Gattis celebrates 50 years of the 3 R’s

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle Twyla Coleman has taught English at Gattis Junior High School for 20 years. Coleman also did her student teaching there and attended the school from 1974 to 1976.

By Rick White: CNJ Managing Editor

Jerry Bailey remembers being a pint-sized freshman who developed his first schoolboy crush on his music teacher when Gattis Junior High School opened its doors in 1957.

He was among the hundreds of students uprooted when the Clovis school district populated the city’s second junior high.

“I was a little apprehensive,” said Bailey, who played Sidney, Tom Sawyer’s half-brother, in a school operetta that year. “I didn’t want to leave my friends, and I didn’t want to make new ones.”

A half-century later, it is Gattis students and staff who are being uprooted to pave the way for a ninth-grade academy that will house the city’s freshmen. Gattis seventh- and eighth-graders will be dispersed to Yucca and Marshall junior highs.

The transition takes place at the start of the 2007-08 school year.

Gattis is holding a week-long celebration next week in honor of its 50th anniversary.

Named after longtime Clovis educator W.D. Gattis, the school on the city’s west side was built with $292,444 generated from the sale of the old high school.

Among Gattis students who went on to do bigger and better things were a major league baseball player, a Miss Black America and several state beauty queens, a handful of Division I college basketball players and a Division I coach, a leader of the Air Force Thunderbirds, and world-renowned wildlife artist Chuck Glikas.

Glikas, who still resides in Clovis, said geometry teacher Bob Riddell and geology teacher Sally Albright helped shaped his art.

“They taught how to be detailed and precise,” said Glikas, who remembers Riddell sharing his love for astronomy with his students.

“There’s a lot of precision-type thinking in art,” Glikas said.

Twyla Coleman, a freshman English teacher and former Gattis student, will stay at the school when it transitions to the ninth-grade academy.

“It felt like I never left,” said Coleman, who attended Gattis in 1974-76 and returned as a teacher when she graduated from college. “It’s my home away from home.”

She said she uses her experience as a Gattis student — “I wasn’t the best student but I wasn’t the worst” — in her teaching.

A melting pot of social and economic backgrounds, Gattis, Coleman said, is viewed by some as inferior.

“I tell them regardless of the stigma, anyone can succeed.”

A 20-year teaching veteran, Coleman is in favor of the freshman-only format.

“I think it’s time for a change,” she said. “I think the change will be better in terms of success of all the students.

“It’s real difficult to concentrate on high school credits when there are seventh-graders across the hall.”

Bailey is also back at Gattis, serving as a substitute teacher.

“It’s kind of strange to go back where you started out,” said Bailey, who remembers eating lunch on folding tables in the hallway that first year.

A former National Guardsman and building contractor, Bailey is more melancholy about ushering in another new area at Gattis. Mostly, he wished the school district had kept the Gattis name.

“I feel sorry for the family,” Bailey said. “I think the guy deserves more.”

By the numbers: Gattis in 1957

14
Classrooms

$10.30
Cost of building per square foot

$292, 444
Construction cost

21
Employees, including four social studies teachers, three math teachers, two PE teachers, an English teacher, Principal Emmett Shockley, a secretary and two cafeteria workers

A sampling of students on the Gattis Junior High Wall of Honor:

Randy Adrian, 1969-72, Clovis athletic director

Mona Bryant, 1973-75, Miss New Mexico-USA

Carol Ann Chisum, 1972-74, high school all-American basketball player

Nelson Franse, 1973-76, college basketball player and radio announcer

Chuck Glikas, 1966-69, accomplished artist

John Harris, 1968-70, college and major league baseball player

Dick Hunsaker, 1966-69, college basketball player and coach

Bubba Jennings, 1974-77, college and professional basketball player

Varetta Shankle, 1971-74, Miss Black America

Chuck Simpson, leader of the Air Force Thunderbirds

Teresa Rodriguez, 1980-82, Miss New Mexico, Miss Teen New Mexico