NEW ORLEANS — As the marching band played the joyous fight song, school officials and students unfurled a banner marking the milestone: A century of Warren Easton Charter High School.
Monday was the kick-off to the Canal Street high school’s months-long centennial celebration. It was also a time for the school to celebrate its post-Hurricane Katrina rebirth, something that seemed doubtful in those days after the storm when the only certainty about anything was the uncertainty about everything.
“The phoenix may have risen from the ashes, but the Eagles have risen from the muck of the Katrina flood,” said Billy Hatchet, one of the school’s board members and a graduate of the class of 1960.
In honor of the school’s 100 years, several events will be held during the coming months to honor the school’s storied past, all in the lead up to the Sept. 16 Founder’s Day celebration.
On that day, a centennial brick plaza in front of the school will be unveiled, and a time capsule will be buried, not to be unearthed until 2063.
While Easton opened at 3019 Canal St. in 1913, the school — the oldest public school in the state — actually traces its roots to 1843.
By 1855, four boys’ high schools had emerged from the original campus in Uptown.
In 1864 the two boys’ high schools above Canal Street joined to form Upper Boys High; the two boys’ high schools below Canal Street consolidated to form Lower Boys High.
In 1867, Lower and Upper Boys high schools merged. Their consolidation resulted in the formation of Consolidated Boys Central High School.
In 1890, Francis Gregory, a Latin teacher at Consolidated Central Boys High since 1886, was named principal of Boys High, and the school moved into a new building at 1533 Calliope St.
In 1911, the school board bought the land for the new school building, and construction began. School officials decided on a new name: Warren Easton High School in honor of the city’s and state’s first superintendent of education. Gregory moved the school into its gothic building on Canal Street two years later.
In that time, the school has changed its operations several times — going from all male to co-ed, desegregating and joining the digital revolution — but the mission of educating the 920 Easton students remains the same, said Principal Alexina Medley, who has worked at the school for the last 26 years.
“At the end of the day, it is their school, not ours,” she said. “They are the graduates eventually.”
Recent successes include all seniors graduating in the last two years and a rising school performance score, which looks at how a school’s students perform on standardized testing, their attendance and graduation and dropout rates.
Medley credited much of Easton’s success to its active alumni, who helped repair the campus after Katrina and continue to pump money into school. She also noted that the school has been buoyed by outsiders, such as actress Sandra Bullock, who have adopted the campus and contributed to its recent successes.
That community support and taking action into their own hands, according to Stan Smith, superintendent of New Orleans public schools, is what makes Easton so much a part of the city.
“It really symbolizes the spirit of New Orleans,” he said.