A recent visitor who made inquiry about the history of the Fuquay-Varina Hgh School prompted us to compile what we know about the history of our high schools.
The earliest high school is our town opened in 1918. Prior to that time students desirous of attending high school had several choices—all out of town. Prominent was Cary High School or Holly Springs High School both of which received boarding students from out of town. A number of families chose to enroll their high schooler in Buie’s Creek Academy (later Campbell University) or Elon College, both of which had high school departments.
Led by former Mayor Ed Ragsdale, a group of citizens petitioned the General Assembly for $15,000 to establish a public high school. Displayed in the museum is an ad in the Independent for this funding.
The “Old Red Building” was the result of this effort. Built at the corner of Academy and Ennis Streets, where the middle school is located today, our first high school opened in 1918. Chester Holland often told us about helping drag out the dirt for the basement of this structure. The building consisted of seven classrooms and an auditorium. In 1921, a west wing was added.
That first year, Mr. Henry A. Neal served as principal. Following him came Mr. W. E. Fleming in 1919. He had begun his 32nd year as principal at his death on September 10, 1950.
We have not found an account of the first year faculty but Mr. Fleming taught all the high school for two weeks until a second teacher was hired according to the Feb 17, 1949 Independent article. The entire faculty that first year consisted of 5 elementary teachers and the two high school staff members. The total enrollment in all grades was 286 with an average attendance of 164. One student, Agnes Judd, having earned credits from Holly Springs High School in previous years, that year became the first graduate.
By 1922, the high school faculty had grown to four— Harry J. Pope (science and geometry); Ralph Herring (Latin and history); Miss Ruth Johnson (English and French) and Mr. Fleming. (Independent picture, May 4, 1967) The first graduating class consisted of 12 individuals. (picture A History of Fuquay-Varina, p. 152)
In 1927 the high school building on Ennis Street signified growth. This is the same building now housing the offices of the Fuquay-Varina Middle School. The student body enrolled 655, with 5 high school teachers and 14 graduates. (Searchlight, 1928)
For African American students, two elementary schools moved from Bazzel Creek and Holland’s Crossroads to Jones Street in 1921. Mr. Joseph S. Davis became Principal. (Portrait in Ballentine School House Museum) and served until 1947. Along with Principal Davis, his wife and two other teachers taught elementary students. Transportation was arranged with the purchase of a bus by the community. (see Burton family Historically Speaking article ) so the high school students could enroll at Berry O”Kelly High School in Method. Mr. Leroy Burton talked of driving this bus as a student.
Efforts to build what became Fuquay Consolidated High School were successful with the erection of a high school building on Jones Street. The first graduation class in 1938 consisted of five students. Another interesting graduation did not occur in 1942. That year the entire senior class elected to return for the addition of the 12th grade and became the Class of 1943.
Integration in the fall of 1970 brought a change in the life of all high school students in Fuquay-Varina. For the last time, the Class of 1970 from Fuquay Consolidated High School had consisted of 75 graduates. The Class of 1970 from Fuquay-Varina High School had graduated 99 students.
All Fuquay-Varina High School students took over the campus of the formerly white high school bounded by Academy, Ennis and Woodrow Streets. The campus of the formerly black Fuquay Consolidated High School on Jones Street became home to Fuquay-Varina Elementary School. High school students voted to give up being Bison or Falcon and all became Bengal Tigers moving forward. This mascot has extended to the local middle and elementary students.
Community efforts led the Wake County Public School Board to propose a new high school and purchase the site on Bengal Boulevard. In the fall of 1975, Fuquay-Varina High School moved grades 10-12 to the new campus. In 1977, the school welcomed the arrival of
the ninth grade students.
The high school grew in student enrollment. A cafeteria expansion, a second gymnasium, the 300-400 halls, along with renovation of the library and administrative wing opened in 1994. The 500-600 halls were added in 1999.
The entire student body vacated the premises and moved temporarily to the newly constructed Willow Springs High School in the fall of 2019. Now in 2021, 2,007 students grades 9-12 of Fuquay-Varina High School are back on Bengal Boulevard in their completely new home. The 925 students grades 9 and 10 assigned to Willow Springs High School have the honor of founding their new high school in 2021.
Terrance McCotter presides over the new/renovated project at Bengal Boulevard; he has a staff of 157. Wade Martin is the founding principal at Willow Springs. The area of Fuquay-Varina is proud to welcome two new high school campuses.
The history of our area high schools has changed over time as has our town and the outlying country. Within our environs there is also a charter high school: Southern Wake Academy, which draws students from a wider area.
Sources: History of Fuquay-Varina, 2009; School History (FVCHS) by J. Simona Lee; Articles of Fuquay-Varina Community Development Corporation; Independent, May 4, 1967; Independent, September 13, 1989; Independent, February 17, 1949; Fuquay-Varina High School: Brief History by Shirley Simmons; Two Remarkable Burtons by Shirley Simmons in Historically Speaking, August, 2020; The Gold Leaf, 1917; Museums displays Ballentine School. Information from Terrance McCotter and Wade Martin, 2021.