Saint Paul Central High School

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Saint Paul Central High School
"Many traditions, one school."
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Type Public
Established 1866
School district Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS)
Principal Mary Mackbee
Grades 9–12
Number of students 2236 total enrolled as of 2010-2011 schoolyear;
(Central school profile + demographics)
Campus Urban
Color(s) Red and Black
Mascot Minuteman
Newspaper Central High Times

Central High School of Saint Paul, is the oldest high school in the state of Minnesota, United States. Founded in 1866 in downtown Saint Paul, Central has educated many leaders in business, government, literature, arts, sciences, and education throughout the state of Minnesota and the United States. Central also boasts more Rhodes Scholars among its alumni than any other public high school in the U.S.[1] with the most recent scholar, Matthew Landreman, being announced in 2003.

It is also one of the biggest high schools in the state and, as of 2011, the second largest in the city of Saint Paul, next to Harding Senior High School on the east side of the city.[2] It is also a national Blue Ribbon School.[3]


Central High School has been situated in four locations, beginning with the first building in 1866.

First Central High School: Saint Paul High School, 3rd floor of the Franklin School building (2 rooms), Broadway and Tenth Streets, 1866–1872. Photo dated 1865.

1866 (third floor of Franklin School Building)

Central High School was founded in 1866 in response to student requests. Before 1866, there were no educational opportunities in Saint Paul beyond grade school. About a dozen students wished to continue their schooling so, in 1866, two rooms were set aside for the "High School" on the third floor of the Franklin School building, located at Broadway and Tenth Streets in downtown Saint Paul. Some people thought that the school was a waste of space. Eugene Foster (known as the "Father of the High School") was the principal, and Mrs. H.M. Haynes was the lone teacher. The first graduating class of the Saint Paul High School was in 1870, and consisted of two students: Fannie Haynes (the daughter of the teacher), and A. P. Warren. The first 2 diplomas were hand printed on sheepskin. Gradually, the classes enrolled in the Franklin Building became too large for the two little rooms to accommodate them.

1872 (Lindeke Building, 7th and Jackson, second floor)

In 1872, the Saint Paul High School moved to the Lindeke Building at 7th and Jackson streets where it occupied the second floor. That year, graduation exercises were held in the Saint Paul Civic Opera House where they were held until it was destroyed by a fire in 1899. Then the commencement exercises were held in the People's Church until the completion of the Saint Paul Auditorium. In 1872, the graduating class consisted of 12 students: five boys and seven girls.

In 1873, the graduating class of 12 students originated the custom of presenting each senior with a souvenir appropriate to his/her character. For several years, a prize was offered for the best essay: a Webster's Unabridged Dictionary and a holder for it. The President of the Board of Education also presented a prize to the one having the highest standing in the class, usually a fine set of Shakespeare's works.

1883/1888 (10th and Minnesota)

Saint Paul Central High School, 10th and Minnesota, with Annex, in use from 1883 to 1912. 1888 version shown.

A new building opened in 1883 at 10th and Minnesota streets. The building was the first high school built in Saint Paul. In 1888, a 14-room annex was added for laboratories, but there was no money for an astronomical observatory. The Debate society decided to put on plays to make up the money to pay for it. Soon, Central was known as the only high school in the United States to have a fixed telescope with a lens ground and polished by the great telescope maker Alvan Clark (1804–1887), whose company built some of the largest and best telescopes in the world, including the telescope for the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Mechanics Arts High School, then known as Manual Training High School, was first housed in the basement of Central. The school was renamed Central High School in 1888.

Soon the building on 10th and Minnesota Street became too small, and the corner of Marshall and Lexington Avenues was chosen as the new site.[4]

1912 (Marshall and Lexington)

Saint Paul Central High School, Marshall Ave and Lexington Parkway, 1912–1980

A new school, designed by Clarence H. Johnston, Sr., was built in 1912 on the corner of Marshall Avenue and Lexington Parkway, and was attempted to be renamed Lexington High School; alumni, however, wanted to keep the moniker Central High School. A compromise was reached when the Minuteman was adopted as a logo and mascot. In other words, the name of the school was retained, but for those who wanted the school to be named "Lexington," its logo and mascot were named after the colonial militia men of 1775 at Lexington, Massachusetts, who fought against the British in the first skirmishes of the War of Independence, and were required to be ready at a minute's notice. The adjacent stadium was built in the early 1940s by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), as denoted by a plaque on the brick facade of the stands. It was renamed James Griffin Stadium in 1998.

1912 Marshall/Lexington building construction:[5][6]

Working name – West End High School
Proposed name – Lexington High School
Final name – Central High School

Architect - Clarence H. Johnston Sr. - prominent Saint Paul architect, studied architecture in Saint Paul as well as MIT, and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, travelled Europe and Asia. Also designed houses for Summit Ave, buildings for the University of Minn, many others.

Architectural Artist – JC Trott (employed by the architect)
Style – Collegiate Gothic
Land purchased – 1909
Designed – 1909–1910
Building Permit Issued – May 31, 1910
Builder – C. Ash Company
Construction started – 1910
Ready for occupancy – 1911 (old school dropped from City Directory)
Cornerstone laid – April, 1912 (building completed)
Flagpole installed – 1914

New gymnasium – 1924 (added to the west side of the school, replacing the old one in the top floor of the middle section; see 1925 yearbook, history of Johnston's career, and spps history document)

Stadium – 1940/1943 depending on the source (building permits or spps).
Cost for 1909–1943 – $650,000 (not counting maintenance, heating, etc.)

1970s and 80s (Marshall and Lexington)

Rebuilding and modernization took place in the 1970s and 80s. Led by Ellerbe Architects in 1979, the "castle" exterior was removed or overlaid with cement, a pool and other athletic facilities were added, and the interior was gutted and rebuilt. The building now uses only the structural frame of the previous building. This resulted in a joke amongst students that it was designed by a prison architect because of the school's rather utilitarian exterior, metal gates, and few windows on ground level. Larry Millett, a local architecture critic described the building as, "The nadir of modern school architecture in Saint Paul, a building so resolutely grim and uninviting that it suggests that education can only be viewed as a form of incarceration."[7]Until 2006 a barbed wire fence extended around Griffin Stadium and portions of the school facing Interstate 94 and Lexington contributing to the joke. In August 2013 the fence was replaced with new black vinyl fencing funded by the Lexington-Hamline Community Council, the St Paul School District ISD 625 and a Saint Paul Neighborhood Star grant.[8] A parent-led effort to improve the appearance, function, and sustainability of the building, "Transforming Central," was initiated in 2011.[9]


Central offers many higher-level classes. It has offered the International Baccalaureate program since 1988.[10] Central has the second largest IB program in the state of Minnesota.[11] Students may also take Advanced Placement classes and their subsequent tests. Central was the only high school in Minnesota to be honored by the Siemens Foundation in their 2007-08 Siemens Awards for Advanced Placement. Central received the award for "its commitment to students and leadership in AP participation and performance".[12][13] In 1970 Central began to offer the Quest program, the first gifted and talented program approved by Saint Paul Public Schools.[14] This humanities based program was started in order to offer in-depth topics in the humanities that were not available in normal classes. The program continues to challenge students to think independently and to learn from each other and from the teacher in a discussion-based approach towards learning. Over 15 Quest classes are currently offered including classes on world culture, ancient civilizations, the Harlem Renaissance and Shakespeare literature.[15] Central has participated in the University of Minnesota‘s College in the Schools program since 1994.[16][17]


Central is known for its strong music program. Many music classes are offered including Concert Band, Varsity Band, Orchestra, Central Chamber Singers, Concert Choir, Men’s Choir, and Women’s Choir. Co-Curricular opportunities include Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Jazz Band, Minnesingers, Meistersingers, and the Music Listening Contest. Central performing ensembles have traveled in recent years to San Diego, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Nashville. Central musicians have a tradition of first place awards and superior ratings at local, state, and national festivals and competitions. The Central Concert Band and Orchestra were selected to perform at the 2007 MMEA Mid Winter Clinic. The Central Concert Choir performed at the ACDA-MN 2006 Fall Convention and the Central Singers were selected to perform at the 2007 Choral Arts Finale at Orchestra Hall. The Central Orchestra performed at Orchestra Hall in January 2007, opening for the Minnesota Orchestra, as part of the Music-Up-Close series. The Central IB Music program offers instruction in music theory, history, composition, and solo-performance. Central High School is also known for having one of the most advanced Anime Clubs in the region, with regular pepfests held in honor of those who are most engaged.


Central has produced a long line of talented athletes, the most notable being Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave Winfield. More recently, Central's athletics programs displayed their dominance when they won the 2008 St. Paul City Conference in every fall athletics category.

Girls Basketball

File:Central title.jpg
The 2006–07 girls basketball team hoists their class AAAA trophy after defeating Minneapolis South, 81–63.

In the 2006–2007 season, the Central high school girls basketball team set a state record for most victories in a single season, going 32–0 en route to the class AAAA state championship. During their perfect season, Central was considered by some to be the best team in the history of Minnesota High School girls basketball.[18] Central beat their opponents by an average of 44 points per game, averaged 86 PPG and had all five starters average more than 10 PPG. In addition, the 2006–2007 girls basketball team served as grand marshals for the 2007 Rondo Days parade.

File:Central storms floor.jpg
The 2007–08 girls basketball team storms the court in celebration of their class AAAA state championship.

Overall, Central has won four state titles in girls basketball: 1976, 1979, 2007, and 2008.


Central high school holds a long-standing tradition of excellence in croquet. The club, founded by Carter McCoy during the 2014-2015 school year, took home the St. Paul City conference championship its first year in existence. Taking the title from previous winner Minnehaha Academy. Big wins from Tony Howard, Peyton Pike, and Elias Hofrenning helped take the squad to the state tournament.

Extracurricular activities

Central's math team has also been highly successful. In 2007, led by Nick Arnosti, who did not miss a single point in the regular season, the math team was undefeated and won the state championship, scoring a state record number of points at the tournament.[19]

Central High School is home to a nationally recognized policy debate program. Founded by 2007 graduates Molly Schnell and Maureen O'Brien in 2004, the program has since grown to a roster size of 14 in the 2006–2007 season under the leadership of coach Dan Allen.[20] The team qualified juniors Ben Quam and Ilias Karim, who is the brother of Central High School alum Jawed Karim,[21] to the quarterfinals of the Minnesota State High School League Policy Debate Quarterfinals as the fourth seeded team before they were eliminated by Edina High School's seniors Doug Gschneidner and Logan Chin.[22] In 2008, the team consisting of Ilias Karim and Ben Quam faced Highland Park High School at the final round of the Minnesota state debate tournament.[23] In 2010, the team of Laura Johnson and Steve Quam reached the quarter-finals of the Tournament of Champions (debate) and Johnson was the 9th place speaker.[24] Laura Johnson was also the second place speaker at the National Forensic League tournament that year.[25] In 2012, the team of Hannah Nesser and Imanol Avendano reached the semi-finals of the National Urban Debate League tournament.[26] In 2013, Ayaan Natala became the first African-American to reach the final round of the Minnesota State High School League tournament.[27]

Central High School has also improved its Mock Trial team dramatically in recent years. Under the coaching of Stacey Sorensen and Prof. Peter Knapp, the Mock Trial team, captained by Elizabeth "Liz" Lee and PaFoua Hang, reached the state competition for the first time in 2007 as regional champions, and again in 2008 captained by Charlie Armitz and Sarah Ludwig.

Notable alumni


Records of Central High School are available for research use. They consist of historical data, programs, invitations, and handbooks, pupil lists, subject files, scrapbooks and photographs, documenting a wide variety of school activities and events, and correspondence and newspaper clippings about former pupil Amelia Earhart.[50]


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External links