Twenty-five years ago, the face of Northern Virginia high school sports and academic competition changed drastically when T.C. Williams High School opened in Alexandria.
The school immediately began to dominate sports, winning several state championships, and by the 1970s began to excel in academics, producing some of the area's top musicians, artists and scholars.
As the 25th anniversary year of Thomas Chambliss Williams High School draws to a close this week, longtime faculty members say it has been a mix of the good and the disappointing.
The school, named for the city's school superintendent from the 1930s to the mid-1960s, opened in September 1965 as an institution that brought together white and black students who previously went to high schools that were integrated, but which remained either nearly all-black or all-white.
Today, it is the only public high school in Alexandria.
When the school opened it was one of the few Washington area high schools with a planetarium. Originally the school had 50 classrooms, six science classrooms, 19 laboratory classrooms, two industrial arts shops, an electronics shop, four gymnasiums, an auditorium, a band room and a music room. It was the envy of most Northern Virginia public high school students and teachers.
Through the years, it has remained unique, with one of the most diverse student bodies of any Northern Virginia high school. The school, situated on 20 acres on King Street, offers six foreign languages and 15 advanced-placement courses.
As senior David Copeland, 17, said, "We have one of everybody here. This is the United Nations in a nutshell and it's great!"
That "United Nations" is a student body of just under 2,000 that represents 60 nationalities with 52 native languages, and which is 42 percent black, 21 percent foreign-born, and 47 percent white. moved from Iran to the United States two years ago, Jessica Cornette is white, Sean Veney is black, and Edward Wong is an American of Asian ancestry.END NOTES
Like many urban high schools, T.C. Williams also has its share of problems, including some racial tension among students, drug use, teen pregnancy and high administrative costs for special programs for immigrant students.
Principal John Porter sees the next 25 years as a time for many more changes. The school at present is for grades 10 through 12, but may eventually become a four-year high school.
"I think what we need to be looking at are ways to make the curriculum more relevant to the kids," he said. "This is going to be a highly technological world they're going to be entering, and also very service oriented. Not every kid needs to go to college, so we'll need to offer more vocational courses and certainly more computer and technology oriented courses."
The faculty has changed. Today there are 225 staff members at the school, including 175 teachers.
"The faculty was very, very young when T.C. opened," recalled Elaine Silverman, who teaches social studies. " . . . . The teachers were all very young like myself. We were just out of college."
The school building has changed, too.
"The total cost of the building, including the land, was $5.47 million," said James McLure, a longtime faculty member and director of the guidance department.
The largest addition to the school came in 1976 when the $1.2 million, 63,000-square-foot career wing was built, adding several computers and other technical teaching tools to the school.
In 1982 a "sports barn," or gymnasium, was added at the rear of the school. Since 1965, 29 classrooms or laboratories have been added.
However, the most controversial new program was the $1.2 million crew facility built in 1986 at the north end of Old Town on the Potomac River shore. Many outraged city residents said it was a costly luxury that was not needed.
Historically, T.C. Williams has been the bane of other Northern Virginia high school sports teams that were forced to compete with the school. At one time in the early 1970s, the school's football team was so dominant it was placed in a different division every year to give other teams a chance to win their divisions.
The school has won seven state sports championships, including unprecedented consecutive indoor and outdoor track and field state championships in 1989, as well as dozens of district and regional titles.
Academically, the students have excelled.
In 1988 T.C. Williams had the most National Merit Scholarship finalists of any Virginia high school, and in 1981 and 1986 it had the most presidential scholars of any Virginia high school.
In 1983 it became one of the first schools in the United States to win an Excellence in Education Award from the Department of Education.
Copeland seemed to sum up the school best when he said, "I think the 25 years of T.C. symbolizes the outstanding curriculum offered here and the standard of excellence the school portrays to the community. It's a great school."