The first day at a new school is never easy. But Jerome Winegar had it harder than most. “Go home, Jerome” was written on the windows of South Boston, printed on the signs the students carried and scrawled in graffiti on the school’s front door. It was a chilly greeting for Winegar, reporting to his new job as headmaster of South Boston High on April 26, 1976.
When in 1974 Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. ruled that Boston schools were illegally segregated, enforced busing was used to implement integration. Nowhere was busing more vehemently opposed than in predominantly Irish-American South Boston. In December 1975 Judge Garrity found that discrimination still existed at South Boston High and, for only the second time in this country’s history, a public school was placed in “receivership.” A search committee appointed Winegar, at the time a 38-year-old assistant junior high principal in St. Paul, Minn., to head up an eight-person team to run the school.
Southie residents resented the Mid-westerner—and still do. “We’re still outsiders. We always will be,” says Winegar matter-of-factly. “We represent a tremendous intrusion, but we didn’t come here expecting to be loved. I thought it would be worse than it has been.”
As busing rolled into its fourth fall at South Boston, school got under way quietly but, clearly, emotions were still simmering. Prebusing absentee rates were 30 percent; last year they hovered around 35 percent. However, a poll taken this summer showed that busing, long the No. 1 issue of public concern, has slipped behind problems like urban decay, crime and property taxes.
Winegar, now 40, is optimistic. Two years ago there were 1,660 suspensions at South Boston High, last year about 750 and only two so far this fall. The curriculum has been beefed up to include courses like auto repair and environmental studies. This past summer blacks attended South Boston’s summer school for the first time. There was no violence and no publicity. “Only a few people are openly hostile,” says Winegar. “In general they are either silent or friendly. People come in every day saying, ‘I don’t want problems. I just want my kid to go to school.’ ”
Winegar grew up outside Kansas City, the son of an engineer for General Motors. After graduating from Central Missouri State College in 1959, he taught English for nine years at a Kansas City high school. Seven years ago he went to St. Paul. He took a $2,000 pay cut (to $28,479) when he accepted the job at South Boston.
Winegar’s Dutch colonial house in Roslindale is four miles from the cluttered South Boston office he shares with the rest of the eight-person administrative team. Winegar gets his 6’2″, 220-pound frame out of bed at 5:30 to jog and is at his desk by 6:30, a full hour before the buses begin to arrive. Thus begins a long, long day.
Winegar is the first to admit that the situation at South Boston High still is far from perfect. “Desegregation,” he says, “is mechanically putting people in the same place. Integration means they can gain from a situation and learn about each other. But you can’t mandate it.”