The desegregation of public schools and the integration of Kingsport’s African-American students into Dobyns-Bennett High School led to the closing of Kingsport’s Douglass High School in 1966. At the time of the closing, Douglass was the largest African-American High School in the Upper East Tennessee Region.
The old Douglass School was eventually turned into the V.O. Dobbins Community Center (named after former principal Von Omer Dobbins). The building is currently undergoing a major renovation and expansion project and the City of Kingsport has worked closely with the Douglass High School Alumni Association to keep the memory of the school alive.
Prior to building of Douglass High School, the Oklahoma Grove School served as the city’s African-American School. The Oklahoma Grove School opened to African-American students in 1913.
The Oklahoma Grove School could not accommodate the growing population and in 1928 a contract was awarded to build Douglass High School between Myrtle and Walnut Streets (now East Sevier) , facing Center Street. The school housed K-12 and again the growing enrollment forced the city to consider a new site for the school.
In 1951, the Douglass School on Louis Street, in the Riverview Community of Kingsport, opened. The school, named after Frederick Douglass, the great orator, journalist and abolitionist, closed its doors on June 8, 1966. Nineteen seniors graduated that year in the school’s final commencement exercises.
KINGSPORT — Parents and officials at Saint Dominic Catholic School disagree about plans to close the school.
The church has been spending $377,860 a year to subsidize the 52-student K-5 school, which also serves 45 pre-K students.
“It’s served our community and our parish for almost 65 years. We were all blindsided,” said Saint Dominic School Board Vice Chairwoman Susan Barnes, a mother of four at the school and a member of Saint Dominic.
“This came really from nowhere,” said Detra Cleven, who is not Catholic but has two children in the school and is president of its Home and School Association. “There was not transparency in the problem being so great the school had to close.”
The school has operated in Kingsport since 1945. It is to cease operations at the end of the 2009-10 school year this spring, according to the letter from church officials sent to parents and parishioners and dated Jan. 22.
“It’s a tough decision, but it’s necessary,” said Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the diocese and an assistant to Bishop Richard Stika.
Father Michael Nolan, who recently replaced longtime Father Charles Burton as head of the local parish, and officials of the Diocese of Knoxville met with the Parish Pastoral Council and Parish Finance Council of Saint Dominic Catholic Church Thursday evening.
The councils are advisory bodies to Nolan. After a presentation on the finances, both councils voted at that meeting to recommend closing the school.
“Taking good Christian stewardship practices into account, it would be irresponsible to allow the current enrollment and financial conditions to persist further over time,” Stika wrote in the letter.
Barnes, who learned of the closure plans after that meeting, has since requested a meeting with Stika about the closure.
Smith said he didn’t know if Stika would be open to that, but that he was sure Nolan would meet individually with people about the closure.
Smith said Nolan also consulted with the bishop, superintendent of diocese schools and diocese finance director.
Nolan and Stika were at a retreat Monday and unavailable for comment, said Smith, who attended the Thursday evening meeting.
The administration, faculty and staff of the school were notified of the decision in a meeting Friday afternoon, and the letters went out to parents and church members, Barnes said. Smith said Nolan addressed the issue during church masses over the weekend.
Barnes said the school board knew changes had to be made but were taken aback by the quick decision. She said the school board knew nothing of the plans for closure this year, nor did the council.
Smith, on the other hand, said making the decision now gives students, parents and teachers more time to make arrangements for next school year.
“Our parish is not in the red by any means. But we’ve had a wolf at the (school’s) door for a number of years,” Barnes said.
Smith said concerns about subsidies for the school first emerged about 10 years ago but became more critical about four years ago, when K-5 enrollment dropped from the 80s to the 50s.
Barnes said she understood the ultimate plan for the building was to sell it, but Smith said that would be determined later with help of a transition team.
The letter says students may be bused from Kingsport to Saint Mary School in Johnson City, which Barnes said has a waiting list but which Smith said would welcome former Saint Dominic students.
Saint Dominic would still pay for tuition waivers or assistance for students based on need, but Smith said that would be only for children of parishioners, not non-Catholic students as had been the case for Saint Dominic tuition.
He said the transition team, to include Nolan and the principal of Saint Mary, would help transition students. Smith also said the church would help teachers and staff at Saint Dominic find new jobs.
Asked why the Johnson City school apparently flourished while the Kingsport school struggled, Smith said he didn’t know. The diocese has seven other schools, including three high schools, in East Tennessee.
“The school was not advertised well or very much,” Barnes said.
She had hoped one solution could be using the new Family Life Center for a school and/or preschool. However, Smith said it wasn’t outfitted or designed for a school and that “wasn’t on the docket” but could be later.