Goin’ to School (Part 2): “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Students and teachers are headed back to the classroom! But for the first time in 45 years, I will not be among them. After a lifetime of going to school (30 years of that as a teacher), I have retired. Forty-five first days of school and lots of memories!

There was no public Pre-K or Kindergarten in the late 1960s. I attended a half-day First Baptist Church Kindergarten class taught by Betty Courtway, wife of Bob Courtway. Mr. Courtway was a member of the Conway School Board. Later the district named a middle school after him. Her enthusiasm for children and learning gave us all a good start.

FBC Kindergarten was one of several private kindergartens in Conway at the time. Others in the area were Bluebird Kindergarten, which had been run by Mrs. Radley for over 30 years, and Second Baptist Church Kindergarten.

I attended Sallie Cone Elementary, one of three elementary schools that were all named after women who had contributed to Conway public education. Miss Sallie Cone was the only one still living at the time and would occasionally serve as a substitute. Julia Lee Moore, who would eventually be honored with a school in her name, was the principal at Ida Burns Elementary. The third elementary was Ellen Smith, then located on Harkrider Street in the building that now houses St. Joseph students.

The three elementary schools housed grades 1-5 so in the 6 th grade all students came together for the first time at Conway Middle School. There were the nightmares before that first day but in Virginia Nutter’s homeroom class I made lifelong friends. Her warmth and support eased those fears about going to a new school.

The principal was Woodrow Cummins, who would later have an elementary school named after him because of his contributions to education. Students were educated by teams of teachers. The whole class would move from teacher to teacher through the day. The day ended back in homeroom for a study hall. We all bonded as a family of learners that year.

Conway Middle School was a red brick building on the northwest corner of Prince and Davis. It spanned the block along Davis Street and housed grades six and seven. Across Prince Street was Conway Junior High. It was the former high school and had been retrofitted with central heat and air the year before my class started 8 th grade.

Jim Stone was the principal and Theodore Jones was the career orientation teacher. Both have elementary schools named after them. All students remember Eloise Rhode, the English teacher who prayed for generations of students in her charge.

The nightmares came again before that first day at Conway High School. Built in 1968, the building was a maze. The classrooms were organized into “pods” and there were a number of ways for a sophomore to get lost. Everything was open. If you were bored with your teacher, you could listen to the one next door! The library in the center had multiple entrances and a librarian who meant business. The cafeteria was at the back but most of us just ate in the Commons around the vending machines.

In the late 1970s, CHS had two computers (no hard drives) that could only be used by the math students. Research involved a card catalog in the library. Writing a paper meant you had to be able to use a typewriter. Arletha Manley and Doretta Bright made sure that happened. James Clark, the principal, made sure we got one of the best educations available in the state!

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