By EMILY R. WEST
For some in Franklin, it’s hard to believe two decades have elapsed since the first students entered the doors of Centennial High School.
But for CHS principal Leigh Webb, it’s an opportunity to lead the school into a new decade.
“It’s something special to push pause, and look at all of all the amazing things that have happened,” Webb said.
She took the helm at Centennial starting in 2012.
“It’s been a fun and exciting time for us to look back at that arts, academics and athletics to no only see the success but to see them carry those successes into our alumni’s careers.”
Webb said the spirit at Centennial this year had been electric. Walk into the front office, a light blue and navy scrapbook holds together 20 years worth of memories. It chronicles when the school opened to highlighting famous alumni. The CHS student council has also been heavily involved, perusing 20 years worth of yearbooks to get a feel for its history. They are also in charge in planning out a whole year’s worth of events to mark its birthday.
“High schools in general, we get consumed with ourselves and the current year,” Webb said. “It feels like the first time we are truly making it about our heritage. It takes time to build history to have that appreciation of alumni. I think 20 years is the perfect time.”
Centennial started at the beginning of September on building floats for its Homecoming parade on Thursday. They kicked off Homecoming week with the dance and will end it Friday night when the Cougars face Clarksville High School.
Webb said she hoped the 20th anniversary of the school would energize the now-growing alumni base. At Friday night’s game, it will also give them the chance to participate. Webb said the school wanted to put them back under the stadium lights and show them they are always welcome. The class of 2006 will also celebrate its 10-year reunion.
“We would love to have as many homecoming queens join us for the presentation and the crowning of the Homecoming queen,” Webb said. “We are reaching out to any members of the Centennial choir to come back and sing the national anthem. I know we are also connecting with alumni band members and have that instrument to come back and play. We are also reaching out to alumni football players and cheerleaders to recognize them.”
And for those who haven’t walked the halls since they slammed their locker shut as a senior can have another shot at that Friday night. Starting at 6 p.m., student ambassadors will take them around and show off the school’s improvements and innovations.
“Several alumni have said they haven’t been back at the building,” she said. “And most of our alumni didn’t have a $3.5 million performing arts center. Plus there were other updates taking place campus wide.”
Above all, Webb said this year only brought together an already tight-knit community, an element she believes will continue to make CHS special throughout the next 20 years.
“What I have noted in talking to people is what hasn’t changed is that family orientated space,” Webb said. “That’s nothing something has changed in the last 20 years, and I don’t think it ever will.”
HOW CENTENNIAL CAME TO BE
Back in 1996, Williamson was on the cusp of the explosive growth the county continues to witness now.
Centennial became the fifth high school in the county, the first to open since Brentwood in the early 1980s.
The $23 million facility intended to house 1,800 students, and Director of Schools Rebecca Sharber pushed the Williamson County Commission to built it to capacity or face the consequences of constantly building on wings to the school.
Centennial got its name because of the state’s upcoming bicentennial celebration and the new school opening in 1996. The first graduating class also graduated at the turn of the century in 2000. The name came from 76 options at the time, some including John Price Buchanan, Glendale and Ravenwood, which the district last used.
It was also Williamson’s first two-story high school and campus wired during construction for computers.
As Sharber remembers, the opening of CHS came with its own growing pains. It was the first one to go up in her collective 14 years as superintendent of the district.
According to articles from the Franklin Review Appeal, most parents were in angst over the opening of the new school.
“It’s always difficult to open a new school,” she said. “It was difficult to do the zoning, when we decided when we needed the new high school. We originally talked about doing it from Brentwood, Franklin and Page High schools and tried to locate the school to make sense for that rezoning. And we really actually wanted it a little bit north of where it is currently, but the City of the Brentwood closed the road.”
The system looked at a number of properties all throughout Franklin before ultimately deciding to land with the land along Liberty Pike. The City of Franklin even protested, noting they should have to widen the road to four lanes in order to place it there. In accordance with state law, the district didn’t provide any of the $700,000 worth of work needed for that project.
“It was a crazy time,” Sharber said. “But in the finality, we were able to do enough to get the property and get the zoning correct. It’s hard to believe all the time has passed. I am so excited for Centennial. It has gone through some times where it didn’t have the best reputation, which I didn’t understand. It has the most diversity, and it was a great school. I had two children go there, and I always thought it was great.”
The board learned lessons from opening its fifth high school. Like Williamson County Schools does now, they shifted all freshman and sophomore classes over. But CHS also opened with juniors and seniors. It gave those two classes an option of staying with the school they already attended. This resulted in relatively small class sizes, and no new high school has ever opened again with upperclassmen.
“What happened was our senior class was so small we couldn’t offer all the upper-level courses,” board chairman Gary Anderson said. He’s currently the only member on the board that was serving when it opened.
“That’s when we learned to open schools with just the first two years. We ended up having a tiny and junior and senior class. No one wanted to go their senior year to a brand new school.”
Anderson said the Franklin community around Cool Springs was excited for the opening, while Brentwood residents weren’t too keen on the idea. According to the Franklin Review Appeal, the district eventually nixed eight Brentwood subdivisions from rezoning to CHS.
He said watching Centennial grow has been an evolutionary process and an opening the board was able to learn from in the thriving district.
“Centennial is one of those little gems that people don’t give it credit for,” Anderson said. “It has some wonderful things going on there and they just keep thriving. What I like about it is that it’s not been knocked down when it had issues, and they’ve always made sure it was a good community member.”