Nolan Middle School Past and Future
In January 1961, following a stretch of freezing weather, Killeen school buses carried about 600 students from Rancier Junior High School on Rancier Avenue to the barren, wind-swept edge of town.
There, on an unnamed, unpaved street, those students, along with 45 from the Marlboro School, also near the center of town, Killeen ISD opened Nolan Junior High School, its second junior high at the time.
Fifty-nine years later, Nolan Principal Ashley York, a native of Killeen now finishing an unbelievable first year as a principal follows in the footsteps of the school’s first principal, Norman Hall.
She is leading a staff team approximately 9 miles to the south and east to a new school just as modern today as the one at Jasper Drive was in 1961.
The new Nolan Middle School occupies a space in the fast-growing south part of town and will serve as KISD’s second middle school STEM Academy site, a counterpart to Smith Middle School, which just finished its third year as KISD’s first middle school STEM Academy.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” York said Monday, understating a vastly unexpected final school year for Nolan Middle School.
Walking through the quiet main hallway, past packed boxes and remnants of decades of Nolan Mustang memories, the principal can step out the backdoor and glimpse the future of the school district where she grew up.
She attended Clifton Park Elementary School and now, as she helps pack up the closing Nolan, she can see a new Clifton Park Elementary rising up that will consolidate the current Clifton Park and Bellaire elementary schools.
Moving on hasn’t been easy.
“Not getting to say goodbye was huge,” York said of the spring break that became a closure that ended the school year. The Nolan staff and the large community of former students and families didn’t get the usual goodbye.
“The staff has rolled with the punches,” she said. “There was no stopping.” In addition to staying in touch and teaching remotely, the middle school staff worked to shift student records from the closing campus to Palo Alto, Manor and Rancier.
The majority of the school staff will remain intact moving to the new Nolan. Projected enrollment is 1,094, including 360 in the new STEM Academy.
The scheduled move-in shows furniture to arrive later this month and teacher supplies in the middle of July. Staff members will hopefully be able to set up classrooms at the end of July and return at the start of August.
For York, the transition is oddly reminiscent.
She attended Killeen High School, but moved over to the new Harker Heights High School, where she graduated with the first class of Knights in 2001.
A decade later, she was a teacher at Reeces Creek Elementary School before moving to the new Haynes Elementary School in 2011.
With all the challenge of the past few months and all the challenge likely in the next few months, York is excited for a new school.
“We miss connecting with kids,” she said. “Even in the hallways, correcting them, we miss that. You don’t get into this to be in an office and have zoom calls.”
As a Killeen native and new principal, York has learned much of the school’s history and happened across more sorting through a packed trophy case, yearbooks and other artifacts.
When Nolan opened in 1961, the media accounts described a “first of its kind” school.
Stories of the mid-year opening of the $600,000 school praised the individual heating and ventilation controls in each classroom and a modern color scheme with brown, blue, maroon, tan and copper boards taking the place of the usual blackboards.
Band practice rooms included bright color panels. The girl’s PE dressing rooms were pink.
The new Nolan Middle School will retain its Mustang mascot and light blue and white and will add black as an accent color.
Touring through the new school, York, a former math coach, anticipated the school’s STEM distinction. “Science and math is going to be huge,” she said. “I’m especially interested in pushing females to excel in math and science.”
In 2011, Nolan Middle School hosted a 50-year reunion. Former student Mary Reid showed her 1963 maroon-covered yearbook. The school’s colors were originally maroon.
Reid, a teacher at Pershing Park Elementary School at the time and her classmates Mike and Faye (Burleson) Horton described those days at Nolan in the early 1960s fondly.
“It was a family atmosphere here,” said Reid. “It was like a home away from home, the way school should be.”
She said integration occurred in Killeen when she was in seventh grade and that students didn’t think anything unusual about it.
“I remember groups of people helping each other,” Reid said, “and we’re still together,” she said in reference to her friends at the school birthday party.
Last August, York prepared her staff and students for the school’s 59th and final year.
“The road to success is always under construction,” York said, explaining the school’s theme for the year in light of ongoing building adjacent to the school.
“We want to make sure our kids have the best last year they can and that they have the tools they need to be successful.”