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West Madison’s legacy to thrive in memories of its friends

MADISON – With the close of the 2020-2021 school year, West Madison Elementary School is transitioning from serving elementary grades to a central site for Madison City Schools’ First Class Pre-Kindergarten Center.

Gone will be the usual routine at West Madison, but residents will keep fond, heartfelt memories for the building, educators, student classrooms, library, cafeteria and the festivals, fairs and friendships that brightened the years.

Originally, West Madison students met in churches or in a one-room structure for the school. In 1936 with assistance from the Works Progress Administration or WPA, local leaders secured land materials for a new school.

Cornelia Seay deeded the land for the school without compensation. Interested citizens provided money and free labor. The three-room building was erected on Pension Row. L.C. Jamar served as principal until 1947. His principalship started with two teachers and ended with four, according to local historian Cindi Sanderson.

Dorothy Turner then worked as principal, followed by Rev. E.C. Binford in 1948. Binford saw the school enlarged to five classrooms with five teachers. The school consolidated with Union Hill, New Haven, Betts, Capshaw, Saint James and Triana students. Sixteen teachers handled classes in the school, four churches and a lodge hall.

In 1949, the building on Pension Row burned. State regulations prohibited rebuilding on the same site, so leaders obtained suitable property on Wall Triana for a modern concrete building, built in 1953. The facility accommodated grades 1-9 with 12 classrooms, cafeteria and principal’s office.

Other principals included J.C. McCall, Irene Chapman and J.E. Ewing in 1967. During Ewing’s administration, the school became completely integrated in fall 1970 with grades K-9 with a ratio of 70 percent white and 30 percent Black for teachers. The student ratio was 53 percent white, 47 percent Black.

The school first earned accreditation during the 1970-1971 school year. Grade configuration varied until 1975, finally set for grades K-4.

In 1990 to alleviate overcrowding, second and third-grade students transferred to Madison Elementary School. West Madison then served grades K-1. By 2021, the configuration was grades K-5.

One of West Madison’s principals, Dr. Daphne Jah, worked there for 28 years, as teacher to assistant principal and then principal.

“West Madison is a very special place. May 26, 2021 was bittersweet (on the last day as an elementary school),” Jah said.

“West Madison is home. It is the place I spent 28 years of my life. West Madison holds many wonderful memories that will always remain in my heart,” Jah said.

Over the years, West Madison students have become doctors, lawyers, engineers and musicians. “All of us, as teachers and administrators, made an impact on so many students. That means something,” Jah said.

When Jah first walked into West Madison in 1992, the campus already engendered special feelings for her. “My uncle had been the PE teacher there many, many years ago. Little did I know the school would become so special to me as it had been for him,” Jah said.

Her uncle often spoke fondly about the heritage of the little school and how many wonderful lifelong relationships he had founded there. “I, too, have experienced the same. A special place with special people. The little school with the big heart,” Jah said.

Jah is very happy that West Madison will continue as a school. “That really means a lot. West Madison souls live on as a school in the hearts and minds of the citizens of Madison,” Jah said.

“It isn’t the building that makes an impact on a community . . . it’s the people. However, that building has served us all well. I love that old place, and it makes my heart glad to know that the pre-kindergarten students will have a home there for many years to come,” Jah said.

Another West Madison friend and a Madison native, Cindi Sanderson started volunteering in 1986 when her son entered kindergarten at West Madison. She helped in the classroom and with PTA functions.

“I was first on the PTA Board as Vice President and became President for the 1990-1991 year. This was during a time when lots of people were moving to Madison. I was one of the few actually from here,” Sanderson said.

“So many parents wanted to volunteer with everything,” Sanderson said. “I don’t recall the PTA ever being without a multitude of people willing to help.”

In 1991, West Madison PTA officers accomplished a milestone that no other Madison County school had ever achieved. “We won the state award at the Alabama PTA Convention for the most outstanding Elementary Health Program. We worked really hard on that,” Sanderson said.

The program chair was Renee Graham. “I didn’t know her, but we became friends. We’re still friends today,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson recalls the glory days of West Madison Fall Festival. “Lots of people attended, even if they didn’t have children in school at West Madison. The PTA had Bingo with tons of prizes, a country store that lots of ladies shopped in and all kinds of games, food and entertainment,” she said.

Another fond memory is the visit by ABC’s “Good Morning America” crew to film an on-campus balloon launch.

“I have so many friends and acquaintances that go back to my West Madison days,” Sanderson said. Her son, daughter and both grandsons attended West Madison.

“I loved going back to West Madison when my oldest grandson started kindergarten . . . to read and make crafts with his class and volunteer in the book fair. West Madison has always been like one big family and will always have a special place in my heart. Go Wildcats!” Sanderson said.

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