Park Avenue High School History
Park Avenue High School in Franklin, Louisiana began in 1923 as the Willow Street Elementary School under principal Alvin King. The school started off as a dinky five-roomed building constructed to teach students in grades one through seven. There were less than 100 students in the first school. Willow Street’s first faculty roster numbered six—– five teachers headed ab a principal.
In 1924 two rooms were added and the Willow Street Elementary School became the St. Mary Parish Training School. Latin, English, Geography, History, Biology, Zoology, Botany, Domestic Science, and Manual Arts were offered to students in grades nine through eleven. In the years that followed, St. Mary Parish Training School produced nearly 1000 graduates.
In 1942 James A. Hernandez became principal and he began to shape, mold and fashion the Negro School until he and his coworkers made it an entity with which to be reckoned. The Willow Street Rattlers became a formidable opponent and competitor throughout the state of Louisiana! Educators were second to none:
Palfrey N. Willis, assistant principal was a formidable match for any boy or girl who dared to challenge; Velma Smith shaped the members of the Glee Club; Cummings and Darnell demanded attention to skills in English. Arizona Wells, (assistant principal) also taught the boys and girls U.S. History. Edward Minor (assistant principal) and Herman Laws taught mathematical skills that would serve the students for decades. Velma S. smith and Alma Braud challenged the students in the sciences. Savannah F. Gibbs developed skills in home economics. T. D. Cooper developed home economics skills and also worked in elementary education. Pat Patterson Cambor taught business and was also the school secretary. M.M. Chube was the school librarian. L.D. Hodge taught health and physical education to the girls, while coaches O’Neal Chube and Joe Ireland taught boy’s health and physical education. The boys and girls sent to these educators were prepared first by the tender hands of these caring qualified professionals: E. L. Lewis, Nebraska Smith, Lillian Howard, Almatine Mitchell, M.L. Dixon, D.E. Verdine, Pearl Thompson, Mildred Kelly, L. Edwards, Sarah Foster, E. J. Thomas and S.C. Burmah.
During this time, principal Hernandez organized small civic clubs which worked relentlessly to improve the school. Perhaps the most important (and certainly most visible) improvement brought about during Hernandez’s tenure was the construction of a sorely needed gymnasium in 1950. The structure stands today as a monument to Mr. Hernandez’s tireless efforts.
The school was renamed twice. The name was changed to Franklin Negro School in 1953 and to Willow Street High School in 1956.
A new black high school (Park Avenue High School) was erected in 1963, Willow Street High was transformed into Willow Street Elementary School. Principal Hernandez left Willow Street High School to become the principal at the new Park Avenue High School. Mr. Hernandez dedicated 43 years of his life to education in Acadiana.
On Friday August 9, 1996 Willow Street Elementary School was renamed James A. Hernandez Elementary School.
St. Mary Parish Training School History
St. Mary Parish Training School began in 1923 as an elementary school. The school started out as a five-room building to teach students grades 1-7 and there were less than 100 total students. In the 1920s, rooms were added, and the school became Park Avenue High School’s first location. Park Avenue recognized 1,000 graduates in the 1940s with the help of James Hernandez, who educated students and ultimately became the principal. In 1953, the school’s name changed to Franklin Negro School and then again to Willow Street High School in 1956. A new African American School was built in 1963 to represent the new Park Avenue High School, and Willow Street High School became J. A. Hernandez Elementary School, named in honor of Mr. Hernandez. The school closed in 2018 due to parish budget cuts but there are still generations that the school has served in the community that supports the school in hopes that it may be revived.