History of Rockford Public Schools
When the early pioneers settled in Laphamville, as Rockford was then called the first thing they did after building their homes was to establish a school and church.
Dr. R. L. Blakely, is credited with organizing the first school. He moved to Rockford in the early forties and when he built this home (about 1845) he reserved one upright wing for a school room. Here he taught a private or "select" school for a few children in the village for about three or four months. His other work required so much of is time that he persuaded Miss Amy Ann Lapham to teach.
In 1848 however, the tax payers of the village organized the school district and built a one room frame school on the corner of Main and Maple streets, where the Methodist parsonage now stands. There were three enormous pine trees in the school yard that stood as memorial to Michigan lumbering days.
The school was ungraded as we know it today and there were classes in Reading, Geography, Spelling, Grammar and Arithmetic. Great emphasis was placed on mental arithmetic and highest achievement in grammar was to parse Milton's Paradise Lost. School was taught on an average of 5 1/2 days each week and for fear that children have no mental activity in the summer, a private or "select" school was run during vacation.
As the village grew another room was added which was an exact replica of the first. Some of the teachers who taught in this first school building were Miss Winslow, Helen Warner, Mary Prescott and Mr. Elihu Walling. As there was no church building as yet, the school was used by both the Congregational and Methodist groups, with a special Sunday afternoon "sing" led by Isaac Baker. Funerals and other community activities were also held in the school.
In 1870, the village of Rockford as the community had then come to he known, erected its first high school. The structure was a three story brick building and was built at a cost of $20,000 which was a considerable sum in those days and a real burden to the residents of the district. Bricks were made in the school yard. The building was heated by stoves and wood was used for fuel. The playground was divided into two parts, for boys and girl and was separated by a high board fence. It was a punishable offense to be on the wrong side of the barrier.
At first there were only four teachers and only the first two floors were used. O. A. Fletcher is remembered by early residents as the outstanding teacher of the first the years in the new building. As an old record states, "Rockford has school offered the accepted high school courses of the period including, algebra, rhetoric, trigonometry, civil government, general history, physics and Latin. The school year was divided into three terms and promotion was in April. Students thus started their new grade and continued for two months in the spring.
The first class was graduated in 1881 with the following three members: Frank Davis, James Ferry and Frankie Lockerby. In 1891 the school had grown so that they had to use the upper floor and employ an assistant to the principal who taught the high school making six teachers in all.
In 1899 Miss Edna Haner started teaching in Rockford and served as teacher and principal until 1926, a period of 26 years. Not only is she known for her long record of service but is cherished in the hearts of all her former students for her faithfulness, loyalty, and outstanding teaching ability.
H. D. MacNaughton became superintendent of schools in 1913 and continued until 1917 when he resigned to enter the service for his country. He not only taught patriotism and loyalty but also set the; example. During Mr. MacNaughton's service the school advanced and became accredited for the first time. Football was also introduced and basketball was played out-of-doors.
By 1920, the building became very crowed and the present municipal building was used for first and second grade classes. Consideration was being given to building a new school when on February 4, 1922, the old building was destroyed by fire.
The school board was composed of Leigh Sears, Dr. E. B. Strong, Mrs. Genevieve Stocum, Arthur Bennett, and George Dockeray. The school district voted bonds for $100,000 and a new school was erected and furnished on North Main street where it now stands. Ernest Ampbelle was superintendent during this period and not only organized and supervised classes in the various churches and hall of the village but did much to plan the fine building we have today.
The new building was occupied in February, 1923 and at this time there were 336 students and 15 teachers. The school continued to grow and because of its high rating and well equipped plant attracted many non-resident pupils.
In 1938, the membership had grown to over 500 and rooms were so crowded that an addition was voted by the district costing approximately $52,000, the Federal Government contributing 45 percent under the Public Works Administration.
In 1938-39, there was an average of 534 pupils with a faculty of 19 teachers. Besides the academic subjects, the school today offers a wide variety of vocational and practical courses such as General Shop, Home Economics, Agriculture, Commerce, Physical Education, Music, Speech, Social Problems, and Art of Living. The building has modern and well equipped facilities for all these activities.
The school cafeteria serves over 200 children regularly. Food is prepared by a full-time cook in a clean, well equipped kitchen. The cafeteria room also serves as a banquet hall for community groups.
The estimated value of the school plant and equipment today is $184,000. A new athletic field is being built in connection with the new city park and the old athletic field will be re-arranged into a school playground for minor sports and games.
Rockford has always taken pride in its schools and has been quite generous in its efforts to make it equal to the best. The school today is a leader in the educational field. The school is a member of North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and has the highest rating possible from the University of Michigan. During the past year Rockford was selected to cooperate in the Michigan Study of Secondary school curricula. Its teachers are well trained and are prominent in education organizations in the State.
Members of the present board of education are R. H. Krause, Rex Baker, H. D. Crothers, Walter E. Millman and Rex Humphrey.
Edmund H. Thorne is superintendent of schools and Robert D. Ferris is the high school principal.
Transcriber: Jennifer Godwin
Created: 13 February 2000