Nova High School: A Novel Concept that Some Students Loved; Others Didn’t

This column began as a short quote to include in the press release about Nova High School’s 50th anniversary event. About 100 words in I realized my quote would have hijacked the press release, so I moved over to my own post, which is what you’re reading now.

Man, did that press release bring back memories about Nova High, located inside that gorgeous stately building on Eureka Way that’s now University Preparatory School, commonly referred to as U-Prep. But before U-Prep, and before Nova High, that grand structure was the original Shasta High School. The current Shasta High School was the former Shasta College. Eventually, Shasta High moved next door into the old Shasta College spot, and Shasta College moved out to its current location off Highway 299. I know. It’s confusing.

In the press release, Jack Schreder, Nova’s first principal (he was there when I was there), spoke fondly of the school he helped create. What was unique about Nova High School was it was one school where everyone was in the same grade: 9th. After leaving Nova we all would be scattered like seeds to the wind as sophomores to attend whichever high schools were closest to our neighborhoods. There, we would put down roots and grow into seniors, if we were lucky.

Dr. Jack Schreder was Nova High School’s principal from 1967 until 1974.

“The Nova experience that began in 1967 brought many students with varying backgrounds across Shasta County together to share their freshman year in a common educational environment that I believe brought our community together and formed bonds that have lasted over 50 years,” Schreder said.

Kenny Breedlove and Michael Flanagan also waxed nostalgic about Nova.

“Nova was such a great place to meet kids from other schools that you would never have if you went straight to your high school as a freshmen!” Breedlove said.

“Nova made a seemingly large city small, and introduced the willing to different points of view that hopefully prepared them for life today,” Flanagan said. “I will always cherish Nova memories.”

I hate to be the one person on this site to say something quasi-negative about Nova, but overall, Nova was just too much for me. And generally speaking, when I bump into someone who mentions Nova, and they say they loved Nova, my auto response is I didn’t. Not so much really.

Nova was so big, with so many students, which was a difficult adjustment for me after coming from Sequoia Junior High School that was relatively smaller with far fewer kids. I often felt lost and overwhelmed at Nova, especially between classes, walking among the throngs of students.

Nova was the first year I attended a school where students could buy whatever we wanted from the cafeteria, unsupervised. I gained weight that year because I spent a lot of time in that basement cafeteria, which was always so warm that my glasses fogged in the winter. I still remember that when I brought lunch money, I usually spent it on a meal of Certs, yogurt and Reese’s cups.

Good times.

This photo was from Doni and Shelly Chamberlain’s shared yearbook, the Nova Nebula, Volume 4: ’70/’71.

But the truth is, I didn’t really hate Nova, because there were some things about Nova that I cherished.  For example, there was Mr. Ken Putnam’s orchestra class, the highlight of each day for me. Putnam’s class was a huge step up from Mrs. Shield’s string classes at Sequoia Junior High, where we played things like Eleanor Rigsby. Putnam’s class was my first taste of playing classical music; Bach’s Brandenburg concertos and Vivaldi. Putnam was nice, and had a good rapport with mostly all the students, but his set point was super strict. No monkey business. He managed to extract the very best from every student.

Putnam also taught at Shasta High School, so I was in his orchestra class until I graduated high school. That was the last time I picked up a violin.

Mr. Sehon was another favorite teacher. He taught English, and it was probably the first time I had a chance to really write. I also liked Mr. Decker’s history class, because he was a kind man who said I was smart, which I didn’t feel, but appreciated the vote of confidence.

I adored the auditorium, which looked like a mini-Cascade Theatre. I loved going up the wide staircases to classes, because it felt regal. My twin and I walked to and from Nova, because our foster home was just a few blocks away on Willis and Shasta streets. Sometimes we’d stop by And/Or (or was it & Or?) on the way home, which was located where The Best Little Sandwich shop is now. The store had cool stuff, like posters and Peter Max stickers.

I remember a rather interesting program — “Nova Wants to Know Day” — a career day of sorts that allowed students to select ahead of time where they’d like to go, and then we kids traveled by bus to our respective destinations. I remember there were many selections; places like veterinary and dental offices, and restaurants and lawyers offices and the newspaper, when it was still downtown at the corner of Placer and East streets.

I chose the Redding Cemetery and Mortuary, along with some equally morbid kids. We got to see behind the scenes in a funeral home, saw a dead woman in an open casket and visited the embalming room. Rudy Balma concluded the tour by giving all us kids Orange Crush sodas from a machine, and deadpanned that it looked like embalming fluid.

My mother died the year before, so I probably had some unresolved questions. I don’t recall if my curiosity was satisfied, but it was a pretty fascinating field trip that I still remember vividly, with a kind of car-crash clarity.

Writing this piece inspired me to drag out my old yearbook, the Nova Nebula – 1970/1971, which my sister Shelly and I shared. Flipping through it I was reminded of how much I would have loved to have been on the yearbook staff.

I marveled at how much leeway the journalism students were given with their cutlines. Such smart asses. So free and funny. I’d love to know what happened to the student editor, Karl Wells.

Is it my imagination, or is Brian Carr doing some kind of hand signal, too?

I found a photo that many who attend Redding City Council meetings might find ironic, if they recognize the name of the teacher in charge of the Free Thought Club.

Mr. Gary Hollahan a vocal regular at Redding City Council meetings, lead Nova’s Free Thought Club.

And my heart stung to see a yearbook photo of Mike Evers, my Magnolia Elementary School crush, who died a few years ago in a motorcycle crash. He was an attorney, and one of the smartest guys I’d ever known. He had a good heart, too. Our similar backgrounds forged a bond between us that remained, despite having not seen him for many, many years.

Mike Evers, gone but not forgotten.

It would be fun to attend Nova High School’s 50th anniversary open house Friday. But I have other plans, so I’ll miss it.

In the meantime, if you attended Nova I’d love to hear your memories. Or if you didn’t, you can share the highlights of your high school experience.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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57 Responses

  1. Jeri B. says:

    Doni, I grew up in Millville, so going from a very small school and town were we all knew each other to Nova (1978-79) was a shock alright. I do have some good memories of new friends, and teachers who I remember to this day. Mostly, I hated Nova, as after one year you’re scattered all over to different schools, never to see each other again. So, those new friends, gone and time to make new ones at yet another new school. I am glad the building still stand as it really is a beautiful place. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    You and Shelly and I were all at Nova the same year, though I don’t think we knew each other at that time. Like Jeri B. above, I came from a very small school, and going from that to being thrown in with about a thousand 13-year-olds was a horror. I had some good teachers like Jan Grantham and Laura Fett, but overall it was a year of awfulness.

  3. conservative says:

    In Detroit 9th grade was the first where students were grouped by ability. Cass Tech, a public school, emphasized engineering. The students carried tubes of engineering drawings on the buses. U of M. science and engineering programs knew what they were getting with a Cass Tech graduate with given S.A.T scores.

    Some Catholic students went to same sex schools with competitive admissions. 9a had higher admission test scores than 9b,…9f. I went to a school with no sports program, so there was no “jock culture.” The system worked fairly well at identifying the future PhDs and M.D.s and educating them separately with the best teachers. Virtually no discipline problems at schools which produced the most university graduates.

  4. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Doni, have you thought about picking up the violin again?

    • Well, my old high school violin has suffered in all kinds of weather and in closets and under beds all these years, and now the neck has detached from the body.

      The thing is, I took up the violin to please my mother, when what I really loved was the cello. I tried cello lessons a few years ago but found that train left the station. I hate to admit this, but I have arthritis in my fingers, and it was difficult to depress the strings, so I gave up. 🙁

      • Mike Flanagan says:

        I have a brilliant and self confessed homeless cello player I’ve been giving as much respect as possible to and if you wanted to meet her sometime I’d be happy to arrange. She has sat down for video and I’d like to flesh out more but waiting for more performance footage you are welcomed to her as she deserves all the attention she gets and then some.

        Maybe ‘we’ could do an evening with her performing at old city hall. She has performed at Armandos on occasion.

        Here she is playing piano: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sV-pm4piY4Y&t=196s

        Sadly I’ve none of her cello uploaded… yet.

  5. Joyce Cannon says:

    I was in the second class to attend Nova. (That really dates me, I know). I loved it! Met and made friends with other students from Shasta, Central Valley and Enterprise. It was great fun to meet up again at high school sporting events over the next three years. I still run into some of those students from time to time. Nova is our common connection.

    • It’s just dawning upon me as these comments come in, especially when I know the people, that perhaps those who loved Nova were more outgoing, and those who didn’t were more quiet. Just a theory.

      • Mike Flanagan says:

        I was bullied before and after Nova so I enjoyed the ability to not stand out.

        The masses at Nova were great, also the odds of meeting a fellow geek. Only downside was the bus ride to and from where I became a target again.

        Probably didn’t help that 9th grade was when I started to grow in height which given my shy nature didn’t install fear to the mean spirited, just attracted more aggression by those with low self esteem.

        Confident school day trauma balanced partially by escape into movies and comics is why today I have such a big mouth and short fuse when it comes to brow beaters and oppression. And why I love the most open minded readers of ANewsCafe and her staff… birds of a feather flock together.

        Blessings!

  6. I attended Nova in 1987-88, and I thought it was great! 9th grade is a tricky time in life, and Nova felt like a safe cocoon for the freshmen to get the feel of high school before being tossed into the mix with the bigger kids. I appreciated getting to know kids from all over the county. Although we had some pretty serious cross-town rivalry between the different high schools, it always felt somewhat friendly because the kids from other schools weren’t all strangers. Judge Eaton came as a guest speaker to one of my classes that year. I remember being a surly teenager and thinking this silly, old man was going to bore us all to death. And then Judge Eaton started speaking about the history of Shasta County with such passion and vivid detail that we all forgot to be cynical, and it ended up being the quickest hour of my life at Nova. I also remember our English teacher reading aloud to us each Friday afternoon from The Princess Bride. I was grumpy and cynical about this (See a pattern here?) because it felt childish for a teacher to be reading aloud to the class in 9th grade. But naturally, my youthful disdain was no match for the story of the Princess Bride and I started to look forward to the last 10 minutes of English class every Friday so we could find out what happened next. I also enjoyed the freedom of the snack bar that year and survived on a diet of Pepsi and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

    • Your description of how you felt about your teacher reading The Princess Pride aloud reminds me that when speaking before teenagers, to just hang in there and talk, even if they seem surly.

      (Yeah, I wonder how many students gained the freshman 15 at Nova?)

  7. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    I don’t think anything could have made me happy about 9th grade. Not even that beautiful campus.

  8. cheyenne says:

    My son, who attended Anderson High, was on the freshman football team and they would play three teams from Nova named after colors. One was Nova Gold but I don’t remember the other two names.
    Working at Nova/SLC/Foothill/U-Prep through all the remodeling changes I have to admit I liked the old Nova best and feel the remodel removed the character of the school. Chasing bats down the hallways was entertaining. I think the ghosts left too.

  9. Dan says:

    What were the criteria used to select students for Nova?

    • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

      You weren’t selected. You were drafted. Nova was for students who lived in the districts for Shasta, Enterprise, and Central Valley high schools; after they left Nova, they would spend the next three years at the high school in their district.

  10. Linda Jones says:

    Do I, I remember being in Orchestra with you starting at Magnolia School with Mrs. Shields, then at Sequoia and again at Nova with Ken Putnam. I had 8 brothers and sisters. The Porterfield’s started attending Shasta in 1949 and I was the first to attend Nova followed by my two younger brothers, Kevin and Stephen. By the time I started Nova in the fall of 1970, there was a Porterfield attending Shasta for a consecutive 21 years. If it were not for Nova it would have been for a consecutive 27 years. I enjoyed my time at Nova. I, too, walked to school from Oregon Street. I am still friends with my algebra teacher, Lee Murphy, who lives in Montana. I loved the auditorium, the old gymnasium and remember the cafeteria in the basement. Thank you for reminding me of Mike Evers, a name that was lost until your article.

  11. Bethany Chamberlain says:

    Oh, Nova…
    I remember you, Shelly, and Jaimie each prepping me for my own entry into the freshman melting pot in 1973. Shelly advised that I pay attention to my accessorizing (“…people really notice that…”), while you told me to pay attention to the friends I chose, and Jaimie praised the snack bar, but cautioned about negotiating the rush-hour stairs between classes. All good pointers, as usual, from my big sisters. It was exciting and a little scary, a year abroad of sorts, offering the opportunity for reinvention for those so inclined. Some of my best junior high pals and I inexplicably drifted apart that year, though I made two very close girlfriends who would go on to Enterprise and CV the following fall. Though we had no contact after that summer, we rediscovered each other ten years ago, have gotten together several times (despite one of my friends living in Chicago), and marvel each time we do at how comfortable and familiar it all feels. Nova was a bold experiment for sure, and, for me, at least, a valuable experience.

    • Oh, Bethany, this made me tear up a little. It really did feel like a bold experiment, didn’t it?

      You’re so funny. “A year abroad” is the perfect way to describe that one year between junior high and high school.

  12. Sandra Bryant says:

    I totally enjoyed the Nova experience. I recall the group gatherings behind the school in the Manzanita bushes, giant Cinnamon Rolls, open air radio broadcast, all the staircases, auditorium and making friends with future school sport rivals. I believe Nova was a healthy concept & good for our age group.

  13. Common Sense says:

    Drip Drip Drip….tick tick tick….Oh Mar-a-lago….you have been quite the shelter!

    http://washingtonpress.com/2017/12/21/newspaper-just-busted-trump-massive-decades-long-tax-evasion-scheme/

  14. Patrick Evers says:

    Doni,

    Great article about Nova. This was sent to me by a relative because you’ve included info about my brother Mike. I remember you two being an “item” at Magnolia. I remember you being great with the violin, sorry you put it down. Didn’t realize you had a twin nor that you were in foster care. I thought you were wealthy and were “upper class” and we of course were paupers trying to fool everyone. You’ve also given me a special treat, a picture of Mike I’ve never seen before. Glad your are doing well, thank you for everything you do.

    • Oh, Patrick, what a gift to see your comment here. Thank you!

      Yes, Mike and I were an “item” – as much as kids in 6th grade can be. 🙂

      It’s funny you thought our family was wealthy and upper class. We were extremely poor, but our mother was a smart, cultured New Yorker, so maybe that’s where you got that impression.

      Mike and I had some interesting conversations some years back via FB messenger and we recollected some shared childhood memories – some pretty painful — that had been buried for some time.

      I was really impressed with his depth and intellect. I was so glad we had those conversations. Your brother was a great guy, Patrick. I’m so sorry he’s gone.

  15. Barb B says:

    I attended Nova 1973-74, I was in the class with your sister Bethany. I went to St. Joseph’s in a class of 50, so Nova was very overwhelming for me as well. During summer orientation, my Mom and I walked to all my class rooms so I knew which route to take. We didn’t have that problem at St. Joe’s! A classmate and I ate lunch all school year with a girl who was being bullied, we wanted her to feel included, that was probably my highlight. The 3 of us had fun together. Some of my favorite teachers were Cheri Gandy, Laura Fett, and Manuel Garcia. My years at Shasta High were much better. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Buffy Tanner says:

    Came from a class of 15 at Old Shasta were I had known everyone in the entire school (and was known by everyone) to Nova with 1,200 kids. First time I ever felt anonymous and I hated it. And I was an outgoing, involved kid. Band with Mr. Howat was the one place I felt was safe and happy. I don’t remember much about the rest of the year, except buying a chocolate milkshake and M&Ms or a burrito for lunch every day (not so great for the diet, that snack shack). In talking with others, I’ve noticed the general trend that if you played sports, you liked Nova. If not, then you didn’t.

  17. Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    This article created a true “Homecoming” event. I was a newly minted teacher when I started substitute teaching at the high schools in this area. I lived in a little studio hovel in the alley behind Olive street so I could walk across the street to work at Nova. Things went well until the day that students in every morning class warned me to watch out for my last class of the day. In the late 70s there were no telephones in the classrooms. I mention this because I could have used one that day. I walked into class where students were dancing on the tables and in the isles to loud music while others were throwing text books out the windows. It was a memorable day for me.

  18. Nova. boy oh boy. I was such a timid wall flower, and overwhelmed by the vast numbers of students. In retrospect, it’s no wonder I was overwhelmed: mother died 6 months prior, sisters and I put in a foster home, and no classes with my twin. I don’t recall having classes with students I’d known from Sequoia, Magnolia or Pine St. Even though we were all 9th graders, I felt younger. Bethany, I vaguely recall advice about accessories. Hope I didn’t steer you wrong.
    Having a locker with a combination lock was so intimidating that I ended up carrying most of my books and materials with me. Art classes were my refuge. Barbara Rice, surely we were in an art class together. That basement cafeteria was a highlight, especially the chocolate milkshakes.
    Joanne Lobeski Snyder, your Nova memory is a cliff-hanger!

  19. Rob sherman says:

    Linda Jones , was your mother Katherine porterfield that worked at the photo hut outside the angelos pizza? If so my mom worked with her and she was so awesome and cool, told the best stories about judge Eaton .

  20. Ron Gragg says:

    I went to Sequoia as well, and thought the “Nova experience” ended up being a fantastic social experiment. I met, and and made friends with three times as many people that I otherwise, most likely, wouldn’t have. And, after transitioning from Juniper Elementary, to Sequoia Jr High (now Middle School, but we won’t belabor that!); Nova, in retrospect, seemed a natural transition to a much larger scale adventure in the public educational ‘career’.

    Nova, in fact, to me, was more educational (in an overall sense) than the balance of my high school academic life, due to the larger population of the same aged class mates. And, my time at Nova, only enhanced my later college experience, because of the nature of meeting so many new people, and the overall interaction (in class, in activities, and after school socializing). Many friendships that I maintain to this day, even though I live nearly three thousand miles away now. AND many friendships that I CAN maintain to this day, that I probably wouldn’t even have, if not for the “Nova experience”.

  21. As an outsider whose two children attended Nova, I am writing to express what it gave them, what it meant to have educators thinking out of the box to solve problems and provide opportunity with the scanty resources available. Nova prepared people for the larger world which existed outside of sheltered Redding. Size and complexity gave a new skill set and produced friendships which endured even when high school caused separation. Nova was a sound investment at a time of need and created something which the 50th celebrates. Which other 9th grade experience is still alive in memory enough to have such an outpouring?

  22. Mike Mangas says:

    I’m right there with you, Doni. Coming out of St. Joseph Elementary and having no older siblings to teach me the ropes, the wide world of Nova was overwhelming.
    …I spent the first 2 weeks wondering when recess was.
    But I had a great experience all 3 years of Shasta High!

    • Mike, you made me laugh at your line about spending the first two weeks wondering where recess was. 🙂 I didn’t know you then, but I can picture that 9th-grade you.

      I liked the remaining three years at Shasta better than Nova, but Shasta actually felt smaller to me than Nova. Or maybe by then I was better prepared.

  23. Patrick Buckley says:

    Loved it! 1971-1972 Made friends from other high school districts that I still have today. Hats off the the school board that approved such a novel idea.

  24. Mark Bisbing says:

    Doni, Great stories, thanks for the memories! I have to say that my year at Nova, class of 71, was by far my most favorite of any school year! I was like most people coming in being shy and somewhat overwhelmed at first, but through my involvement in sports and the yearbook staff, I ended up having a great and memorable experience. I played on Wagner’s Warriors (Gold) in football and we finished 7-1 and played on Franco’s Phantoms (Purple) in basketball and we finished 19-1 (Our only loss was to Nova Decker’s Dunkers (Gold) in the championship game of the Nova Tournament…heartbreaking!! I saw in one of your posts that you wished you had been on the yearbook staff, and I would agree you should have joined, it was a really fun experience. My one claim to fame that touched all students that year is that I designed the yearbook cover for the Nebula for 1971!! I am also pictured with my girlfriend Pam Thatcher on the first page or two sitting on the Nova sign in front of the school! I moved to Portland after my Sophomore year at Enterprise graduating from Aloha High School in Beaverton, OR, and have lived up here for over 45 years with short stints in Seattle and Kansas City!! I have also consistently attended the EHS reunions based on my friendships built at Nova and EHS. I wish I could be there tonight for the festivities as I have fond memories and still keep in touch with former classmates! Have a great time and please tip a glass for me, and I hope everyone has a great Holiday Season!!

    Mark

    • Mark, it’s funny, I was looking at the cover of the Nebula as I wrote his piece, and I was admiring it. And I know exactly the photo you’re talking about, because I was wondering about the identities of those two students.

      Judging by the cutlines, it seemed the yearbook staff had a lot of fun. I know I would have loved it.

  25. Tina Durbin says:

    Doni I had Mrs shields at live oak and Mr Putnam from nova to shasta as well. And I remember you and your twin, and porterfields. I was in bonnyview. Nova was a turning point for me, I met my best friends of the next 40+years. My locker was right outside Mrs Jordans math class over the bandroom. My first memory will always be the cinnamon rolls, cv getting there 2nd tract and the burrito I had every single day for lunch. Lucc borteleto was born the same day as I was, our mom’s shared a hospital room and I met him in my geography class. I was 71-72. I loved the bus ride across town. My brother Ken had Nova’s first year and my daughter Becky Williams, Nova’s last year. It was my favorite year in school. Oh, and I turned out to be very outgoing. LoL.

    • What a memory you have, to recall the location of your locker.

      I didn’t realize Mrs. Shields traveled to other schools. LOL, I just thought Sequoia had her all to ourselves.

      And now that you mention it, I remember the burritos, too. It might have been my first. (School food service folks, notice how many mentions are made of the food we ate in that cafeteria. It’s important!)

  26. Linda Nelson says:

    Wow, such memories! I loved the Nova experience! With its intimidating large campus and many new friends! Especially the smell of the cinnamon rolls! I do remember going to an Enterprise football game as a “Novite “, and being thrilled when one senior boy thought I was a sophomore. That was probably the last time I enjoyed being thought of as older than I am!

  27. Matthew Kennedy says:

    Doni, Wonderful article – thank you for writing it and jogging memories. My Nova experience (1971/72) was overall very positive. I remember excellent teachers, including Lee Murphy and Evelyn Hautala. There was the hiking club led by Val Jordan, with excursions to Brokeoff, Castle Crags, and elsewhere. There was that wonderful auditorium, a place of very happy memories with the band and musicals. I went on to Shasta, and for me, there wasn’t enough time to form lasting friendships with students who went on to Enterprise or Central Valley. But it was a big, rollicking school with a lot to offer. I realize now how unusual it was in American public education.

  28. Victoria LaPlante says:

    I think Nova was a great concept. Prior to Nova, the tensions between high schools were frequently an issue. Nova gave kids a chance to create friendships with others from different schools. Of course rivalries weren’t eliminated, but I think it served to create community and quell the prejudices that drove some of the high school enmity. Myself, I loved the building, I had many wonderful (and some rather eccentric) teachers. The only high school dances I remember were at Nova. And to be truthful, it was the last school where I felt like I fit in.

  29. It WAS a great concept. I’m glad you had that one year of feeling like you fit it.

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