CLEVELAND, Miss. – A small Mississippi Delta town whose rival high schools were combined last year under a desegregation settlement has held its first graduation ceremony.
No longer Trojans and Wildcats, they're all Wolves now at Cleveland Central High School, whose seniors collected their diplomas on Saturday.
The settlement between the school district and the federal government, after nearly 50 years of litigation in the continuing desegregation case, required combining historically white Cleveland High and historically black East Side High, as well as two middle schools. A federal judge ruled that the district's racially lopsided student populations amounted to an illegal vestige of the segregation era.
High school grades are now taught at the historically white Cleveland High and Margaret Green Junior High, although those schools were racially mixed when they closed. Seventh and eighth graders attend the former East Side, where every student but one was black before the settlement.
The district named the new high school Cleveland Central, with new colors and a mascot to match.
Valedictorian Kiyah Brown tells WREG-TV that she had her doubts, fearing that students in the combined school would remain separated. "I really didn't agree because I felt like I wasn't gonna have a say so in it. It was gonna still be separated," said Brown, who plans to attend Alcorn State University and study nursing.
Senior Ryan Smith, though, says students are more united than he had expected.
"At first I had my doubts, but it's a lot better than I expected it to be," Smith said. "Kids are not really against each other as I thought they would be."
Principal Randy Grierson said 99 percent of the senior class is graduating, a real achievement in the town of 12,000.
"You can do the impossible. Because that is what this was deemed by a lot of people, who said this could not happen. And we have shown it can happen," Grierson said.
Information from: WREG-TV, http://www.wreg.com/