Arvid Huisman's column last week about his memories of the earliest days of the Northeast Hamilton school district jogged some memories for me. That was an era of great change in public education in Iowa, when scores of small-town schools all over the state consolidated with neighboring small-town schools to form new districts. There was a great wave of that in the late 1950s and early '60s, when new requirements from the state department of education forced small schools to make difficult changes.
That's when the Northeast Hamilton school district was formed from three towns, followed shortly by the new South Hamilton district, made up of four small schools. That was a time when difficult decisions were called for by school board members who walked a fine line as they balanced loyalty to their hometowns with what was best for education then and for generations to come.
I was just finishing up elementary school in Stanhope then, so I didn't much realize all that at the time. But I did know that we would soon be on the same side as those schools that were now our rivals. Our little world was changing.
Trial Run Day was on the last day of the school year in 1962. It was scheduled to see if the bus routes and classes and schedules were going to work when-for the very first time-all the students from all four schools would be attending school together. It was a massive undertaking in this new, very rural school district that covered 202 square miles in southern Hamilton county.
Two buses stopped at the end of the driveway at my house that morning, one going to the high school in Jewell and the other heading to the Stanhope school for elementary and junior high. Our buses were running on time as scheduled, but not everyone was so lucky that morning. I remember hearing such tales as three buses passing by one rural driveway where the farm kids waited to get on the bus, without one stopping.
Because of numbers and space concerns at the time-and the general sentiment of "Don't close our school!"-elementary students went to school where they always had, in their own town. Half of the junior high students (grades 7-9) in the district went to Ellsworth, the other half to Stanhope, and all the high school students (that was grades 10-11 then) were bused into Jewell for school. Although the new district had been formed legally for several years, at last it was really combined.
It wasn't perfect, of course, but it was the best solution for the time. And there were plenty of adjustments for all involved.