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. 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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