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Nineteen years ago Wednesday, the Tuscaloosa City Schools Board of Education made a decision to create neighborhood high schools.

Former Tuscaloosa City Schools Board member John Gordon was among the deciding voters who made the big split into three high schools happen. He recalls it being a controversial decision, but said he’d vote the same way again in a heartbeat.

“My position to go forth and to say we were ready for unitary status caused a lot of pain and suffering for me and many people close to me,” said Gordon. “But I knew it was the right thing to do.”

A school district is unitary when it has eliminated the effects of past segregation. When courts declare a school system unitary, the court system no longer supervises the school system’s student assignment and other decisions.

Which meant Central High School had been the only city high school back then.

“Today we can look at the results of what we have acquired with unitary status being able to make our own decisions locally in terms of building new schools in terms of instituting new programs and acquiring new zoning lines to best suit the student body have been things that have been truly successful for this district,” Gordon said.

In 1979, Central opened after a federal court order forced the mostly segregated high schools in Tuscaloosa City Schools to integrate.

For the next two decades, Central was an academic and athletic powerhouse in Alabama, producing state championships and National Merit Scholars. The decision to split into three high schools during this time for Gordan was more about education than sport organizations.

“Sports is not the catalyst for education,” Gordon said. “Sports is only a product of what education is. The powerhouse means we had a good football team and we had a good basketball team because that’s where all the children attend school.”

In 2000, the court order that created Central High School ended, and in August of that year the Tuscaloosa City Schools board split Central into three high schools: Bryant High, Northridge High, and Central High.

Some saw the split as an act of resegregation, dividing the diverse student population that had once walked the halls together at the integrated central high.

Gordon said that’s ludicrous.

“It’s proven that academic achievement has nothing to do with how schools are separated and I’m proud of where we are,” he said. “For us to have three different schools, I think we’re on the cusp of being as successful as we can possibly be and it was a great decision. I can’t find a reason to change my decision.”

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