More than a few high schools across the United States have attained the ripe old age of 100.
But surely few have managed to reach that milestone with the pride, vigor and excellence on display at Lincoln High.
Dubbed “The Palace of Learning” by its first students in 1915, the grand brick structure set a marker for future generations, with its wide marble hallways, capacious private lockers, fabulous theater and swimming pool -- quite the status symbol in 1915.
Lincoln High School offers a model of how a school can thrive through changing times.
The high school reinvented itself time and time again as the Capital City grew outward, societal values evolved and trends in education ebbed and flowed. “Almost every 10 years there’s been a major update, which is really kind of neat,” Principal Mike Wortman told the Journal Star’s Margaret Reist.
Like many schools in growing communities across the United States, Lincoln High started as the sole high school in the city. As time passed it became the inner city school. “We embraced that, rather than fighting it,” said teacher John Heineman, who has taught at Lincoln High for three decades.
It’s important to recognize that the community also embraced that role. Some communities experienced white flight. In Lincoln, where students freely chose their own high school regardless of where they lived, some students and parents of all races, including white, chose Lincoln High specifically because of its diversity.
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Bill Zuspan, who coached and taught at Lincoln High for three decades, said the school’s diversity is one of its biggest strengths. “Bill Pfeiff (another longtime coach and teacher) and I used to stand and watch the passing of classes,” Zuspan said. “He’d say, ‘Mr. Zuspan, look at this. It’s the crossroads of life.’”
Today the students at Lincoln High come from more than 50 countries and speak 35 languages. Only 46 percent are white.
Another factor in Lincoln High’s continuing success is that it is part of a school district that covers the entire city. One of the board’s enduring commitments has been to allocate resources equally to all parts of the city.
It’s also important to recognize the pride and fondness that so many Lincoln High alumni have for their school. Some of the new high schools at the outskirts of the city have well-heeled parent and booster organizations. Lincoln High has its alumni, who have funded many improvements, including the emblematic sculpture of chain links on the school grounds.
Sharon Anderson-Towery was the third black cheerleader at Lincoln High in the 1970s. Her aunt graduated from Lincoln High 80 years ago. Her mom graduated in 1949. She says all the graduates feel connected.
"That's what the Links mean, we're the only ones (with that mascot) in the United States. And we're linked together for life. Period. That's what it means to me."