Dec 8, 2011 by Erin France
Alumni of Athens High and Industrial School gathered Wednesday to celebrate their old school's reincarnation during the dedication of the Athens Community Career Academy and H.T. Edwards Complex.
The H.T. Edwards Complex was once Athens' black high school — Athens High and Industrial School — which later became Burney-Harris High School.
Named after Athens High's longtime and well-known principal, Homer T. Edwards, the Clarke County School District complex's campus gives high school students the chance to prepare for careers, allows young students to participate in after-school activities at the Boys & Girls Club and includes space for the school district's Office of Early Learning.
Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was joined by county leaders, school officials, Edwards family members and more than 100 community members for the dedication.
Athens-Clarke Commissioner George Maxwell was part of Athens High and Industrial School's graduating class of 1957.
The school building itself wasn't great, Maxwell said.
"It was kind of an inferior school that they threw together for us — but look at what we have now," he said.
The Career Academy opened in August with 250 students enrolled in classes to help them prepare for — or try out — careers including health science, criminal justice and architectural drawing.
The main reason students drop out of school is because they don't see their classes as relevant, Cagle said. The career academy will give students a chance to see why an education is important, he added.
"This is not just simply a local school. This is not just about vocation. This is about exploring a new horizon," Cagle said.
The academy and the rest of the complex are the result of a partnership involving the Clarke County School District, Athens Technical College, the University of Georiga, the OneAthens anti-poverty initiative and local businesses.
Residents also supported the project by approving local sales tax referendums, said Athens-Clarke Mayor Nancy Denson, former Clarke County tax commissioner. "As a long-time tax collector, I can't think of any better use for our tax dollars than what we're seeing today," Denson said.
The H.T. Edwards Complex also received plenty of support from an outspoken Athens community that didn't want to see another historic black school torn down, said Commissioner Harry Sims, a 1967 alumnus of Athens High.
Having the complex named after her grandfather, who led Athens High from 1945 until his retirement in 1969, is a big honor, said Hannah Edwards, one of Homer Edwards' granddaughters.
Her grandfather loved to learn and loved to teach, she said, noting that her grandfather started teaching at age 17 and continued stressing education for himself, his family and his students, she said.
It's almost as if her grandfather walked through the complex that bears his name and chose the best teaching tools to fill his former school, she said.
"This building, this room, fills me with pride," she said. "I am humbled; I am truly humbled."