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Topeka USD 501’s Randolph Elementary School remains a part of the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case

Topeka USD 501’s Randolph Elementary School remains a part of the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case

At nearly 100 years old, Randolph Elementary in Topeka Unified School District 501 is the only continuously operating school building that was part of the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case.

The colonial style building was one of the all-white schools that Topeka children attended prior to 1954.

Constructed in 1927, the school, now located in what is considered west-central Topeka, had 11 teachers, 368 students and one custodian.

Tamyra Heim, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Randolph for the past 17 years, said she is honored to be able to be part of a school with such historical significance and loves “being a part of the Randolph community and the relationships I've built with Randolph families and teachers over the years.“ 

“I was immediately thrilled with the aesthetics of this gorgeous building, and other teachers told me that this school was in high demand for teachers,” she said. “I knew all about the history of Topeka and its relationship to Brown v. Board, but it took me a few years to learn how Randolph was related to all of that. My current room, Room 206, once had a stage for performances and still has a ‘secret passageway’ that connects to Room 208.”

Julie Friedstrom, a retired teacher who has been a paraprofessional at Randolph for the past 14 years, echoes Heim’s sentiments about the “Randolph family.”

“What I love about Randolph is having the opportunity to work with students that are a part of third generation families,” she said.

The building was originally built in a U-shape and held as many as 570 students, including sixth-graders, in 1960. Desks were arranged in rows, allowing for about 30 students per classroom. The school now serves pre-K through fifth-grade students.

Retiring this month, Susan Rothchild has been a math intervention paraeducator, substitute teacher and parent educator at Randolph for nearly 25 years. While not a native Topekan, she said she’s been keenly aware of the Brown v. Board of Education case and its impact on her own life, remembering when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Black children were allowed to play with her and her friends on the same side of the playground.

“I’d literally grown up with the changes brought on by Brown,” Rothschild said. “When my husband and I brought our two young boys to Topeka in 1998, I was excited to come to what I thought of as one of the forefronts to educational democracy in our country. Still, I had no idea the next year I would be enrolling our eldest in the oldest school still in operation that was part of that lawsuit. I knew even less that it would become the place I would spend most of my adult career.”

Rothschild said she is still struck by the similarities of Randolph and the Monroe school that now houses the Brown v. Board of Education national museum, noting that Thomas W. Williamson designed them to be “twin schools” with Monroe opening to Black students in 1926 and Randolph opening to white students in 1927.

While the make up of the students, teachers and families has evolved over the years, Rothschild said Randolph’s traditions remain intact.

“The solidarity of devoted teachers, the interests of parents and the flexibility of administration have kept Randolph a great place to learn and be part of a community for 97 years,” she said.

Posted: May 16, 2024,
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