World wars can be fought, man can walk on the moon, fatal diseases can be conquered, telephones can become commonplace and carried in our pockets and communication can progress from telegrams to the Internet.
The Mansfield school district has been through it all, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Growing from a few students in a leftover building to more than 30,000 on 39 campuses (as soon as Annette Perry Elementary opens), the district has survived recessions, depressions, war, racial conflict and unprecedented growth to become a respected name throughout the Metroplex and the state.
This fall school officials formed a committee to decide how to celebrate a century of education. Because I love history and I’m incredibly nosy, they put me on the committee. Our first task was to figure out what to do. Most of us don’t know any centenarians, at least not ones as vital as the Mansfield school district. Do we hold a party, send a card?
We decided to start by looking back at where the district had started and documenting its life and the times that it had seen, sort of a "This Is Your Life, MISD."
This turned out to be a lot more involved than we thought, and we’re only through the first decade. First, we explored the school board minutes, starting with the first trustee election May 22, 1909, and the creation of the school district – the handwritten school board minutes. Just so we’re clear, penmanship was a lot better 100 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that all those flourishes are easy to read.
We also discovered that the same people kept getting elected.
Then we found the same names on the city elections when we dug into the City Council’s (again handwritten) minutes from the same period. Not only were they all the same people, but they were hiring family members and making payments for goods and services to their own businesses. At first we thought this was a big scam, something today’s ethics seriously frown on. Then we figured out with only a few people living in town, there were only a few business people in Mansfield and most of them were on the school board.
Teachers and principals who have survived opening a new campus know how much work it is to get a school up and running, everything from hiring employees, setting up classrooms, lunchrooms and libraries to choosing a mascot and ordering textbooks. Imagine starting with nothing, not even chalk.
The first thing the school board did was start hiring teachers, then find a place to hold classes. The Mansfield Academy, a private school (pictured at right) that closed in the summer of 1909, sold the new district its buildings at the corner of what is now North Walnut Creek Drive and East Broad Street, where the school administration buildings are today. [PHOTO credit: Mansfield Historical Museum]
Then there was setting policies — like no student dating — making repairs on the building, setting tax rates, installing lights, hiring a superintendent and even what to do when the water in the well goes bad.
Exploring what was going on around these people while they were making all these decisions was just as interesting, with a war in Europe that Americans soon became a part of to states entering the union. (New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii weren’t even states when the Mansfield school district opened.)
To fully explore the century of the Mansfield school district is a big undertaking, one that the committee plans to take in small decade-size bites. Once a month in Mansfield Life, we will document a different decade, following the district’s growth and progress with a 100-year timeline. The first decade, 1909-1919, is featured in this section on Pages 8B-9B.
A lot of work and exploration has gone into this historical detective work. I hope you enjoy it and learn as much as we did.