District has rich history
By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor
Don Bain visits with Becky Nilges after having fleshed out the history of local schools in a sesquicentennial event Monday evening.
Don Bain gave a chronological history of USD 257 Monday night at the Townhouse.
Bain was the last in a series of Iola Sesquicentennial speakers who over the past year have recalled history singular to Iola in celebration of its 150th birthday.
Bain told a small but attentive group that he began researching school board minutes of USD 257, and before when it was District 10, years ago when he first became Iola High School principal and then superintendent of the district.
“I wanted to get a feel for how we had gotten where we are today,” said Bain, who retired as superintendent 18 years ago.
Nine years after Iola was settled in 1859, the first school, known simply as “the school,” was built in the 300 block of South Jefferson Avenue. As the city grew, so did the school population. By 1884-85, 95 students were attending grades 1 to 11.
In the early years, children 8 to 14 were required to attend 12 weeks of school a year, including six consecutive weeks. The penalty for failing to attend was $5 to $10 for the first offense, $30 for second and subsequent offenses.
In 1880, more than 70 years before the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision led to integration of schools, a suit brought by a Fort Scott family technically made integration the law in Kansas, but “I don’t know that many people paid much attention,” Bain said.
Iola’s economy changed — and its population began a steady climb — with the discovery of natural gas in 1888. That year the first high school commencement was held and three years later a 12th grade was added. That prompted a $10,500 bond issue, which passed 500-22, to build a second school, where Lincoln Elementary is today. A challenge to the vote, claiming that most voters weren’t registered, overturned the issue, but it passed a year later with only registered voters going to the polls.
The new school was called North School. In 1902 the two schools were renamed, and those names still stand: Jefferson and Lincoln schools.
In 1899 a high school was built where the middle school is today. It and the two elementaries were on the cutting edge of technology. They had telephones and electric bells. They also had dry closets: restrooms with chamber pots. Running water was not yet common in Iola.
Classrooms didn’t resemble those of today; average class size was 56.
Just after the turn of the century, with Iola’s population soaring with the gas boom and smelters and factories springing up, three more elementary schools were built: Washington on South Walnut, Garfield in northeast Iola and McKinley on South Kentucky. On average 14 students were enrolling each week in Iola schools.
A school also was opened in rented quarters in Bassett to meet needs of about 90 elementary-age children, whose fathers worked at the Lehigh Cement plant.
TEACHERS then were held to high social standards. Females weren’t permitted to marry and a school policy prohibited teachers from playing cards or dancing. A motion to overturn the dancing and card-playing ban was tabled by the school board in June 1906, which left it in force.
In the early 1900s, the city extended water and sewer lines to schools, which led to installation of water fountains and restrooms with conventional toilets. The curriculum included Latin, German, a full range of history and science and attention to classical philosophers.
In 1915 a new high school was built for $100,000. The first class was graduated from the school in 1917. Still in use, it was enlarged with extensive remodeling in the early 1990s.
A feature of the school was an innovative ventilation system. Two intake ports, visible at the top of either end of the front of the school, permitted a four-foot fan in the basement to draw fresh air into the school. It was circulated through tunnels under the school attached to shafts that led to vents in each classroom.
In 1922, the old high school building was renovated for $150,000 and became an intermediate school for grades 7, 8 and 9. Later it was designated a junior high school and after extensive remodeling in the 1990s became a middle school for grades 6, 7 and 8.
Ninth graders were transferred to the intermediate school in 1923 so the third floor of the new high school could become Iola Junior College, where it remained until Allen County Community College campus opened in 1970.
SEGREGATION was a social reality for many years.
A group of 94 people came to the school board in 1926 and asked that a separate school be opened for black students. At the same meeting, four black men handed board members a petition in opposition to segregation. No action was taken to separate students.
Another petition asked for kindergarten to be a part of the district; it was added in 1928.
With the Great Depression ravaging the economy, board members voted in 1931 to close Washington and Garfield schools and drop junior college football to save money. They also established a $25 per credit hour tuition for juco students. A year later, three new board members forced the two elementary schools to reopen, revived football for the juco and made tuition $36 an hour.
In 1931 the district had 2,000 elementary students.
Teacher certification became more stringent in the mid-1930s. All secondary teachers were required to have bachelor degrees, and all elementary teachers 60-hour certificates.
In 1938 a bond issue of $174,262 coupled with a federal grant of $142,578 through the Works Progress Administration provided money for construction of new Jefferson and Lincoln elementary schools and a vocational arts building east of the high school. In the same time period Garfield and Washington schools closed. The old McKinley School was replaced in 1948, at a cost of $230,000.
In the early 1960s the building housing science and home economics classrooms and the district kitchen and cafeteria was constructed near the high school, as was an addition to Lincoln. Total cost for all was $445,000. Also, the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, with money from the estate of Thomas Bowlus, was built and opened in 1965.
“The Bowlus Fine Arts Center has been a tremendous asset to the district,” Bain said. “It has enabled us to have cultural programs in the schools and for the community that otherwise would not have been possible.”
The mid-1960s also saw major unification in Kansas, leading to the formation of USD 256 (Moran-Elsmore), USD 257 (Iola) and USD 258 (Humboldt).
Bain noted that since the first bond issue — $8,500 in 1868 — the total of bonds passed for school construction in the Iola district was $11,166,422.