This week, Lincolnton High School celebrated its 110th anniversary.
The high school’s Class of 2015 surprised Principal Heath Belcher Monday morning with a large banner in the building’s commons area. Painted in the school’s colors was the phrase “We’re Making H15TORY.”
With more than a century of history, Lincolnton High School has witnessed numerous societal changes.
“One of the things I look at is the diversity we have in the school,” Belcher said. “That’s one of the bigger changes obviously from 1904, but even 1954, you look back, and the school population is really a reflection of our society at large and how it’s changing. And our graduates of Lincolnton High School — they’re going to be able to go into a population (where) the demographics are shifting. You’re really looking at 54 percent of the school population being white and 46 percent being a minority. It really won’t be long before the white population will be in the minority, and that’s consistent nationally as well. And the great thing about Lincolnton High School is that we celebrate that. That’s a great thing, that we have diversity in our buildings.”
According to Belcher, the high school currently has an enrollment of 888 students. Approximately 54 percent of students are white, 24 percent of students are Hispanic, 17 percent of students are African American, four percent are multi-racial and 1 percent is Asian or American Indian.
In 1999, the Southern Oral History Program Collection interviewed Clyde Smith, the assistant football coach, head track coach and head basketball coach for Lincolnton High School during the city’s school integration in the late 1960s. The collection focused on the goal of “Documenting the American South.”
“In that fall, they first integrated the schools fully for the first time,” Smith said. “About two years prior to that I think…all school systems had ‘freedom of choice.’ And a few selected blacks, if they wanted to came to the all-white Lincolnton High School. But like I said, it was just a handful. But the year that I came, they closed down Newbold High School, which was the all-black county high school. It was an influx of probably 125 to 130, somewhere in that range, of black students, and it was then that Lincolnton High School was about a thousand students, so really it became roughly all of a sudden about 10 percent matriculation of minorities.”
Smith said the community’s attitude toward integration was one of “an open attitude.”
“When Newbold High School closed in 1968 and we had desegregation 46 years ago, these local leaders, F.D. Jack Kaiser, who I believe was the principal of Lincolnton High School at the time, G.E. Massey, who was the principal at Newbold High School…Clyde Smith — some of these local school leaders at the time made that seamless transition to desegregation,” Belcher said. “So, even then, the community was supportive of that, whereas a lot of other communities may have had issues with that. And there were challenges, I’m sure, with it, but perhaps not nearly as many as they perhaps anticipated because the community was always able to rise to the occasion and work through those differences.
“So when I look back and look at what those leaders were able to do and establish a presence of unity during desegregation — it really continues today,” Belcher said. “It’s kind of that mantra, ‘once a Wolf, always a Wolf,’ and you still see that so imminently in the community on Friday football games, at homecoming in October. You see that there’s a lot of traditions that we celebrate.”
In addition to the diversity changes since the school’s inception, Belcher also noted how technological advancements have impacted the classroom and the school’s course offerings.
“In the nineties, we saw the computers come into the classroom and with that, the internet,” he said. “You know, we still continue to see advancement of technology in the classrooms, and we’re still looking for ways to stay ahead of that, moving forward.”
Belcher believes the passage of the 2005 school system bond package greatly assisted in growing the school’s class offerings.
“With the passage of the bond, we were able to add the fine arts wing to the school,” he said. “So now, we’re seeing growing numbers in the performing arts…and that’s attributed to the community seeing the need for a bond package.”
This year, Lincolnton High School is also offering four new courses, three of which are Advanced Placement courses.
“This year, we have four new courses we’re offering, three AP courses: AP Psychology, AP Human Geography and AP World History,” Belcher said. “And then the central office leadership, some of the business leaders and LEDA have recognized a need for advanced manufacturing in the high schools. So Lincolnton High School will also offer Advanced Manufacturing as a new course — mechatronics and some of the needs that are specific to local industry here, so students can prepare for that.”
According to Belcher, 4.7 percent of Lincolnton High School students are enrolled in AP courses, 21 percent in honors and 15 percent in career and technical education.
“Many things have changed in 110 years, but a lot of the traditions continue,” he said. “The Lincolnton community still remains in many ways true to the black and gold. They still view the school with a lot of pride, and it really just resonates through each year. When you have each and every group of students come in, you can just kind of feel the energy and enthusiasm that comes with being, in a lot of ways, the flagship school for Lincoln County.”