The faculty and students at W.B. Wicker Elementary School have had over two months to settle into their new digs. They gathered at the new school on Sunday to finally celebrate its opening.
Donning yellow and blue school shirts, the group was joined by city and county officials and community members Sunday to not only cut the ribbon the school, but to celebrate the building’s history and significance. Long before it became Sanford’s newest school, W.B. Wicker was the Lee County Training Center, born in 1927 as a school for black students, funded in part by Chicago-based philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who helped establish more than 5,000 similar schools across the south at the time.
It was renamed for William Bartelle Wicker, former principal of the South Sanford Graded School and later the Lee County Training Center before it was renamed for him in the 1950s. After desegregation was implemented in 1969, the campus served for another two decades as one of Lee County’s middle and elementary schools before closing altogether in 1990.
It fell into disrepair fairly quickly, but found new life in 2006 after Central Carolina Community College renovated the original classroom building for use as an auxiliary campus. A decade later, the push began to renovate the historic building to serve Lee County’s growing student population. The school opened its doors to roughly 700 students in August.
“W.B. Wicker was a dedicated educator who had a vision — a vision of excellence,” said Barbra Matthews Partridge, a descendant of Wicker (and 1968 graduate) speaking on behalf of the family on Sunday. “And he fought to bring a culture and a sense of pride to his students who lived in a world that was not entirely welcoming during that time.”
She was preceded at the podium by Margaret Murchison, longtime newswoman and radio personality and Wicker school alumna. “This was our little piece of Heaven,” Murchinson said of the school. “And I sincerely hope that the students who are here now will some day consider it a piece of Heaven for them.”
The renovations to Wicker are certainly impressive. The “old” side of the school has been refinished and updated, while the new side boasts a dance studio, Maker Space studio, modern classrooms and more. The school is unique in its STEAM approach that focuses more on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
It hasn’t all gone smoothly — construction pushed occupancy in the building to about a week before classes began, and not everything (such as the gymnasium and playgrounds) was complete at the beginning of the semester. Some of the lower grades (K-2) lack the learning equipment (such as computers or tablets) their peers in other elementary schools are currently using.
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Lee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Amy Dalrymple said. “But, honestly, truly great things seldom are. Educating children in this day and age is increasingly a challenge with all the things competing for their interests. As a community, it’s important that we support education opportunities of all kinds and for all students — to nurture each one’s special talents and abilities. W.B. Wicker is going to be one of those places, working together to sew the seeds of love and learning and sharing knowledge with one another.”
Lee County Board of Education Chairman Patrick Kelly called the school “a dream that became a reality.” “Here we stand in front of a beautiful school,” Kelly said, “a school that has survived time and closure and has been born again.”
Rebecca Wyhof Salmon on STEAM education: “The heart of what our future is is our people. The opportunity to provide our community with a STEAM education — to jump start their creativity, their ingenuity and their curiosity … it’s something to be truly proud of. Sanford is undergoing a renaissance. We are attracting industries, our small businesses are flourishing and people are choosing our community to build their careers and raise their families. It’s quality of life, strong schools and a well-trained, highly motivated work force that are the key drivers that make people choose to live in Sanford and Lee County. And this continued success is going to hinge on all of us working together on projects like the W.B. Wicker School.”
Principal Wendy Hughes Carlyle: “How privileged we are to be the first staff of the new W.B. Wicker School. It truly is a new beginning for each of us. We are very happy to unite the past to the future, and we hope to continue the legacy of excellence as we move forward.”