If walls could talk, North Omaha’s schools would be much noisier, much more colorful, and much more complicated than anyone wants to hear.
For more than 150 years, schools throughout the community have served students of all ages. With a deep history including segregation and school violence, its can be hard to remember all the positive people and events that emerged in the community’s schools.
Following is my ever-growing history of the old schools in North Omaha.
In the early years of the Nebraska Territory, more than a dozen small towns emerged north of Omaha City. I can’t account for all of these, and I’m not interested in the ones outside of Omaha city limits today. Identifying these towns and their schools has been an interesting journey, showing schools next to schools and learning far beyond boundaries. Following are a few of North Omaha’s pioneer schools.
With a heavy-weighted wagon tired from pounding across the Midwest, a family of settlers arrives in a tiny pioneer town on the Nebraska prairie just west of the Missouri River. There are just ten businesses there, including a big hotel, but dozens of houses. The year is 1856, and the wagon, with two parents and three kids, has just rolled into Saratoga, Nebraska.
Saratoga was a boom-and-bust town that rose and fell within a year of its founding. Today its located inside the North Omaha community at present-day 24th and Grand Streets, and its memory is mostly lost to history. Its legacy is important though.
|The original Brownell Hall in 1863, once located at North 24th and Grand Streets in North Omaha. Existing today as Brownell-Talbot School, it is Omaha’s oldest existent school.|
Right after that bust, the family in the wagon was glad to see the founding of the first upper school in the Omaha-area. Brownell Hall, an all-girls school and boarding school run by the Episcopal Church, bought the building where the old hotel was located. The first graduates in the area came from Brownell. By the time the school was moved to Midtown Omaha, there were a dozen schools in North Omaha.
|This is the old Saratoga School and was taken in 1885.|
The Saratoga School was opened at North 24th and Meridith Avenue in 1866 by local residents. It was a one-room schoolhouse, and was one of the first public schools in Nebraska. The Birchwood School was opened by 8th Avenue and East Fort Street, just north of Carter Lake, before 1870.
Cutler’s Park and Florence School
If that wagon had come a decade earlier and went ten miles north, the settlers could have sent their kids to a school located in Cutler’s Park. Cutler’s Park was run by Mormon pioneers in the late 1840s for several years. A decade later in the late 1850s, during the same period as Saratoga’s founding, the Florence School was built in far North Omaha. Located at 7902 North 36th Street, today it is an elementary school that’s part of the Omaha School District.
|This is the Florence School was built in the grand Queen Anne style with some Romanesque features in 1888. Notice the escape chutes on each side.|
There were several schools in the countryside around North Omaha, too. One of them was the Springville School, which was located near present-day North 60th and Girard Streets. Springville was founded in the 1860s, and has served thousands of students through the years. Its been housed in at least five buildings, and served at least two towns, including DeBolt and Omaha.
The schools in North Omaha were focused on their growing neighborhoods and the needs of the new city they were part of before 1900.
During the 1870s, a one-room school was built at 2410 North 19th Street. Rebuilt in 1888, it was called Lake School, and by early 1910s, it had become one of Omaha’s black schools. It stayed that way until it was closed in the late 1970s.
In 1870, the Nebraska School for the Deaf and Dumb was opened on a 23 acre campus at Bedford and 42nd streets. Segregated from mainstream schools as part of a national boarding school movement for hearing impaired students, the School served thousands of students until it was closed in the 1970s.
The North Omaha School was built at North 19th and Izard Streets in 1871. It was later called the Izard Street School, and stayed open into the 1920s.
Long School was opened in 1886 at 2520 Franklin Street. One of the city’s “black schools”, it was closed in the 1970s and rebuilt. It was closed in the 1980s. In 1888, the first Walnut Hill School building. In 1926, the present building was finished in a walnut grove. The school had the first elementary library in Omaha. At some point before the 1890s, the Lothrop School was originally built at 1518 North 26th Street in 1885. At some point, it was rebuilt at 3300 North 22nd Street, at the corner of Lothrop and 24th. It also became a black school. The Webster School was built in 1888 at 618 North 28th Avenue. By 1969, its enrollment was choked by the building of Interstate 480, and the school was demolished.
Originally opened in the 1870s, the Paul Street School was rebuilt at 1311 North 24th Street in a simple building made in 1892. In the 1920s, the school hosted a number of classes for adult immigrants in the local neighborhood. By the late 1940s the school was one of Omaha’s black schools. The original Paul Street school was demolished and replaced by a new school named for Omaha’s first superintendent, John Kellom. Kellom School was opened in 1952 at 1311 North 24th Street. It was meant to be a “community school”, and included a community center. In the early 1950s, Urban League leader Whitney Young ran basketball and other community outreach programs at Kellom.
In 1882, the Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart was founded in the Gifford Park neighborhood to provide college prep education to young women in Omaha. Eventually they expanded their mission, and rom 1904 to 1963 Duchesne was a college that provided Bachelors degrees to women.
|This is the North Omaha School in 1874, located at North 19th and Izard Streets. It was later called the Izard School.|
Central Park Elementary School opened in School District 38 in a four-room schoolhouse in the 1870s, and was rebuilt in 1888. A two-room annex at 42nd and Saratoga Streets was built in 1908, and the school was rebuilt in 1912. In 1966, it was expanded greatly, and still serves the neighborhood.
Rebuilt in 1888 at 16th and Jaynes Streets for twenty-one students, throughout Sherman School‘s 125-year history, the school has absorbed several smaller local schools, including the Birchwood and Pershing Schools. It has also been a junior high school, and has had more than 500 students roaming its hallways at once. Today, it is located at 5618 North 14th Avenue and has 275 students.
When I went there in the 1980s, students from the neighborhood surrounding the school attended Sherman for kindergarten and first grades, went to Miller Park for grades two through four, and then returned to Sherman for grades five and six. We were then bused to McMillan for junior high, and after that went to North High School.
After graduating from Omaha High School in 1893, in 1895 Lucinda Gamble was hired as the first African American teacher in the Omaha School District. She taught at Long School.
- This is an early Florence School bus, and it was typical of buses around Omaha
In the 1890s, the new Omaha View School was built at North 30th and Cassius Streets (now called Binney St.). Again in 1912, the building was reconstructed and renamed after an early Omaha educator, and is now called Kennedy School. After serving the public housing projects in the neighborhood for more than 50 years, today the school has about 200 students. The housing projects are gone, but the school continues.
The Saunders School, located at 415 North 41st Avenue, was finished in 1899. It was closed and renovated into apartments in the 1980s. The Yates School was built in the Gifford Park neighborhood at Davenport and North 32nd Street. It is now an alternative high school for the district.
Attendance and Size
We hear a lot these days about class size and student-to-teacher ratios. Everything was different in the beginnings of public schools in Omaha. On average, Omaha’s teachers served up to 40 students per classroom, and some actively taught two classrooms throughout the entire day, switching back and forth all day long.
In 1881, every grade school in Omaha went from 1st grade through 8th grade. Within the Omaha School District, in North Omaha there were 13 schools. Central Park School had four rooms with four teachers. The Fort Omaha School had 2 rooms and a single teacher, while the Franklin School had 4 teachers in 4 rooms. The Long School had 15 rooms and 15 teachers; the Lothrop School had 4 rooms and 4 teachers; the Lake School had 14 teachers in 16 rooms, and; the Omaha View School had 8 teachers covering 8 rooms. The Saratoga School had 5 teachers in 5 rooms. Izard had 14 teachers covering 14 rooms, while Paul Street School had 4 teachers in 4 rooms; Webster had 12 rooms with 11s teachers, and; Walnut Hill had 8 rooms with 8 teachers. Sherman School had 1 room and 1 teacher.
There were other schools outside of the Omaha School District but within present-day North Omaha, including school district 21, school district 32, school district 20, school district 29, school district 5 (Florence School), school district 29 (Springville School), school district 38, school district 2 (Saratoga School); school district 49 (Birchwood School), and school district 9 (West Omaha School).
Several schools were opened in North Omaha after the turn of the 20th century.
For instance, Monmouth Park School was a public school located at 4508 North 33rd St, and was built in 1903. Designed by important Omaha architect Thomas Kimball, the district wanted to tear the building down after closing it in the 1980s. After a decade as apartments, the building was demolished in 1995.
The original Miller Park Elementary School was a four-room frame building that opened in April 1910 at 5625 North 28th Ave, along Ellison Avenue. This is where I attended some elementary school. I also went to Sherman School, which has a much more complicated history that I detailed above. The current building was finished in 1912, and renovated extensively in the 2000s.
|The is Omaha’s former Long School sometime in the early 1900s.|
Druid Hill Elementary School is located at 4020 North 30th Street. Built in 1917 as a neighborhood school, in the fall of 1996, Druid Hill relocated to a new building in 2002.
In 1914, the Omaha School District opened the Fort Street Special School for Incorrigible Boys at the corner of North 30th and Browne Streets. It was for boys who “had no interest in school at all” and were considered “mischief makers”. The school provided manual training in printing and agriculture, as well as metal and wood working shops, a drafting class and repair shop for small items. Attending the school soon went from being a punishment to a privilege. In 1923, the program moved to the campus of Omaha’s new Technical High School, and the Fort Street School was closed. The former building for the Fort Street School was moved to Minne Lusa Boulevard and Ida Street shortly after it was closed to become the first Minne Lusa School. The Minne Lusa School was built in 1924, and has been continuously added to since then.
Tech High School was built at 30th and Cuming. It was a large, five-winged building at North 30th and Cuming Streets. Year after year of successful academic classes, athletic teams, and extracurricular programs didn’t keep the school open though. Tech was closed in the 1980s. Its gigantic facilities formed the largest high school in the Midwest when it was open, and rather than allow them to be demolished the Omaha Public Schools repurposed the building as its headquarters, which it still serves as today. North High School was opened the following year at 36th Street and Ames, and still functions today as a magnet school for the district. I graduated from North in 1993. V-up!
Monroe School was built in 1926 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade at 5106 Bedford Avenue in the Benson neighborhood. In 1956 Monroe became Omaha’s first junior high school, and today is called Monroe Middle School. Horace Mann Junior High was opened at some point (I haven’t found more information yet). The Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School was opened in 1975 at North 37th and Maple Streets. In 1988, it closed and became a primary center replacing Clifton Hill School. When it opened in 1973, Martin Luther King Middle School was the first middle school in Omaha. They were a new model then, and everything before them were junior high schools. Martin Luther King Middle School was the first of Omaha’s schools to be named for an African American. When the building was converted to a primary school in 1988, it absorbed many of Clifton Hill School’s students. The building was renamed the King Elementary School for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in 1999.
The name was moved to the former Nathan Hale Junior High on Florence Boulevard, to become the King Science Center. After an extensive renovation in 2001, it was renamed the King Science and Technology Magnet Center. The original building was repurposed as King Elementary School. In 1965, OPS opened Nathan Hale Junior High School near North 60th and what’s now Sorenson Parkway. It became a middle school in 1990, and a magnet school in 2009.
The Fairfax School was opened in 1911 at North 40th and Pratt Streets. It was a two-room school building with an outhouse, and it was demolished in 1974. Nothing remains of it today.
|Pershing Elementary School in the 1960s, courtesy of Durham Museum.|
Several other school districts served present-day North Omaha, to the north, west and east. One of them was District 61. It had one building, the Pershing School, that was located near Eppley Airfield at North 28th Avenue East and Perkins Street. Built in 1926, it became part of the Omaha Public School District in January 1958, after the city annexed the area. The Airport eventually purchased many of the houses in the area, along with the school building after it was closed in 1976. Students still in the area went to Sherman Elementary.
Another district was called the Beechwood School, and it located near the Read Street and J.J. Pershing Drive. It was originally a one-room school that was at North 14th Avenue East and Fort Street, and was formally absorbed into Omaha Public Schools is 1948.
Clifton Hill School was built in 1917 at 2811 North 45th Street. It was closed by Omaha Public Schools in 1988. After being acquired by Girls Inc. of Omaha for use as their north center, in 2016 they rededicated the building as the Katherine Fletcher Center after a $15,000,000 renovation. It now includes a full gymnasium, locker rooms, an exercise studio, a fitness center, a health clinic and an educational kitchen, as well as an expanded media center, video and audio production facilities, and expanded teen center with technology for the exclusive use of teens.
Dr. Eugene Skinner became Omaha’s first African American principal in Omaha, beginning his service at Long School in 1947. In 1965, he became the first African American principal of a junior high, and in 1968, the first African American administrator in Omaha. He became the city’s first African American assistant superintendent in 1969.
From the 1860s through the beginning of integrated school busing in Omaha, North Omaha was home to the city’s strictly segregated black schools. Over time, those became identified as Kennedy School, Lake School, Kellom School, Lothrop School, and Long School, all of which were the only elementary schools serving African American students.
Dr. Harry A. Burke, namesake of Omaha Burke High School, used racism to run Omaha Public Schools from 1946 to 1962. David Bristow, now an official with the Nebraska State Historical Society, wrote about an interview with Herb Rhodes, a North Omaha civil rights leader in the 50s and 60s. Rhodes said that Harry Burke once “proclaimed that as long as he was superintendent, there would not be a black educator in the school system, other than the two schools that served the black community,” because Burke opposed having black teachers “where white children would see a black person in a role of prominence or authority.”
In 1976, the US government took the Omaha Public Schools to court because of its segregated schools. The US circuit court ordered Omaha to use busing to desegregate the district. Suddenly, white flight swept through North Omaha, with hundreds of residents fleeing to the city’s western suburbs where there were few African Americans. White student enrollment in the district tanked, and African-American students were encouraged to travel across the city to predominantly white schools.
In 1999, the school district adopted an open enrollment policy based on income instead of race, effectively ending busing. Resegregation has emerged throughout the 2000s. When state legislator Ernie Chambers promoted legislation to create three distinct learning communities controlled by Omaha neighborhoods organized largely around patterns of race and ethnicity, the conversation about race and education policy came back on the radar in the city.
|Belvedere School opened in 1924, and has been added onto almost a half-dozen times since.|
Omaha Public Schools are re-segregating today. According to OPS data, percentage of white students enrolled in Omaha Public Schools is decreasing while the percentage of students of color is rising, especially in schools with predominantly African American and Hispanic / Latino student populations. This is happening while the general Omaha population has increasing numbers of white people and a decreasing population of African Americans.
A variety of schools in North Omaha have large percentages of African American students that demonstration racial unevenness in school. For instance, at North High, Blackburn High, and Northwest High, African American students comprise the largest racial populations in the school. Other schools demonstrate racial isolation, including Burke High, Alice Buffet Middle, and Davis Middle. The UNO Middle College Program and the Gateway to College Program are also predominately white, while Hale, King, Monroe, Morton, and McMillan are predominately African American. Transitions Program, Career Center and Parrish are also predominantly African American.
In the 2015-16 school year, the trends of racial isolation in Omaha Public Schools are even more pronounced in elementary schools. Belvedere, Central Park, Conestoga, Druid Hill, King, Franklin, Lothrop, Miller Park, Mountain View, Saratoga, Skinner and Wakonda are all majority African American schools. Unevenness in Omaha Public Schools is apparent in Caitlan, Columbian, Dundee, Florence, Fullerton, Picotte, Pinewood, Saddlebrook, Standing Bear, and Washington elementary schools all have majority white student populations.
This is all evidence of the ineffective administration of resources among Omaha Public Schools, and demonstrates how North Omaha is routinely afflicted by racial segregation. I have not shared an analysis of per school spending, neighborhood economic status or other factors that will corroborate these findings; however, that information is forthcoming.
|This was the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in North Omaha.|
Catholic Schools in North Omaha
At one point, North Omaha had more than 15 Catholic parishes scattered across all of its quarters, including Florence, Benson, East Omaha, and inwards, with several in the Near North Omaha neighborhood. In those early decades, each parish was obligated to run a school to provide regular daytime education for their children and youth, as well as religious education. Consequently, at one point there were many Catholic schools across North Omaha.
Among the oldest operating is Sacred Heart School, which continues operating today at 2205 Binney Street. St. Bernard’s School is in Benson at 3607 North 65th Street to serve what was once a suburban neighborhood.
One of the earliest was St. Catherine’s Academy, which was located at North 18th and Cass Streets.
St. John’s School was at 2507 California Street, near present-day Creighton University Hospital. It was attached to St. John’s Church, which is still open today and serves as the university’s church. Holy Angels School was at 4721 North 28th Street, and became Dominican High School in the 1970s. It closed in the 1980s. Holy Name School continues operating today at 2901 Fontenelle Blvd, and East Omaha’s St. Therese School was at 5316 North 14th Avenue, and closed at some point in the 1980s. Holy Family School was at 1715 Izard Street, and Omaha’s segregated Black Catholic school was St. Benedict’s School, rebuilt at 2423 Grant Street in 1928. St. Cecilia’s School is at 3869 Webster Street, and today it is an elementary school. The parish also hosted Cathedral High School for many years.
In the early 1960s, St. Richard’s School opened at 4318 Fort Street to serve that one-time suburban neighborhood. With changing demographics shrinking its parish, the school closed in the mid-2000s. Saint Philip Neri School has operated at 8208 North 31st Street in Florence for 100 years. Blessed Sacrament School operated at 6316 N 30th Street for more than 90 years, merging with St. Phillip Neri in 2011.
The Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart has operated at 3601 Burt Street in North Omaha since 1881. In addition to serving as a high school for a long time, its also been a regular college and a convent for nuns. Notre Dame Academy opened in 1926 at 3501 State Street. It was a girls’ high school until 1974, when it merged with Rummel High School and became Roncalli High School. Rummel was at the site of Roncalli today, which is 6401 Sorensen Parkway in North Omaha.
The North Omaha Branch of the Omaha Public Library was established in 1921. In 1972, the library was rebuilt at 2868 Ames Avenue and renamed the Charles B. Washington Branch in honor of a local civil rights activist in 1986. A major renovation and expansion of Washington Branch was completed in March of 2006.
Since the University of Nebraska in Saratoga was chartered but not started in the 1860s, North Omaha has been home to no fewer than seven institutions of higher education. Creighton University, founded in 1878, is the oldest. The others included the University of Omaha; the Omaha Presbyterian Theological Seminary (1904-1949); the Duchesne College (1906-1961); the Grace University (1949); Immanuel School of Nursing (1891-1976); and the Methodist School of Nursing. In 1976, the Metro Community College launched in earnest at Fort Omaha, and is still doing spectacular work there.
Other Schools in North Omaha include…
- Benson High School
- Fontenelle Elementary School
- Hartman Elementary School
- Mount View Elementary School
- Pinewood Elementary School
- Skinner Magnet Center
- Wakonda Elementary School
- Fontenelle School (Spaulding and N. 53rd)
- Harrison School (Charles & N. 54th)
- Hope School (Corby & N. 30th)
- Monroe School (Bedford & N. 52nd)
- Notre Dame Academy (State & N. 35th)
- Ponca School (Ponca Rd. & N. 47th)
- Sacred Heart High School (Locust & N. 21st)
- Saint Pauls School (Pinckney & N. 26th)
- “North Omaha education summit stresses community, family engagement,” By Erin Duffy for OmahaWorld-Herald, Nov 15, 2015
- “North Omaha Education in Omaha: What were the different ways in which African Americans worked to improve education in Omaha?” by Making Invisible Histories Visible project of Omaha Public Schools.
|An artist’s rendering of Omaha Technical High School in 1923.|
|This is a student standing on the south side of Redick Hall at the University of Omaha at North 24th and Evans Streets.|
|Holy Angels School was located at North 28th and Fowler, and was later the site of Dominican High School.|
|St. Benedict’s School was a strictly segregated Black Catholic school at 24th and Grant Streets.|
|St. John’s School was the parish school for Creighton University, and was located across the street from St. John’s Church at North 25th and California Streets.|
|This was originally St. Paul’s Lutheran School at North 25th and Evans, built in 1921 and moved to 50th and Grant in 1967.|
|This is Kellom School, which was opened in 1892 as the Paul Street School.|
|This is the Fairfax School at 3708 North 40th Street in the 1940s.|
|My alma mater is Miller Park School, which opened in a four-room building in 1910. This building was constructed in 1912, and after A LOT of renovations and additions, is still in use today.|
|These are the blueprints for the original Monmouth Park School.|
|After the original Monmouth Park School was built at North 33rd and Ames Avenue, several additions were made to serve all these students.|
|This is at least the third Saratoga School, built in the 1890s and repurposed to serve the University of Omaha in the 1920s. It was located on the corner of North 24th and Ames Avenue, and was demolished in the 1920s.|