Our Rich HistoryWritten by Dr. George M. Koonce, Jr.
Principal of Miami Northwestern (1977 - 1987)
Miami Northwestern Senior High School opened its doors as a learning institution "with tremendous fanfare" in the fall of 1955. The atmosphere at the opening of such a unique facility was full of excitement: it was a new vocational high school. It was the first new high school for Miami blacks in a generation, and it was a million and one-half dollar plant; however, it was also a school with unfinished rooms, no auditorium, and a cafeteria without tables or chairs. This new school replaced the old Dorsey Senior High and was built on a 21-acre tract of land known as "Little Korea." A little known fact is that the land on which Northwestern High School was built was purchased by Dade County to serve as a (buffer) zone between black and white communities. These unique circumstances have played a major role in determining the subsequent history and character of Miami Northwestern Senior High School.
Although the United States Supreme Court had already handed down its historical desegregation decision, (Brown vs. the Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas in October, 1954), the integration of Miami Northwestern was never considered. The 1,050 black students, who attended that opening year, were bused daily from black communities throughout Dade County. The teaching staff and administration were also all black. Even after the Court ordered desegregation in 1970, Miami Northwestern remained black because of the rationale of its location. Therefore, the Court ordered that the administration and faculty and the School Board of Dade County, Florida, make available Majority-to-Minority (M/M) transfers to the parents and students as a means of voluntarily providing desegregated experiences for those students. The administration and faculty, however, were integrated in compliance with this court mandate.
Prior to the 1973-74 school year, Miami Northwestern did not have definite boundaries. Consequently, the enrollment at Northwestern fluctuated annually. It reached a high of 2,273 students in 1973-74, and a low of 1,380 students in 1978-79. It was during the period of low enrollment that an extraordinary effort was undertaken to accentuate the positive impact of Miami Northwestern as an institution with a special mission: to serve youngsters within the community. The alumni became the rally point around which emphasis was placed on the unique role and mission of this institution. Its great tradition, its positive influence, and accomplishments over the years were made a focal point in terms of appealing to parents to enroll their children at Miami Northwestern and to support its efforts in and around the community. A stabilizing force was the continued presence of stalwarts such as Assistant Principal John Henry Peavy Jr., and Athletic Director Lee R. Perry.
There was also a tremendous commitment on the part of the School Board of Dade County, Florida, in recognizing the need to maintain a diverse student population at Northwestern. The Academic Achievement Program (AAP), which was a school-within-a school concept, was organized and funded to attract and maintain this diverse student population at Northwestern. This concept was an extension of the inherent philosophy of the school, which was to prepare academically gifted students to achieve high scores on college entrance examinations and to provide academic instruction that would ensure that these students would have a firm basis for academic success at the college and university levels. Students were screened at the junior high school level; attitudinal development and strong discipline were inner-growth aspects of the program.
A school-wide atmosphere of expectation relative to student achievement and student conduct placed appropriate demands on students in support of academic excellence. The faculty and staff refused to blame the students for their background or let students use it as a crutch for their inability or lack of efforts, academically. This general attitude on the part of the staff continued to grow with their total involvement in the academic efforts at the school. The staffing of Miami Northwestern over the years of its existence, have also been a major factor in shaping the history of this institution. During the 1969-70 school year, desegregation of the instructional staff was implemented, thus triggering the mechanism to realize the goal of bringing the school staff into compliance with judicial guidelines.
Another program established at Miami Northwestern, was the Performing and Visual Arts Center. This center, commonly referred to as "PAVAC," has been housed in Miami Northwestern since the 1974-75 school year and initially was opened to secondary level students from all Dade County Public Schools. Then, its curriculum only included art and music. Today, however, drama, art, music and dance directs the curriculum. These performing arts students provided cultural, lyceum type features for the Northwstern Community, as well as for numerous community-based organizations throughout the county and state.
Today, Miami Northwestern is one of the top predominantly African American institutions of secondary learning. Despite the spoken difficulties of the urban area, Northwestern will continue to rise as one of the largest and most prideful landmarks of the Liberty City area.