Educational InstitutionsNext week: 'Educational Institutions, Certain Other Schools.'
It is a matter of record that, in June, 1679, the town of Springfield contracted with Thomas Stebbins, Jr., to build a schoolhouse for the sum of fourteen pounds, or seventy dollars in terms of present currency. In September, 1898, this same community of Springfield opened to her youth a high school, whose cost, including land, building and equipment reached a total of four hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
While such comparison does not discredit the zeal of the early fathers for popular education, it does show the readiness of Springfield to spend in generous measure for her schools, and indicates how great have been the changes in organization and method since the time of the seventeen-by-twenty-two-foot schoolhouse built by Thomas Stebbins, Jr.
In the early days no special committee had charge of the work of popular education. At town meetings and in the sessions of selectmen, questions relating to teachers, pupils and school buildings were considered and settled. The need of direct supervision was afterwards met by the organization of school districts, each under the care of a local committee. But the district system did not make for progress. Petty jealousies and neighborhood quarrels divided the town and set district in opposition to district. Thus a high school, opened in 1827, closed its doors from 1839 to 1841 because of opposition from the outlying parts of town. A superintendent of schools, the first officer of the kind in Massachusetts, was appointed in 1840, and again divided public opinion compelled the abolition of this office after something like a year's trial.
Meanwhile the State, under the leadership of Horace Mann, was calling for a more efficient conduct of schools and for higher standards of instruction. In response to these demands the town began to consider the placing of all control in the hands of a central committee.
After much discussion the abolition of the district system was brought to pass in 1855. With this date and under the policy then inaugurated begins the modern school department of Springfield.
Next in logical order was the appointment of a superintendent of schools. The growth of the city, the increase of school attendance and the multiplication of buildings made it possible for the committee to look after the details of school administration. Neither could any lines of progress or betterment laid down. After the usual period of discussion and agitation the office of superintendent of schools was created and measures were taken to place the educational system of the city in charge of an expert, elected by and responsible to the school committee.
Since 1865, when Mr. E. A. Hubbard, the first superintendent, took up his duties, the city school system has made steady and permanent advance. For this progress the city is in large measure indebted to the tact and leadership of the men to whom she has given in trust the care of her public schools. Under Mr. Hubbard, from 1865 to 1873, many of the older style grammar schools, such as the Barrows and Hooker buildings, were erected. New methods of instruction were introduced. The high school grew in numbers and finally called for a new home. This was provided by the erection of a building now used by the State street grammar school. By careful selection the personnel of the teaching force was improved. Coherence and unity were given to the school system. Public confidence was secured and found expression in generous appropriations.
Superintendent Admiral P. Stone extended and perfected the work of organization. In his annual reports he brought before the people the vital facts of the schools. his term of service, 1873 to 1888, was a time of financial depression in the country at large and of reduced appropriations in the city. Mr. Stone by his ability in organization did much to bring the schools uninjured through this trying experience.
Dr. Thomas Balliet assumed charge of the schools in April, 1888. He brought to his task a broad and thorough training in the philosophy of education and a mastery of the best methods of instruction. His inspiration and influence soon made themselves felt on teachers, committee and community. New lines of development were opened to meet the social and economic needs of the city. Kindergartens were placed on a permanent basis. The practical spirit of the time showed itself in the opening of cooking schools for both day and evening classes. Elementary evening schools were improved and extended and an evening high school established. With clear understanding of the city's industrial needs, Doctor Balliet encouraged the development of the manual training course. In 1898, a Mechanic Arts high school was organized. This institution is now known as Technical high school, and is intended to join academic training with courses in shop work and applied science. An evening school of trades was opened in connection with this department of instruction.
Material equipment made rapid advances during the period from 1888 to 1904. Over a million dollars were spent on school buildings and among these are many that are recognized as among the best examples of school architecture in the country.
In May, 1904, Doctor Balliet resigned his position to enter on his work as dean of the School of Pedagogy in New York university. His successor, Mr. Wilbur F. Gordy, was chosen in June, 1904. Mr. Gordy's long and successful experience in school duties and his understanding of the practical problems of education insure the maintenance of the high standards of Springfield and a continued progress along right lines. The community has already given Mr. Gordy its confidence and looks on him as worthy to wear the mantle of his high office.
This brief historical sketch shows that in the half-century since the schools of Springfield were brought under one system of management, notable results in popular education have been secured. While there has been general advance in all lines of instruction, this city has certain characteristics that have given it a unique reputation in the land. A prime cause of the excellence of the schools is the intelligent interest of the people in education. School men and citizens are one in purpose to maintain the schools in the most efficient condition. The community has always been able to command the service of strong men and women for its school committee. The committee has wisely granted large powers to the superintendent and has not embarrassed him by needless limitations in the appointment of teachers or in the planning of courses in instruction. Politics and personal or partisan influence have never found an abiding place in the council of the school board. Hence in selecting teachers the only question is fitness for duties of the position to be filled. Incompetent or inefficient teachers are not retained.
The spirit and morale of the teaching body is not unusual. Personal interest in the children and care for needs of the individual have come to be traditions of the service. There is a fine enthusiasm in their work and an active interest in promoting the well-being of the community at large. As a result of the excellence of the Springfield schools and the strength of her instructors there has been an increasing tendency on the part of other cities to seek for candidates among the ranks of the local teachers. Too often these attempts have been successful. On the other hand it is worthy of note that loyalty to Springfield has led many teachers to remain, even at some financial sacrifice.
In her educational policy, Springfield has always sought to give abundant room for individual initiative and has never hampered her teachers by petty restrictions. Routine details have been minimized. The demand has been for the impress of the personality of the instructor on the plastic nature of the child. Work under such conditions is sure to attract and hold men and women filled with the true spirit of the teacher.
The same consideration for the needs of the child is shown in methods and courses of study. One illustration from the policy of the high schools will make clear the Springfield policy. While many boys and girls are fitted for college each year and sent to a large number of different institutions of learning, the methods of instruction and curriculum are not dominated by the requirements for admission to the college. Rather is regard had to the best general training of the youth, in science, language, mathematics, history and art. Commercial and technical courses rank on an equality with college preparatory work. The high school maintains its own individuality and independence. Yet no schools rank better in standing with the colleges and the success of Springfield graduates in higher institutions and the many distinctions that fall to them show that education for general efficiency brings in the long run better results than special preparation for an examination.
Another characteristic of Springfield's educational system is the emphasis laid on practical studies. In this respect the city has shown a progressive spirit and open-minded attitude. For many years instruction has been given in cooking, sewing, and drawing, both free-hand and mechanical. Manual training is thoroughly taught in the grammar grades, and finds its culmination in the excellent courses of the Technical high school in wood and metal work, and in the evening school of trades with its provisions for instruction in various skilled industries.
With the increase of the foreign-born population there has come demand for increased facilities in evening schools to teach elementary branches. Such schools are maintained in the Elm street building and at Indian Orchard. In 1904, there was a total enrollment in these schools of 1,430. All the evening classes, including the high school, evening draughting, free-hand drawing and trades school, gave a total enrollment of 2,421 students.
Practical studies are given a large place in the evening high school and the classes in bookkeeping, arithmetic, stenography, typewriting and laboratory work in science are well attended. While the Central high school holds firmly to the idea of general as opposed to special training, opportunities are given for a commercial education. The ready demand for high school graduates by business men testifies to the value of the instruction in both academic and technical subjects. Yearly more positions are offered than there can be found graduates to fill.
In this connection attention is called to the growth and development of the Technical high school. The experimental stage of manual training lasted from 1886 to 1898. At first the courses were mainly in the grammar grades, but in 1896 a four-years' course was established in connection with the Central high school. In 1898 an independent school of secondary grade, known as the Mechanic Arts high school, was organized. In May, 1904, the name was changed to Technical high school. The school for a long time occupied rented quarters in the Springfield Industrial institute at Winchester Park but a fine building is now under construction on Elliott street at a cost of over $300,000, and planned to provide large facilities for instruction in academic and technical studies. Courses in home economics and domestic science will be given in this school. The building will accommodate nine hundred pupils.
The practical side of education is kept in due subordination to the claims of general culture. Such studies as free-hand drawing and music have been recognized in the curriculum of all grades. In the Central high school, classes in music analysis and harmony mark an advanced line of study, and have received special mention from the state board of education.
Within recent years expert attention has been given to the proper physical development of children. A supervisor of physical culture has the oversight of the pupils of the grammar and primary grades. Games and light gymnastics are provided. Outdoor sports are encouraged and directed. In the high school all athletics are under the supervision of a competent physical director, while every boy is required to do definite gymnasium work. The school board is now earnestly urging the organization of a system of medical inspection.
In material equipment, the city has provided most generously for her schools.
The buildings recently erected for grammar and high school purposes have attracted favorable comment from visitors. Mention has already been made of the Central and Technical high schools. In 1903, the Chestnut street grammar school was completed at a cost of $135,961. The Forest Park building, dating from 1899, represents an outlay of $90,000. The William street school, including land and building, is valued at $76,000. Provision is made of the most modern and efficient appliances for sanitation, including heat and ventilation. Such buildings with their tasteful decorations and neat surroundings constitute no small factor in the education of the child's taste and contribute to right conduct.
Tribute to the excellence of Springfield's school system is given in the attention her schools have received from students of education. In 1902, commissioners from New South Wales, officially delegated by their government to examine the school systems of the world, spent two days in Springfield, and in their report gave high praise to what they saw in this city. Many foreign delegates to the educational congress at St. Louis in 1904 made it a point of inspecting the schools of Springfield on their way home. Most significant was the visit of Dr. Paul Albrecht, minister of public instruction for Alsace-Lorraine, who made a special study of methods of teaching ancient and modern languages, a field in which Germans are supposed to be masters.
These visits were due in part to the impression made by the exhibition of the Springfield school as the exposition at Chicago in 1893, Buffalo in 1900, and finally at St. Louis in 1904. At the St. Louis fair three gold medals were awarded, one for elementary education in arithmetic, one for evening trades classes, and one for secondary education.
Springfield, now fully entered on her second half-century of existence as a city, possesses a great treasure in the organization, equipment, standards and spirit of her schools and teachers. Generous appropriations from the public treasury, cordial support of the school board, freedom from political and personal influences in the city government, are the civic factors that have contributed to this result. Under such favorable conditions, capable, broad-minded and expert superintendents, joined in a common work with loyal and efficient teachers, have instilled through the schools into the youth of the community the best of their life and character. No better foundation can a city lay for continued prosperity. Economic success depends on an abundant supply of trained workmen. These the schools are furnishing, and in greater numbers and variety as departments of instruction multiply. Public peace and safety depend on the right attitude of the citizen towards all questions of law and order. Such lessons faithful teachers supply by example and precept. Great problems of the municipality call for minds capable of grasping details and reaching sound conclusions. The exercises of the classroom give this mental power to the coming voter. Above all else should the spirit and atmosphere of the schoolroom influence the youth to consider his higher duties to the city and state, duties that call for self-sacrifice in the interest of the community, the true civic spirit that alone makes democracy possible.
As Springfield has loyally supported her schools in the past, she will in the future provide fully the means and conditions necessary to assure progress and an even better adaptation to the needs of the public weal.