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The End of an Era

Dave Miner

By Dave Minor

And it is, with Harrison High School being remodeled and actually getting “true” walls now.  Almost all of the gaudy orange cabinets, tacky yellowish half-wall partitions, and brown faux wood cabinets are gone, to be replaced by modern ones. “Everything old is new again,” thanks to the community supporting the bond issue a year or so ago. I’m sure there’ll be a remnant here or there from the past once we get settled back in to the building in early September, but for the most part it’ll look at lot different at HHS.

During the cleaning out process, we’ve found old dittoes from the 1970s and ’80s, film strips and cassette tapes used for stories, an old typewriter, and more. Going through my desk recently, I found a folder full of old notes, thank you cards from others, and even discipline reports on former students.

Pictures of students I found (having in the past taken individual pictures of each student) often were moms and dads of some I have now. When I showed some of these to current students, perhaps it made them realize that their parents also had to go the “trials and tribulations” of high school, too.

As a clean-shaven student teacher of 1984, I was occasionally mistaken for a student, while now the gray (white, really) in my mustache and on the sides of my head might make me look like a pupil’s grandpa. There was one student last year (whom I didn’t have in class) whose step-grandpa I had when I started. So, it’s been a while. The cleaning/purging of old “stuff” for me generated memories, good and not-so-good of my 30-some years here. I imagine it’s happened to other staff who’ve been here a while, too.

Some of those who were there then or soon after during the move from the previous high school building (today Hillside) to the wall-less “Open Concept” HHS in 1974 include Wylie Sullivan (history teacher and later counselor), Mary Jane Ogg and Linda Robinson (English), Diane Wood (speech and drama), Nancy Skop (social studies), Bruce (“Bird”) Brandon (government/economics and track coach), Dick Harris (social studies/football coach), Bill Pifer (science and computers), , Kurt Kickbush and Judy Rzepka (business/typing), Mike Roberts (shop), Terin Wales (math), Shelly Greer (art), Scott Savara (drafting) and others, all of whom are retired now. 

Principals who were here in the past include John Tobey and Jim Rosencrans and then Dale Barr, and of course Tom House who worked for the school system for close to four decades. Long-serving coaches (also teachers) some will remember besides Harris and Brandon are C.C. Hilliard, Dave Rowe, Brian Schmittner, Bill Mishler, Mike Petrongelli, Ron McCulloch, Karen Bolton, Mary Duvall, and Jim Cooper (also A.D.), among others.

For those who don’t know, because of the burgeoning population coming “Up North” (partly to escape the city, partly for the cheaper housing in converted cabins), Harrison Community Schools looked into a bond issue in the late ’60s but it didn’t pass initially. Then, with a scaled-down version (no walls in the high school or in Larson), it was funded, and construction commenced, with the move-in around January 1974.

I remember Mr. Harris and Mr. Brandon mentioning on drives to football games when I’d videotape for them that the learning was different then, too. Students were supposed to be more “independent,” choose what units to study, basically go at their own pace using packets. At first, I guess back in the mid ’70s the teacher didn’t “stand at the front of the room and lecture” like you’d assume was done back then (and even now to an extent). You’re seeing a push to that once again, with online schooling where students work at their own pace, with some control over what units they do, and even to an extent in traditional high schools.

Educational shifts are big right now in Michigan, as I just read in an article in The Detroit News that they want our state to get out of the old-fashioned learning mode. Project-based curriculum, group discussion, and individual choice for kids is what they think will better get them ready for the working world. We’ve come almost full circle again, just like with the building (as the high school was a traditional one in the 1950s).

Some of the changes I’ve seen in the 34 years since I started here including:

Switching from semesters to trimesters and back again…partial wall dividers put in the halls when the new Middle School was built (1996)…the gain and loss of sports like Golf and Wrestling, extra-curricular activities like Forensics, Mock Trial, Key Club, and more.

HHS had two separate newspaper and yearbook classes, more drama and drafting courses, and even home economics and others that aren’t offered anymore due to our smaller enrollment. We had the decorating of areas before going back to having a homecoming parade with floats, Mock Rock (which is a Talent Show now), Senior Plays with Tom Ducham and Brandon, and more.

Harris/Bird told me that during the move from the old high school, “Students grabbed boxes in the morning, got on the bus, unloaded them, and right away started class that afternoon!”

Ours this past spring also were very helpful moving things to the storage containers, throwing old junk out, and helping box up materials for our classrooms and the rest of the school. “Do you need anything moved to the storage pods, Mr. Minor?” they’d ask at the beginning of the hour. While it got a bit chaotic and hard to get a lot of learning accomplished that last week, students and staff know it’ll be worth it to have basically a new school building this fall.

So, everything old becomes new again when we start the 2018-2019 school year. It’ll feel that way for a few weeks or months at HHS. It hopefully will get students to be more positive about learning and the environment around them. There likely will still be some of the same difficulties we’ve always faced, though. We’ll have to do our best to work with a few unmotivated students, with those who come from little and are just basically trying to “survive,” and the normal loss of steam that occurs when the school year drags a bit before spring break.

The echoes of those who were here back in the post-Vietnam age thinking of “free their minds” probably are still here, just covered over with bright new materials and structures. They too hoped for better educational results, a better school for their students and their community.

Who knows, maybe 50 years from now the walls will come tumbling back down when one more “new” educational theory comes around by then. (But let’s hope not.)


Angela Kellogg
Editor, Clare County Cleaver

P O Box 436, 183 W. Main Street
Harrison, Michigan 48625
989-539-7496 PH
989-539-5901 FAX

Schools Renovation Slightly Ahead of Schedule



By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer

Copyright Clare County Cleaver

HARRISON – Harrison Community Schools Superintendent Rick Foote took some time last Thursday morning to give Cleaver readers a chance to check out some of the progress made thus far on the renovation work being done at Harrison High School and the Harrison Middle School.



The tour started with a quick look around the middle school, where much of the work is actually unseen: wiring, security and lighting upgrades. Much of the work is hiding behind walls and the new ceiling tiles. Work at the middle school began over spring break, so the much-needed wall top-to-ceiling closure has already been accomplished. On the tour, Foote pointed out that some of the carpet tile flooring had been laid down: a dark blue with a gold stripe in each square. He reminded that the carpet tiles will make it a simple matter to replace any portions that may become damaged than if large areas of carpet had to be pulled up.

Entry WayThe middle school office had been emptied of all furniture and the flooring ripped out, readying for the new entrance which will be part of the new security measures at the school. A similar secure entrance will be installed at the high school as well.

Moving on through the Media Center revealed plastic-protected book shelves and wide-open spaces – areas which will accommodate staging of materials to be used once the hard surfaces, plumbing, wiring and painting work are done.

Walking along the corridor which connects the Media Center to the high school, one can look out to where the parking lot used to be and get a sense of how complete the changes to the campus will be – from concrete to classrooms to cars. It was fortunate that much of the landscaping near the entrance to the middle school has thus far remained mostly untouched.

SeatingIt is in the high school proper, however, where the true beehive of activity is happening. The area which had contained the open concept classrooms is now a single, vast space with the remaining brick clad pillars seeming to hold up the whole shebang. There also are lots of plumbing pipes sticking up from the floor where new bathrooms will be installed. Part of that work includes cutting floor concrete, which has resulted in patching, lots of floor sanding, and lots of concrete dust. The ceilings have all been taken out, leaving the steel girders supporting corrugated roofing. Areas can be seen where insulating spray foam has been applied: lots and lots of foam. There were areas above some of the existing walls which Foote said originally had little to no insulation. It is obvious that all the upgrades to the heating and cooling equipment, coupled with the addition of vestibule airlock entries and the intensely efficient insulation being applied will result in substantial operational savings for the district.


It is worth noting that all this work was being done under lights powered by a generator, as all power to the building had been cut off for the construction.

A new exterior block room adjacent to the gym is being constructed to house water flow control.

Due to a lack of electrical service to the gym, Foote was unable to show off the work which has been completed in t here. He said the gym work was largely completed, with painting having been done – not to fear, the Hornet mural remains intact and may see some professional fine-tuning in the future to ensure its longevity. Foote said the gym floor will be getting sanded shortly and will get sealed in August.

The project also brings to an end more than 40 years of locker pits; the pits have been filled in and lockers will be moved to walls, opening up spaces both visually and physically.

Foote said the kitchen area has doubled in size, and that additional pantry space off the hall outside the kitchen will provide ample, convenient storage where deliveries can be received without entry into the kitchen.

Lots of work is also being done in the classroom areas on the end of the building as well. The high school music room is being refurbished and will be brought back into use [students had been going to the middle school music room]. And a huge safety issue has been addressed in the art room: a block wall kiln room has been constructed which has the potential to house two kilns. The art room also will be a larger, non-partitioned space where thoughts and ideas can float freely, ready to take root in creative minds.


One of the most dramatic changes has to be the re-imagined auditorium space. What had been an open area in front of a stage has become an enclosed room with slant theater seating for 439 people. The upholstered flip-up seats are already on the premises ready to be placed as soon as all painting and wiring is complete. The room is wired, and dozens of drop wires are in place to accommodate directional lighting, and balanced sound. The stage will need to be sanded and sealed, but when the seats get installed and the curtains hung, this new auditorium will have all the trappings of an Off-Broadway venue.

The accompanying photos only hint at all the work which has been done at the schools, but Foote said he would likely invite the Cleaver back for another look in a couple weeks or so. That’s the way it is with projects of such magnitude. There is great upheaval, but once things start being put back together, change comes in leaps and bounds.