School split spurs new era of learning (Video)
Dec. 15, 2012 at 6:15 a.m.
Updated Dec. 17, 2012 at 6:17 a.m.
Within the confines of a gymnasium, the bonds of friendship took hold.
"We were close, silly and crazy together," Sarah Espindola recalled. "We became best friends in middle school."
Autia McCurry smiled from her chair outside an area bookstore a few miles away from campus.
"We had a lot of fun," Autia said. "We also knew each other through church."
But little did they know, the then-sixth-graders would be torn between high schools starting their sophomore year.
Sarah, 18, and Autia, 17, and other Victorians of their generation teetered across Memorial High School's metamorphosis into Victoria East High School and Victoria West High School.
During the past 13 years, Victoria school district high schools have gone from merging into one and splitting back into two. The legacy of segregation prompted the tumultuous time in Victoria's high schools, but many agree the result is a stronger secondary educational system.
Come May 2013, the two young women will walk across their graduation stages as members of the last class from Victoria East and Victoria West to attend Memorial together before the split.
Memorial was created in 2000 in response to an imbalance of demographics between Victoria High School and Stroman High School - former longstanding rival high schools.
At a school board meeting in 1999, trustees voted 4-3 in favor of consolidation.
The vote led to a decade of divisions between friends, family and community members. Many didn't like the new megaschool, but those who voted for it called it a necessary step.
The district had been found in violation of Civil Order 5281 - a federal desegregation order born out of the civil rights movement - because of the racial imbalance at the schools.
In 1998, VHS had a 44 percent minority population, while Stroman was at 68 percent.
"We all looked down on Stroman," said Sarah's father, Steve Espindola, VHS class of 1992 graduate. "Victoria High was more favored."
Steve Espindola, 39, had family members who went to schools on both sides of the tracks, and he said the rivalry was not easily forgotten.
Stroman class of 1998 graduate, Alisa Utesey Jones, 33, said she absolutely loved all of her four years in high school.
"We had ghetto people at our school, but so did they," Jones said. "Bad things happened at Victoria High; you just didn't hear about it."
Many in education, though, saw the imbalance. On a traditional schedule, Stroman students had access to 28 courses in a four-year time frame while VHS students had 32, district spokeswoman Diane Boyett illustrated, in a 1999 Advocate news report.
"It was a gross system of educational inequity," said current school board president Tami Keeling. "The school board has committed to never going back to the way it was."
Based on 1998-99 beginning enrollment, Stroman High School had 1,707 students, while Victoria High School had 2,549 students.
Racial, attendance and academic imbalances led the school board to what many community members feared - consolidation.
Former school board member Ray Walden served as the president of Victoria Parents Against Consolidation before becoming a trustee.
Two months after the board voted to consolidate the schools, the group took legal action demanding public discussion on the issue and re-vote.
The injunction ultimately failed.
The middle child
"We've moved forward since then," said Walden, now retired from the board. "Consolidation was never meant to be a permanent fix."
Alanna McCurry, a 2010 Memorial graduate, said she felt her class was forgotten toward the end of senior year.
"We were treated like a middle child," McCurry said. "You were there, but nobody was paying attention to you."
The former track star said she was on a student-led committee appointed by the district to select the new school colors and mascots for the new high schools.
"It was pretty cool," McCurry said. "But they didn't end up using what we picked."
With a dash of cynicism in her chuckle, McCurry recalled her time spent at Memorial.
"I had really good teachers and opportunities there," McCurry said. "But it wasn't perfect; nothing is perfect."
Despite crowded hallways, rundown facilities and portable classrooms prone to flooding, McCurry said, she was proud of where she came from.
The football stadium the two new high schools share keeps the Memorial name.
"But now, we don't have anything else to go back to," McCurry said. "It's like we were never there."
During McCurry's freshman year at Memorial in 2007, Victoria voters backed a $159 million bond issue to build two new high schools, a new middle school and two new elementary schools.
School officials drew the new enrollment boundaries along an east-west, rather than north-south, split. They pledged to redraw the lines every two years to maintain a socioeconomic, racial and ethnic balance of the student population.
To her disappointment, McCurry's younger sister, Autia, discovered she would be going to Victoria East, away from Sarah and other close friends.
To her relief, Sarah learned she would be going to Victoria West - the school she wanted.
"I struggled a lot that first semester," Autia said. "There were a lot of days that I came home crying."
Three years later, the proud Titan said she has no regrets.
"I made friends that I probably wouldn't have made if I had stayed at Memorial," Autia said. "The split forced me to build relationships with other people."
The friends agreed the doubled amount of extracurricular opportunities gave them and other students a better chance at getting involved.
"I'm sure a lot of kids saw that they actually had a shot," Autia said.
Both are getting ready to move on. A few weeks ago, Sarah dropped out of band to take a part-time job.
The senior said she wanted to start saving money for the next chapter in her life.
"If I have too many things going on, I'm just going to explode," Sarah explained. "I have two younger siblings. I have to think about their futures."
Texas State University is on both Sarah and Autia's list of potential universities.
If the former Crain Comets both decide to become San Marcos Bobcats, it will be the first time they've shared a mascot since the Memorial Vipers.
Autia said she has her heart set on joining her sister at Texas State University in San Marcos.
"I know God has it under control." Autia said in regards to her future. "I just gotta keep on truckin'."
Introduction to photo gallery and video
SPECIAL PROJECT BY ANDREA WISE & MORGAN WALKER
Driving past Victoria East and West can be a little disorienting.
The high schools’ architecture is identical, though they are separated by the city of Victoria. Their school colors correlate: Each wears red and black to show spirit, but East includes gold, while West dons silver. East’s Titans parallel the West Warriors.
Most importantly, these two schools share a history.
The 2013 graduates of Victoria East and Victoria West began high school together as freshmen at the now-closed Memorial High School. The two high schools opened in August 2010 in an attempt to bridge the performance gap segregating north and south Victoria.
“Same Kind of Different” is a multimedia project about the high school experience in Victoria now, as told through the principals and student leaders of each school.