Exploring Fairview’s recent revival

Fairview Junior High now houses Fairview Middle and Middle College, a college preparatory program in conjunction with Christian Brothers University across Central Avenue. The 1930s building recently underwent an $8 million renovation. Photo by Amanda Hill/AM Photography.

Many of us pass through the intersection of East Parkway and Central Avenue every day. And if you’re like me, you’ve wondered what is going on in that old building on the corner called Fairview Junior High School (now called Fairview Middle School).

A few years ago I barely noticed it it began slowly getting more beautiful as it has undergone recent renovations. My children, now 7 and 4, are zoned for Fairview Middle School for their sixth- through eighth-grade educations. Since I’m an intensively curious person about all things education, I began doing a little research.

What I’ve discovered is highly encouraging.

Fairview Middle School, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is an 80-year-old Art Deco-style building with incredible history. Not only have generations of Memphians been educated here, but it even served as a hospital briefly during the great Arkansas flood of the 1930s.

Recently, the school has undergone $8 million of renovations under the direction of architect John Pruett.

“I think the architectural highlights of the project have to do with the preservation of the existing historic spaces in large part, as well as preservation of important elements such as corridor transoms, large expanses of windows for natural lighting and, of course, restoration of the auditorium and main entrance lobby,” said Pruett. “I’m also particularly proud of the restoration of the central courtyard from an asphalt-paved, forgotten, wasted space into a landscaped outdoor learning area.”

Pruett added that he’s come to appreciate the school’s structure and history even more through this project.

“Midtown has every reason to be proud of this school for several reasons. It’s amazing how many folks I talked with during the course of the project who either went to school there or had parents who did. In some cases both. It’s a true piece of Memphis history.”

Fairview teachers Moriah Dendy, Renata Rodgers and Willard Brown stand beside Principal Selina Sparkman. Photo by Mandy Grisham.

According to Pruett, the money spent on renovating Fairview Middle is an investment in both our past and future.

“It’s just a lovely piece of Art Deco architecture that has survived the years in really remarkable condition and is still fully useful as a modern-day school, with restoration at a fraction of what it would cost to build a new building today with that amount of detailing not to mention that the original building was constructed in just six months in the height of the Great Depression.”

Pruett also used this renovation project to educate University of Memphis students about historical renovation. He invited the chair of the Architecture Department at the U of M, Michael Hagge, and a group of his second- and third-year students to the building.

Pruett took them on a tour of the facility while under construction. They were able to observe how new construction methods were adapted to work with the existing historic structure, and how they detailed the new construction to work with and complement the existing buildings details.

Pruett has been recognized for the groundbreaking green building program he has implemented in city schools, beginning with Fairview as a model. Using energy efficient construction, Pruett brought Fairview’s Energy Star Rating from 25.9 to 40, an improvement of 14.1 points. Additionally, Fairview’s energy usage dropped by 12 percent.

The investment in Fairview is an example of city leaders paying attention to a part of the city bustling with positive change. Memphis City Schools took note of the massive structural and grounds transformation taking place at the old Mid South Fairgrounds, the area immediately bordering Fairview’s property. Over the last few years, there has been tremendous improvement at the Fairgrounds with Tiger Lane, and now the $31 million Kroc Center nearing completion.

“The school district saw the opportunity to be responsible public partners,” Regional Superintendent Dr. Terrence Brown said. “We are excited about the improvements going on at the fairgrounds and the Kroc Center and we wanted to add value to the Fairview building through this renovation.

“One of the benefits of the Kroc Center being next door to the school is that they have already established a relationship with Fairview for the use of the athletic facilities, which will also include a pool and might lead to a school swim team in the future. The Kroc Center will also have several real-time science simulation labs that are available to Fairview students during school. It’s an unbelievable opportunity for our students.”

The Fairview gymnasium. Photo by Mandy Grisham.

I toured the renovated building with Fairview principal Salina Sparkman, who has been leading the middle school for four years. A product of the organization New Leaders for New Schools, Sparkman said she is passionate about the possibilities for Fairview. She noted the school has seen strong academic gains over the last few years as well as a significant reduction in discipline incidences.

She believes the physical improvements to the school structure are also transforming the feel of the school. Sparkman sees these improvements as providing more opportunities for her students and she hopes for even stronger partnerships with the community.

The building currently houses two schools: Middle College High School has 200 students in grades 9-12 and allows students to take up to 60 college hours through neighboring Christian Brothers University before high school graduation. It was recently recognized as one of 20 Reward Schools in the state for its high performance on standardized tests.

Fairview Middle has 300 students in grades 6-8 and a special honors program called 6-16 that will feed students into Middle College High School, allowing them to take college courses. Students in the honors program take classes together in cohorts of 20-25 students and their teachers seem to be as close as family to some of them.

Many teachers I met were recent graduates of the Memphis Teacher Residency program or participants of Teach for America, as well as several long-term teachers from MCS. Principal Sparkman shared that many of her teachers regularly visit and walk the neighborhoods where their students live in an effort to reach out to parents and learn more about their students.

The entrance requirement for the 6-16 Honors Program is a 3.0 GPA and all E’s and S’s on the student’s report card. Applications for the 2013 school year are already on the school’s website for incoming 6-8 grade students. There are also traditional classes that meet together in cohorts, some that are gender-based.

All students have exploratory classes to choose from such as band, strings, drama, pre-engineering and art. After school, they can choose from cheerleading, football, basketball, volleyball, track, baseball and softball.

The new facilities at Fairview are some of the best I’ve seen in our city. There are brand new computer labs, three rolling laptop labs, and a full computer lab in the library. There is also a brand new science lab. The 600-seat auditorium has been completely renovated and must be one of the finest public school auditoriums in Memphis. The gymnasium has brand new equipment, stadium seating with refurbished wood floors and a new bulldog mascot painted on center court.

Principal Sparkman is a former Memphis State cheerleader and brings that positive energy to the school. She couldn’t stop talking about how amazing her staff and students were during the renovations when they were mostly working out of portables. During that time, her students made 9 percent academic gains on TCAP. They still have a long way to go to make proficient test scores, but she is certain that they are heading in the right direction.

Principal Sparkman said her hope for her school community is that “we would build a community of learners that prepares, supports, and pushes each other to be well-rounded, successful students who are college ready and take advantage of the opportunity for a free college education at Christian Brothers University.“

If you would like to learn even more about Fairview Middle School and see the renovations for yourself, you are invited to attend the Nov. 13 CYCA meeting that will be held in the Fairview Auditorium at 6 p.m.

By Mandy Grisham

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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