It was a struggle
It was a struggle
52¢ per pupil per year was spent on education in 1880
The first schools in Rutherford and nearby counties were all private. The “academies” flourished for a century, starting with Rutherfordton Academy, chartered in 1806, and denominational schools followed, including Round Hill, Burnt Chimney, Westminster and others. It was not until after the war that tax-supported education was accepted.
Schools closed in 1865 and it was five years before the stunned population turned again to public education. In 1870 the Rutherfordton Academy was reopened. Oak Hill Academy opened three years later. Burnt Chimney Academy was established in 1873. A few communities had brief subscription schools under itinerant teachers. Funds for public schools were voted down, but a county board of education met in 1879 and 106 school districts were set up. Not until 1880 was county money appropriated for the schools – 52 cents per pupil per year!
From there the progress was steady but slow. It included such steps as appropriation of money from the state literary fund, the establishment of small libraries, building of new schools, increase in teacher’s salaries, upgrading of teacher training, and finally, with the coming of roads, the abandonment of one-teacher schools, increase in school term, and the consolidation program of today.
It took over 50 years to get out of the “old field school” era, when “a little teacher in a little school on a little hill with little equipment trying to teach little things to little children.” Because of poor road conditions, some children had to travel to the new consolidated schools in mule wagons.
The 20’s saw a wake of new school buildings and consolidation. In six months in 1924, half a million in bonds were voted by various districts – considered a huge sum for that time.
The Forest City (Cool Springs district) school system was a pioneer in consolidation and curriculum reform and won many honors. It introduced such novelties (for that time) as music instruction (1926).
In 1929, it was boasted that the county school system had made more progress in the past ten years than any other in North Carolina. In 1918, it said, school property was worth $57,000; in 1929, $1,312,000. The revival started with a bond issue in Forest City, bringing the county to rank 7th in the state.
Even more spectacular were immaterial gains. In 1919, 9,813 were of school age. Only 6,035 of these were enrolled and “sad to relate,” said the report, only 3,800 of these were in average daily attendance. But in 1928, 11,210 of a school population of 13,272 were enrolled, and average daily attendance was 8,447, placing Rutherford fourth in North Carolina. More surprising are the high school figures. In 1919 fewer than 100 were in high school, attendance averaged 73, graduating class of 15. Ten years later 1,440 were enrolled, 1,205 in attendance, graduating 161. In the ten years, length of school term increased from 103 to 157 days. Ten libraries in 1918 had 325 books; ten years later there were 25 libraries with 11,221, putting Rutherford 8th in the state.
The progress was part of a statewide upsurge in education, but the relative advance (in comparison with other counties) required extra effort. The county enjoyed good school superintendents — W. R. Hill, Clyde A. Erwin (later State Superintendent of Public Instruction), J. B. Jones, A. C. Lovelace and B. L. Smith. And industrial and professional leaders of the county took up the program and supported it.
Five new schools were opened during the 1962-63 school year as result of a $2.8 million bond issue. Total teaching personnel in the county system in the year 1962-63 was 401, and the average salary was $5,060.55. Attendance average, all schools, was 94 per cent.