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Box Elder School District

From Brigham City History Project

Education of children was of vital concern to the first residents in Box Elder, who had barely settled in 1851 before Henry Evans began going house to house teaching children. When Box Elder Fort was built in 1854, a sawed log schoolhouse was erected just outside its walls.

That concern continues in modern day Box Elder County, where responsibility for educating over 11,000 students (in 2014) is vested in Box Elder School District, which observed a century of consolidation in 2007.[1]

It wasn’t as though schools operated without organization prior to 1907, but consolidation was an important step in standardizing and improving education throughout the county, based in Brigham City, which has always served as the county seat.

In January 1856, the Utah Territorial Legislature created eight new counties, including Box Elder, which had been part of Weber County. Lorenzo Snow, Samuel Smith and Joseph Grover were elected trustees in March, and the people voted a one percent school tax to support schools in Brigham City, Willow Creek (Willard), and Three Mile Creek (Perry).

Lorenzo Snow was appointed superintendent of public instruction in 1870 and the tax was extended to cover schools throughout the county. From that time until consolidation, superintendents were appointed by the county commissioners and oversaw several geographical districts.

Records of this period are not plentiful, but an 1874 Deseret News article notes that there were 17 districts. Superintendent J. D. Peters reported in 1883 that Brigham City was the largest district with 400 enrolled and 600 on the census. Although classes were held in the same facilities built and used by the four LDS wards after their creation in 1877, policies and curriculum were determined by the district by the mid-1880s.

An 1890 Utah law provided for consolidation of school districts for first and second class cities. Brigham City formed its own district in 1896 with a city high school, Webster School (First Ward or Old Rock School), Whittier (built by Second Ward in the 1890s and used through the 1930s), Emerson (Third Ward) and Columbia (Fourth Ward).

In 1900, Brigham City completed construction and opened its first district-owned building, Central Elementary School, a stately two-story brick building located prominently across the street from the Box Elder Tabernacle on the 200-300 South block of Main Street.

Also that year, 1900, when F. W. Fishburn of Brigham City was in the Utah Legislature, he co-sponsored a bill which provided for county consolidation, a campaign which lasted for six years. That law was passed in 1905 and went into effect in 1907.

There were 60 named schools in Box Elder County in 1907, ranging alphabetically from Appledale to Yost, and spread throughout the sparsely-populated county. Semi-private schools in isolated areas received stipends and textbooks for operation, primarily in homes. An agreement with the US government helped with school for Indian children at Washakie.

Creation of District

Box Elder County Commission minutes dated May 10, 1907, state: “a number of citizens respectfully petitioned the county commissioners to consolidate the schools of Box Elder County...”[2]

Commissioners passed an ordinance to that effect on June 20, 1907, fixing boundaries of precincts and the amount of the bond to be given by the members of the Board of Education. This created a unified district that includes 5,624 square miles, an area larger than the smallest five states of the USA.

July 8 at noon was the official time for consolidation, Records were turned over to the new Box Elder Board of Eduction, chosen at a special election on July 1 to represent five precincts. Members were Charles Kimber, Charles W. Hall. Peter M. Hansen, Clark Hubbard, and Frank Fishburn.

At its first official meeting, the Board chose F. W. Fishburn as president and appointed veteran county educator A. E. Jensen as the first Superintendent. He was to be paid $75 per month. A typewriter and desk were purchased for use by E. W. Dunn, clerk, and a bond was posted for W. T. Davis, treasurer.

Board meetings began at 10 a.m., recessed for lunch, then reconvened at 2 p.m., with meetings held weekly at first. The Board immediately embarked on the legalities of consolidation: transfer of property deeds, monies, bills and accounts, bonds and debts, supplies and property, including the coal on hand. They needed names and addresses of teachers and amounts of salary agreed upon, as well as the school census in respective districts.

Teachers were officially hired at the August 20 meeting. September 23 was fixed as the date for schools to open and continue for eight months. Outside of the high school in Brigham City, no grades above eighth grade would be taught in any of the schools. Compulsory attendance within the district would be strictly enforced. A tuition fee of $2 per term for nonresidents was approved.

That first year was difficult. Schools were in the process of erecting buildings, some didn’t own property outright, some had no fuel on hand or didn’t have teachers hired, old buildings needed repair, outhouses were in bad shape, contracts were needed for wagons and drivers to “haul students” to schools. Bookcases were needed at Kelton, blackboards at Mantua, four more chairs at another school, a car of coal for Garland, an 8 x 8 coal house at Boothe Valley, a piano tuned at Portage ... and the list went on.

Consolidation involving closure of smaller schools was as unpopular then as now, with a minimum of eight students in average daily attendance set as a basic standard. There were schools at Etna, Kosmo, Kelton, Lucin, Muddy Creek, Rosebud, Terrace, Rosette, Penrose, Evans, Union, Standrod and other small or remote communities, some of which might not come up with enough students.

The biggest commitment of the consolidated district’s first year began on April 21, 1908, when citizens of Brigham City appeared at a mass meeting called by the mayor to confer with the Board of Education on selection of a site for a county high school building. A site commonly known as Academy Square, an area from First North to First South between Fourth and Fifth East, was selected.

The “magnificent new” Box Elder High School, located south of Forest Street between Fourth and Fifth East, welcomed its first students in the fall of 1909. Only 86 students showed up, but more were enrolled as the fall harvest ended.

Creation of a county high school brought new transportation problems. The annual report of 1911-12 states there were 250 students in the school, 125 from Brigham City and 125 from the rest of the county. The Board voted to pay actual student transportation costs up to $2 per week or $2 per week for room and board within the city during the school year.

A Time of Building

Brigham City schools were crowded, and in October 1911 another class was opened at the Webster School “on account of congested conditions” at nearby Central. By this time there were three classes at the Webster School. Lincoln School was under construction, but early residents recall that it was not ready for fall opening, and that they were moved from classes in Columbia, Emerson and Webster about Thanksgiving time.[3]

The 1911 completion of Lincoln Elementary School, 271 North 100 West, was the first in a flurry of building as old schools were replaced with modern brick buildings throughout the county. Electricity and water were included where systems were available. With the common drinking cup recently abolished by state law, drinking fountains became an added amenity.

Of 1912-13, Superintendent Charles Skidmore (in a book published in 1921) stated that “eleven new buildings in one year at a cost of $205,000 was perhaps never surpassed in this and any other state.” This included new elementary schools in Garland, Bear River City, Snowville, Perry and Collinston, among others.[4]

Brigham City Schools remained crowded and it was noted by Skidmore that congestion was much relieved in 1918-19 when seventh and eight grades were moved from Whittier to the new addition at Box Elder High School, so overflow from Central could be accommodated at the nearby Whittler School, located on the corner of Second West and Second South.[5]

Schools tried to keep up with modern technology, with home economics classes updating sewing machines and other appliances, typewriting classes offered, and “ladies shower baths” added at BEHS. Board minutes switched from flowing longhand to typewritten pages in 1918. The district offered ninth grade in Garland school in 1916-17. That was the beginning of Bear River High School, which added tenth grade the following year. In the summer of 1919, minutes call for architects to submit plans for a new Bear River High School at the first meeting of January 1920. Superintendent Skidmore noted in 1921 that the twelfth grade would be added when the school was completed in 1922-23.

Not only did this lessen the congestion at Box Elder High school, it also brought the district into compliance with the State Course of Study, which was based on a six-six plan, as seventh and eighth grades moved into secondary schools, except for outlying areas.

Transportation was a continuing problem. In early years the electric train/trolley, which ran north from Ogden along Main Street with a branch curving west along Forest, picked up Hot Springs students to go to Willard School and had morning and afternoon stops in front of Central School, as noted in 1916 minutes. The trolley was replaced by the light rail Ogden, Logan and Idaho Railway which ran along the center of Fifth West. This was heavily used in the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s by students from both north and south of Brigham City, who then walked east up Forest Street to Box Elder High School. In 1947 this line was discontinued and dismantled. Pupils who lived in remote areas and moved into Brigham City to attend school were paid an amount toward room and board equal to that paid certain other out-of-town pupils for transportation.

Outside Influences

Outside influences often affected the schools. World War I meant many teachers and older students left the area. Despite the lack of teachers in the state, every district school opened in the fall of 1918. “But how a good opening was changed in a few weeks, into a bad vacation caused by the terrible epidemic of influenza. All but a few of the schools were kept closed or in a state of uncertainty for three months” reported Skidmore. The deadly disease took the lives of two teachers and a number of school patrons and students.[6]

Quarantines were imposed in 1921 to deal with scarlet fever, diphtheria and smallpox. Scarlet fever had a 30-day quarantine period and patients were not allowed to re-enter school until cleared by the quarantine inspector. Similar measures were adopted for whooping cough, chickenpox, measles and influenza. In some cases, school books were turned over to the inspector for destruction, and the number and specific disease were to be reported to authorities immediately.

There were special needs, too. Utah & Idaho Sugar Company helped select a teacher for the children of Mexican workers in Garland, one who could “speak Mexican” as well as English.[7] At the urging of local women’s organizations, an eight-week summer kindergarten was added in 1917, since no kindergarten was offered during the school year. Student problems have not changed through the years. Board minutes reflect incidents such as boys using tobacco, delinquency, truancy and damage to schools. Usually these were dealt with through the schools, but more serious violations were referred to courts.

The Great Depression affected schools, just as it did the rest of the country. School lunch programs were extended to assure one good meal for children. Without school kitchens, soup was prepared in nearby homes and transported to schools, where it was served with bread and butter and milk. Leo Jensen recalled being excused from a high school class to help prepare soup in a home kitchen across from Lincoln Elementary, then carrying the big kettles to the school.[8] The same scenario played out in a home located south of Central Elementary.

The District benefited from several public works projects of the period, with the most significant being construction of a new gymnasium and swimming pool built in 1935-36 adjacent to Box Elder High School.

In 1936 the district adopted new teacher pay guidelines based up the number of dependents: $96 for a wife or husband, $24 for each minor child, plus extra pay for teachers in small and remote schools at $60 per year for a one-room school, $30 per year for a two-room, where it would be presumed there were two teachers.

World War II impacted the schools in many ways. By January 1942 the PTA was uncertain about federal assistance for school lunches and suggested a canning project. In 1943 the state established a program to can food for school lunch. By February 1942 the schools were operating on a wartime schedule. Male teachers were being called into military service and the ban on married women teaching was lifted. An acute labor shortage was predicted and it was decided that school would be held on Saturday in order to close earlier in the season. This was discontinued after parents complained this was too strenuous, there was a lack of time for dental appointments and music lessons, and other factors. High schools and junior high schools were consolidated, with one principal and a vice principal, but grades 7-8-9 would have separate social functions. High schools formed student units for harvesting and canning crops, and schools added an extra week for the “sugar beet harvest vacation”. Summer kindergarten was shortened to six weeks.

School population grew as Bushnell Army Hospital opened in October 1942 in Brigham City, bringing in military families with children. Japanese families forced from the West Coast joined local relatives and their children were also enrolled in district schools, but there was no money, labor, or materials to build schools. The Board complied with requests for use of school buses in case of evacuation of Bushnell Hospital, for permission for soldiers guarding Cutler Dam to use the BEHS gymnasium two nights a week, as well as an order for sale of 20 percent of school typewriters to the Army. Buses were used to transport older students to work at Second Street Depot in Ogden. Bushnell Hospital closed in 1946, leaving its campus empty, which came in handy when Central Elementary burned in 1947. This tragic fire destroyed the handsome old school as well as displacing its students. Classes moved into huge classrooms, but heating proved too costly, so younger grades later attended Lincoln Elementary and older grades used BEHS classrooms until the new one-story Central Elementary was completed in 1950 on the same location.

Another Growth Period

In 1949-50 the Army hospital campus was converted to Intermountain Indian School, operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with as many as 2,000 Navajo and other Native American students attending the boarding school at one time in future years. Children of school employees attended local schools, with Bunderson Elementary (641 East 200 North) built in 1956 to resolve crowded conditions at Central and Lincoln Schools.

Thiokol Chemical Corporation selected Box Elder County as the site for a huge plant in 1957, and by 1959-60 the population had almost doubled in Brigham City. A school building flurry ensued, with Mountain View (650 East 700 South), Lake View (851 South 200 West) and Foothill (890 North 100 East) elementary schools, a new Box Elder High School (380 South 600 West) and an addition to Bunderson School all built from 1960-62 in Brigham City. Two new junior high schools were built, one in each population hub of the county, in 1965. Full-year kindergarten was also established in that year, with a greater demand coinciding with the new schools making space available. This created a K-6, 7-8, 9-12 grade system in the district, in compliance with current state standards.

There have been considerable changes in Brigham City schools, with the aging Central, Lincoln and Bunderson elementary schools closed, and Discovery Elementary (810 North 500 West) opened in 1995. Central School was demolished and is the site of the new Brigham City LDS Temple opened in 2012. Lincoln closed in 1994 and continued to serve the community with a Boys & Girls Club, Soup Kitchen and Community Pantry as tenants until it was razed in 2010. Bunderson closed in 2009 and was leased beginning in 2011 to Brigham City and houses the Brigham City Recreation Department, Boys & Girls Club, and Box Elder Museum of Natural History.

District Offices

School District offices remained in the County Courthouse until 1976, when they moved into the old Second LDS Ward building at 230 West 200 South. This facility served until June 2002, when the district moved into the former Flying J Corporation building at 960 South Main, at which time the old ward building was converted to Dale Young Community High School.

During Dr. Steven O. Laing’s tenure as superintendent, a four-level grade system was implemented with building of Alice B. Harris Intermediate School in Tremonton in 1995 and Adele C. Young Intermediate School (830 Law Drive or 600 West) in 1996. This Elementary K-5, Intermediate 6-7, Middle 8-9 and High School 10-12 configuration was adopted not only for social and educational aspects, but also for economic benefits since it opened classroom space in the elementary, middle and high schools.

In 2013-14 the District operated 16 elementary schools, two intermediate schools, two middle schools, two high schools and an alternative high school, for a total of 23.[9] Four elementary schools -- Mountain View, Lake View, Foothill and Discovery -- are open in Brigham City, one located in each of the four quadrants separated by Main and Forest Streets, just as were the four original ward schools.

Although there were many changes in Box Elder School District since 1907 -- such as 23 schools compared to over 60 -- the geography hasn’t changed. It is still 172 miles from one end of the district to the other. Two high schools, two middle schools and two intermediate schools serve the entire 5,614 square miles. Remote communities still necessitate small schools, such as Grouse Creek, Park Valley, and Snowville.

Transportation remains a challenge, both logistically and financially. During the 2013-14 school year, for example, of 11,127 students, 5,773 students or over 50 percent were transported by bus[10], adding up to approximately 782,000 miles to and from school and 70,000 for activities.

As it continues into its second century, the Box Elder Board of Education has seven precincts, based on population and geography, as well as a high school student member. Board members are elected on a staggered basis, in order to provide continuity.

Just as the typewriter replaced flowing script for Board of Education minutes in 1918, technology has changed many facets of education since 1907, but the basic tenets haven’t changed: the importance of educating children and the dedication of those who carry out those tenets, both as elected officials, teachers and employees.

Related Articles

Box Elder School District Enrollment
Box Elder School District Schools
Box Elder Schools Construction
Box Elder School Bonds
Box Elder School District Administrators

Notes

  1. Sarah Yates, “School District to note 100th anniversary”, Box Elder News Journal, June 20, 2007, p 9. (This was a history commissioned by Box Elder School District, and is primarily based on archival materials minutes of Box Elder School District. Unless otherwise noted, all information is from that source.)
  2. Box Elder County Commission minutes, May 10, 1907.
  3. Sarah Yates, “School began early in Brigham history”, Box Elder Journal, July 24, 1975.
  4. Charles H. Skidmore, Administration and Supervision in the Box Elder School District, Board of Education, Brigham City, UT, 1921, 74. See online at http://books.google.com/books?id=ToTfAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
  5. Skidmore, p 85.
  6. Skidmore, p 78.
  7. See Skidmore, 209. Sarah Clayson was the teacher in 1921-1922.
  8. Leo Jensen interview by Sarah Yates, 2007.
  9. Box Elder School District website, 2014.
  10. Office of the Superintendent, Box Elder School District, January 2014.