June 4, 2012
‘Hidden gift’ of change is
Denfeld/Central Class of 2012’s legacy
By Jana Hollingsworth
No one said it was going to be easy, but students
who attended Denfeld High School this year have become well-versed
in the complexities of change.
From the merging of both schools at Central last
year to their merging at Denfeld this year, students are far better
prepared to transition into college and life after high school,
some said last week.
“I know how to go in and meet people and
go in with a positive attitude,” said senior Maggie Brakke,
who attended Central her first three years. “It was a hidden
But the road to get there was long and tough,
she said, and seniors began to gel only in the past few weeks, thanks
to things like a senior retreat last month.
“I don’t think anyone gave anyone
a chance last year,” she said of the final year at Central.
“We tried, and we pretended we did, but we really didn’t.
… Now I wish I had more time.”
When Denfeld students graduate this week, it will
bring to a close the last year of major transition for Duluth’s
high schools. The school district’s consolidation plan included
the Central High School’s closure. Central students were divided
between Denfeld and East, with Denfeld getting the larger share.
Of the current juniors and seniors who attended Central before the
first consolidation, 201 are at Denfeld this year and 88 are at
The year wasn’t easy for students or staff,
said Denfeld’s interim principal Tonya Sconiers, formerly
assistant principal who mid-year replaced Ed Crawford when he became
assistant superintendent of the district.
“They were out of sorts, and let’s
be honest; they were in mourning,” Sconiers said. “You
go through that process.”
A different place
The school was brand-new to Central students and
staff, but it was also a change for those who had attended or worked
at Denfeld before.
It’s a beautiful school, said Tom Tusken,
interim assistant principal, but “the building felt fundamentally
different. It was not the same place.”
The school, with a population of about 1,200 students,
has a new addition with science and music classrooms, a large commons
area and kitchen and cafeteria. Blue had replaced some of the maroon
and gold interior. The office was in the new addition with a secure
main entrance for safety reasons, forcing students to sign in during
the day to gain entry. Seniors no longer had their own hallway because
the lockers of all four grades were mixed together. Travel time
between lockers and classrooms had grown longer because of the larger
space, students said, which also diminished the feeling of community.
Administration had different rules.
“We had to start over,” said senior
Lindsey Redenbaugh, who attended Denfeld her first two years of
high school. “We felt like we were being held back.”
School spirit was weaker, said senior D.J. Richard,
who also originally attended Denfeld. He remembered his days as
a freshman and sophomore at the school and the enormous effort students
put into decorating their halls, wearing school colors and showing
“I felt like I belonged at the old Denfeld,”
he said. “You don’t feel like you belong here. This
new Denfeld needs a lot more work … emotionally. We’re
not united completely.”
Those feelings, the students said, led to difficulties
bonding in the first part of the year.
“Everyone was a freshman this year,”
Brakke said. “Now, we’re getting closer.”
Last year’s and this year’s senior
classes had a lot of adjusting to do, said Ethan Fisher, social
studies teacher and executive board adviser. He and other teachers
have worked to deepen students’ relationships and rebuild
“The transition took a lot of wind out of
the sails,” he said. “Unfortunately, somebody has to
be that class.”
Teachers and other staff went through much of
what the students did in adjusting to a new school. And dealing
with the changes while layoffs deplete their ranks has been difficult,
“It’s hard to get really excited for
things when you know the person next door might not be here next
year,” he said.
Students and staff members had to decide how to
honor Central and Denfeld traditions. A “Remember the Trojans”
day was held during the school’s “snow week.”
Two separate courts were held for homecoming, so there was a king
and queen and a Helen of Troy and Paris, to represent each school.
But that decision didn’t come easily, students said, and there
were some who didn’t agree with honoring Central.
“There were times kids from Denfeld and
Central were fighting for traditions and fighting for things they
knew,” Fisher said. “Every step there has been compromises.
We are creating a new normal.”
The Central way of holding pep assemblies in the
gym was chosen instead of using the auditorium. The Central chimes
will be played at graduation, where both school alma maters will
be sung. Seniors who had previously gone to Central will receive
a certificate of participation for the school inside their diploma.
Many of those seniors had asked for Central diplomas, Sconiers said,
but because the school is closed, it’s no longer recognized
by the state.
A lot of work has gone into blending Central and
Denfeld traditions into end-of-year events, Sconiers said, and the
hope is that new ones will be created, giving students ownership
What worked this year, Tusken said, is that students
were honest about issues, and administration was willing to listen.
The idea of a senior hallway, for example, will be revisited.
“Both schools have very proud traditions
and they were asked to come together,” Tusken said. “Things
are going to happen at their own pace and it’s taken most
of the school year to get there.”
He cited the recent senior assembly, where, after
the Denfeld school song was sung, several students, from both schools,
spontaneously began singing the Central song.
“That says a lot about the healing process,”
Fisher, who graduated from Denfeld in 1991 and
taught at Central before this year, said freshmen were added to
Denfeld his senior year.
“As a student, I went through some changes,”
he said. “I survived. These kids will survive. They will look
back on high school and hopefully remember the relationships they
created and not the colors on the walls.”
The school will become more cohesive as former
Central students graduate, students and staff said.
“(Seniors) weren’t good role models,
because we were going into a new school, too, and didn’t know
what to expect,” Redenbaugh said. “We made it a little
better, and it’ll keep getting better. I have so much faith
in the junior class, because they are learning from our mistakes.”