The Freedom Valley Chronicles:
Colonial High School
July 16, 2018
When you travel on Germantown Pike in Plymouth Meeting, it’s difficult to miss the large school complex between Colonial Drive and Bicentennial Lane.
The Plymouth Whitemarsh High School is the public senior high school that serves students in grades 9 through 12 that live in the Borough of Conshohocken and the Townships of Plymouth and Whitemarsh.
Through the years, the name of the school has remained roughly the same. At times, the wording “Junior Senior” and “Senior” have been included in the name – as in “Plymouth Whitemarsh Senior High School”. At times, a hyphen was used between “Plymouth” and “Whitemarsh”. In the early years of the school, the wording “Joint” was utilized, as in “Plymouth-Whitemarsh Joint High School”.
Today, the Colonial School District uses the name “Plymouth Whitemarsh High School” for its largest school.
But for a short time, plans were underway to change to the name of this school to “Colonial High School”.
The plans lasted mere months before the decision was made to make no changes.
To understand why a name change would be proposed, then re-considered, and then dismissed, one needs to understand the dynamics in the three municipalities in previous decades.
For generations, residents of Plymouth Township and Whitemarsh Township sent their children to public high schools in other communities.
For residents of Plymouth, most public school students went to either Norristown High School or Conshohocken High School; some children went to Ambler High School.
For residents of Whitemarsh Township, public school students typically went to high school in Conshohocken, Ambler, or Springfield.
That all changed in the Fall of 1953. That’s when the Plymouth-Whitemarsh Joint High School opened. This allowed students from both Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships to attend a high school physically located within the borders of the two municipalities.
Public school students in the Borough of Conshohocken continued to attend high school at Conshohocken High School.
But that, too, eventually changed.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania initiated efforts to consolidate school districts throughout the state. On July 1, 1966, the Colonial School District was created from the merger of the Conshohocken School District, Plymouth Township Elementary School District, Whitemarsh Elementary School District, and the Plymouth-Whitemarsh Joint School District.
The campus of the Plymouth Whitemarsh High School as seen from the air in 2017.
Conshohocken High School was closed as part of the merger of the four school districts. All public high school students in the Borough were sent to the high school on Germantown Pike in Plymouth Meeting.
Thus, while Conshohocken had opened its doors to educate public high school students of Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships for decades, the situation had now changed. Conshohocken residents would send their public high school students to a building in Whitemarsh Township.
Much as Conshohocken High School had retained its name as “Conshohocken” for all those decades – even though it had educated students from Plymouth and Whitemarsh – Plymouth-Whitemarsh Joint High School retained its name as “Plymouth Whitemarsh” even though it now included students from Conshohocken.
This left a sour taste to many in the Freedom Valley.
Afterall, the situation was different from the previous decades.
Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships had paid tuition to Conshohocken so that their children could be educated at Conshohocken High School. Residents of Plymouth and Whitemarsh did not elect or select the members of the Conshohocken Board of Education; only residents of the Borough made those decisions.
With the merger – which was not welcomed by all – the residents of all three municipalities would now jointly elect and select members of the Board of Education of the Colonial School District.
As a merger, many in Conshohocken wanted “Conshohocken” to be included in the name of the high school.
That did not happen.
The sour taste lasted for years.
In November of 1981, a solution seemed to be at hand. The Board of Education of the Colonial School District voted 5 to 4 to re-name the high school as “Colonial High School” effective at the beginning of the next school year, September of 1982.
The view was that a neutral name – “Colonial” – would unify all three municipalities.
The opposite occurred.
Residents of Plymouth Township and Whitemarsh Township were outraged that “their” school would be re-named. That the heritage built up through the almost 30 years of the high school’s existence would be lost with a name change.
For residents of Conshohocken, the new name did not satisfy the goal of including “Conshohocken” in the name of the high school.
One of the people directly involved in these discussions was Mrs. Rachele Intrieri. At the time, the “professional volunteer” was the sole member of the Board of Education of the Colonial School District who lived within the Borough of Conshohocken. She had been then and has continued since to be active in a variety of civic endeavors in the community.
She and her family moved to Upper Gwynedd some years ago. As she explained recently, she’s officially retired but “with seven grandchildren involved in activities in three school districts, I am still quite active at 75,” stated Mrs. Intrieri.
She recalls the discussions about school names in the Colonial School District.
Mrs. Intrieri explained that “Conshohocken residents felt they were not being recognized since the high school did not include the name of their town. The residents of the Borough wanted to be represented within the school district.”
At the time, none of the public schools included the word “Conshohocken” in their names.
Following a few weeks of discussion in the community, the Board of Education of the Colonial School District appointed a committee in December of 1981 to reconsider the decision to change the name of the high school.
Specifically, the committee looked at going forward with the name change to “Colonial High School”, changing the name of the high school to the “Plymouth Whitemarsh Conshohocken Senior High School”, or canceling the name change altogether and retaining the name of “Plymouth Whitemarsh Senior High School”.
Students in Plymouth Junior High School, Whitemarsh Junior High School, and the Plymouth-Whitemarsh Senior High School were asked their opinions regarding the name of the senior high school. In 1982, Mrs. Intrieri was quoted as stating that the vast majority of the students at the three schools were opposed to changing the high school’s name from “Plymouth Whitemarsh Senior High School”. She noted that students from Conshohocken only accounted for about 10% of the overall student population since many Conshohocken children and young people attended Roman Catholic schools.
According to a news article in The Philadelphia Inquirer dated January 22, 1982, four members of the Conshohocken Borough Council addressed the committee of the Board of Education on January 11th of that year. “The council members told a committee of three members of the Colonial Board of School Directors that Conshohocken residents wanted the name of the school changed,” stated the news article.
After considering all the views, on February 17, 1982, the Colonial School District Board of Education voted 7 to 1 to rescind the name change and, instead, keep the name of the sole public high school in the district as “Plymouth Whitemarsh Senior High School”.
“Colonial High School” would never come into being within the Freedom Valley.
“Conshohocken” would not be added to the name of the senior high school.
Mr. David Sherman, Community Relations Coordinator and School Board Secretary for the Colonial School District, confirmed the votes of the Board of Education in November of 1981 and in February of 1982.
“So actually,” as noted by Mr. Sherman, the name of the high school “was never really changed.”
Mrs. Intrieri was the sole “no” vote regarding the name of the high school at the meeting in February of 1982. She wanted to add “Conshohocken” to the name of the senior high school. She explained that “the view of many others was that ‘Plymouth Whitemarsh Conshohocken Senior High School’ was too cumbersome of a name and changing the name to ‘Colonial High School’ was not in the best interests of the school district.”
In a news article dated February 19, 1982, in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Mrs. Intrieri was quoted as stating that “If adding a ‘C’ can bridge the relationship between three communities, what harm could it do?”
The Hervey S. Walker Elementary School was re-named as the “Conshohocken Elementary School”
by action of the Board of Education of the Colonial School District in February of 1982.
In a separate vote at the meeting on February 17, 1982, the Board of Education voted to change the name of a different school. The Hervey S. Walker Elementary School, the sole public school within the borders of the Borough of Conshohocken, was re-named as “Conshohocken Elementary School”.
Mrs. Intrieri explained that “While the name ‘Hervey S. Walker Elementary School’ was important to the older folks within the Borough, many others felt it was more important to have the name of the town in the one public school remaining within Conshohocken.”
The “Colonial” moniker was utilized at two other school buildings as the grade level structure changed within the public school system operated by the Colonial School District.
As the school district went from a junior high school grade structure to a middle school grade structure, the Board of Education decided to re-name the Plymouth Junior High School as the “Colonial Middle School”.
As the school district changed its elementary school grade structure, the Board of Education decided to re-name the building that had previously been the Whitemarsh Junior High School as the “Colonial Elementary School”.
With all of these name changes, Conshohocken got its name on one of the schools while Plymouth and Whitemarsh each ceded their names from the previous junior high school buildings to a name that educators saw as a way to unify the students in the Colonial School District.
Each of the municipalities now has an elementary school bearing the municipal name.
The Ridge Park Elementary School is the sole remaining school named after a neighborhood rather than a municipality or the school district.
The high school retained its name.
As a side note, it is interesting to note that The Philadelphia Inquirer stated that a gentleman had been a “star soccer player at Plymouth-Whitemarsh (now Colonial) High School” in an obituary dated February 20, 1973. There is no indication that the high school had its name changed to “Colonial High School” in or prior to 1973.
In a future edition of The Freedom Valley Chronicles, we’ll highlight Mr. Hervey S. Walker (the “S” in the name of this man was for “Stricker”) and why he was one of two leaders of Conshohocken to have public schools named in their honor.
The top photo is courtesy of Google, 2017.
The aerial view of the campus of the Plymouth Whitemarsh High School is courtesy of Google, 2017.
The logo for the Plymouth Whitemarsh High School is courtesy of the website of the Colonial School District.
The view of Harry Street and the Conshohocken Elementary School is courtesy of Google, 2012.
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Contact Richard McDonough at email@example.com.
© 2018 Richard McDonough