The Newton Record, Newton, Newton, MS
Centennial Issue 30 April 1936
The Rise of Newton County’s Public School System
(By W. C. Mabry, Sr.)
From the time Newton County was organized in 1836 until 1860 there was very little in the way of schools in the county, the majority of the citizenship being of limited means, and no public schools were in existence during that period. Each member of the family was needed to share the responsibility of clearing the land and establishing the homes in this new territory.
During the sixties, beginning with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 and until the worst of the reconstruction days were over scarcely not attention was given to the education of the youth. The State Constitution of 1869 provided for a public school system in Mississippi, funds being provided by state appropriation for a four month school in all the counties. At first the amount appropriated was so small that only meager funds were provided for the expenses of the systems which were a few one teacher schools scattered over the county. This condition continued throughout the next decade, there being only one outstanding event during this year which was the establishment of the Conehatta Institute at the village of Conehatta in the western part of the county in 1877. In the early eighties this school was the only one of consequence in the county and was patronized extensively.
The latter part of the decade from 1880 to 1890, J. R. Preston, State Superintendent of Education, succeeded in providing normal funds from Peabody Foundation to meet expenses of training schools for teachers, and began to lay stress on the necessity for better prepared teachers. Within that period one of the two State normals for white teachers was held at the old Patron’s Union ground near Lake with an attendance of 260 teachers. It will probably be of interest to the county people to note that a distinguished educator from Tennessee, Wickliffa <spelling> Rose, was director, other faculty members being: J. C. Hardy. J. G. Dupree, Dabney Lipscomb, Misses Minnie Holman and Mary Callahan, all outstanding educators of the state. Coincident with this new impetus in the school system other high schools were organized at Newton, Hickory, Decatur and Union. These schools were largely supported by tuition fees. During this time Scott and Carleton were county superintendents.
With the beginning of the nineties considerable improvement in the qualifications of the teachers was noted, examinations being more rigid in order to receive license. However, the one teacher school system continued in a greater number under the superintendency of T. J. Reynolds, who put forth effort to cooperate with the state superintendent in establishing a stronger and better school system. Mr. Reynolds was the first county superintendent to advocate a county tax levy to supplement state funds for our schools.
From 1880 To 1900 J. R. Jones carried out Mr. Reynold’s policies advocating a tax levy to supplement funds for a longer term school. Following Jones in 1900 W. W. Coursey served two terms. The outstanding event of Coursey’s terms being the securing of a sufficient tax levy to extend the school term to 5 and 6 months. This was accomplished after extensive campaigns. In 1906 W. C. Mabry became superintendent. About this time the state legislature enacted three school laws which made possible greater progress than any time prior to that, to-wit: (1a) Establishment of rural separate districts, (b) Consolidation of rural schools, (c) Establishment of Agricultural High Schools in each county.
Taking advantage of these new laws, W. C. Mabry at once put on an extensive campaign through the county in an effort to acquaint the people with the potential opportunities offered by this new legislation. At that time there were between 20 and 30 white schools in the county consisting largely of one and two teacher schools, providing only for the study of grammar school text books. Therefore, the superintendent proposed a county system of consolidated grammar schools in order to provide a graded system of two to four teacher schools, and a county wide Agricultural High School which would offer high school opportunities at a nominal cost. All the towns by this time had their own separate district high schools. The A. H. S. was located at Decatur in 1910 but not built because of lack of funds. In 1911 the advent of the cotton boll weevil so upset the whole economic system of the county that these plans were greatly retarded.
From 1912 to 1916 W. W. Coursey continued to advocate the A. H. S. and succeeded in establishing it in a small way, in 1914, remaining at the same location set up in 1910. The first session opened in September 1914 with forty boarding students and has continued to grow since that date.
Melvin G. Scarborough served the next four years (1916-1920). This administration covered the World War period and the principal events were the growth in sentiment for consolidation and development of the A. H. S. E. H. Reynolds followed Scarborough, serving until 1924. This period was marked by the continued rise of the consolidated school and the establishment of a transportation system.
In 1924 Miss Mary Lou Harris became county superintendent and continued the development of the consolidated system in a marked degree. In the closing year of Miss Harris’ administration, 1928, freshman college work was added to the A. H. S. system. This was the starting point in the establishment of the East Central Junior College as it now exists, being one of the best in the state, supported by five counties in this area.
M. Jenkins Scarborough succeeded Miss Harris in 1928 and served until 1936. Super-consolidation reached its peak and the “depression” caused great anxiety. Through the patience and patriots of superintendent, teachers and patrons, the schools were kept functioning throughout Scarborough’s administration.
Ernest M. Smith became superintendent in January of this year just as the peak of the financial crisis confronted us. This condition was brought about partially by the fact that no federal aid was available as had been for the last several years. However, after being compelled to declare a school holiday of a week or two, the state legislature provided funds to continue long enough to do sufficient work to remain consolidated.
There are now six 4-year high schools in the county at the present date, which makes it possible of any ambitious boy or girl to have the advantage of a high school course. Two grammar schools are affiliated with high school systems, one at Lawrence, a part of the Newton school system, and one at Chunky, a part of the Hickory school system. There are two junior high schools, giving work through the tenth grade, and a few one and two-teacher schools, but, all told, the total number of white schools in the county is less than one fifth of the number at the time the consolidation law was enacted.
While Newton County has made such marked progress in the school system for the white children, she has, in a considerable degree, taken care of her schools for colored children. During the administration of W. C. Mabry, about 1909, he succeeded in securing an appropriation from the Schlater Funds to pay the salary of a county supervisor whose duty it was to go into the schools of the county and teach Home Science, which included sanitation, cooking, sewing, etc. also, the salary of a full time teacher of the same subjects was furnished for the Newton negro school, and in 1911 an appropriation of $1500 from the same source was secured to supplement a fund for the establishment of a Training School for teachers in connection with Newton colored school. It is said that this was the first appropriation for this purpose in Mississippi.
The system of county schools for the colored children compares favorably with that of other counties. At Newton is located, on the site of the old training school established in 1911, one of the outstanding schools in Mississippi for that race. It is headed by a graduate of the Alcorn Agricultural College and the faculty is composed of college trained people. It is run in connection with the Newton High School system, has a Smith-Hughes man on duty twelve months in the year, a home science teacher during the school term. It also carries the training school feature, and receives some Rosenwald funds for that department.