By Steve Robinson | September 17, 2019 - 6:34 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – For many a junior high student, the thought – let alone the actual anticipated step up to becoming a new high school student – can be an anxious event. In the school year of 1995-96, students having completed eighth grade the spring before and headed for high school that fall had an additional concern besides trying to remember where their hall locker was.

That school year, Normal was getting its second high school in an attempt to lessen overcrowding at venerable Normal Community High School. The new school, Normal Community West High School, located at 501 N. Parkside Rd., opened the fall of 1995.

NCWHS faculty, staff, and students used their homecoming weekend Sept. 13 to celebrate the milestone of the school turning 25 years old.

Dozens of former students filed through the cafeteria to look at mementos of their years at the school and to visit and reminisce with their former teachers. The school’s first principal, Dr. Jerry Crabtree, was among those who saw a number of former students at the event which was held prior to the Normal West football game against Big 12 Conference opponent Danville.

Crabtree was principal of Parkside Junior High School and he and a number of teachers from PJHS who had been assigned to staff Normal West that first year were a little anxious themselves to be starting a new year heading and teaching in a new school. Roughly 150 teachers, both certified and non-certified, as well as a handful of support staff, could lay claim to helping get the new school up and running that first year.

Crabtree joked that all the kids he oversaw at PJHS in the spring of 1995 “couldn’t get rid of me” when they became Normal West freshmen. Kidding aside, Crabtree said that timing for those kids “was great because the whole objective when we started West was to really build a family atmosphere because those kids were like our own kids.” Crabtree admits that’s cliché thinking, but he said there were a number of teachers who he supervised at PJHS who came along to Normal West when he did.

Now married, Julie Stone was known as Julie Bueller when she was among the first students to enter Normal West when it opened, as a member of the school’s first freshman class. “We were really excited to be coming here,” Stone said about how she and her friends felt about being the first students to occupy the school. “There were a lot of new features here,” she said. “There was a new computer lab, a lot of new resources here, and we were really excited about it.

“Having Dr. Crabtree and some of our teachers from Parkside was really neat because it was neat to have that continuity. That made it feel pretty natural to come here.”

Prior to Normal West opening, Unit 5 School District had structured junior highs to have seventh, eighth, and ninth grade age students. Students entering high school at NCHS across town started high school with 10th grade through senior year graduation. Prior to Normal West opening, the district changed that format so that 9th graders would begin attending high school. Sixth graders shifted from grade school into junior high.

Crabtree remained as principal at Normal West for eight years, retiring in 2003, succeeded by Tom Eder. Looking back on his time at the school, Crabtree explained, “The overriding memory I have is of the students who were here. They were like my own kids. I tried to treat them like that. You can’t have the same kids for six years and not know them.” Crabtree added being around kids for that length of time as an educator means you get to know students’ parents and grandparents, too.

Crabtree said it’s both unique and “cool” to have former students who now teach at Normal West. Social Studies teacher John Bierbaum is one of them.

Lexington resident Jill Stutzman came to the pre-game event with her husband, Dave, and their children, and found herself looking back over her high school days going through the memorabilia that were laid out on numerous tables scattered throughout the cafeteria. “I wanted to go into elementary education when I got to college,” Stutzman said. Currently, she’s doing just that, teaching at Lexington Junior High School. An athlete herself, she was on the Wildcats’ girls’ basketball team the first two years Normal West was open. That team went to State those first two years. Her Wildcats girls’ head coach was Bernie Chiaro. She has parlayed that experience into serving as a coach on the LJHS girls’ basketball team now.

Class of 2015 member Stephanie Davis held her toddler son at this event and looked over old pictures from her recent past in secondary education. She is now a freelance graphic designer in her own business in Normal. “I was heavily in art, choir, and band while I was here,” she explained. She played the teen named Kim in the school’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” She has been back volunteering to help with the school’s production of “Beauty And The Beast” and will return to offer her talents for the Wildcats as-of-yet unannounced production next spring.

NCHS Principal Trevor Chapman taught business at Normal West from 2005 through 2011 before moving on to George L. Evans Junior High School to become an administrator. Chapman credits Bierbaum, who had himself been a student and faculty, to guiding him concerning the culture of the school. From Evans, Chapman became NCHS principal in 2017.

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