HISD began efforts to demolish the 1929 Wheatley High School but several lawsuits filed by October of that year prevented the district from entirely destroying the building. Three people, former and current residents of the Fifth Ward, had filed lawsuits in an attempt to prevent the demolition. Dan Hinde, a Texas state district judge, dismissed the lawsuits in December of that year. The district immediately proceeded with the demolition of the remainder of the structure. HISD plans to build a new school on that site.

Historically the American football game between Wheatley and Yates High School was among the most prominent ones in the United States. In the segregation era Wheatley did not play games against white high schools. Beginning in 1927, each Thanksgiving Day the school's American football team played Yates High School's football team at the Jeppeson Stadium. The Yates-Wheatley Thanksgiving football match, described by On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of World War II author Jack Hamann as "the most important noncollege football game in the country", often had crowds that had over 30,000 people. The rivalry declined after Yates joined the UIL, and after the football leagues integrated the Thanksgiving Day Yates-Wheatley game ended.

Percy McDavid, one of the few American music teachers in the 1930s who taught both classical music and jazz in orchestra courses, developed Wheatley's musical programs in that decade. Duke Ellington made a 1935 visit to hear Wheatley's orchestra. Various famed musicians graduated from Wheatley in that time period, including Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet. While operating this program McDavid received help from his brother, Russell McDavid.






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