The real history of the school system in McDowell county begins with the resent material development of the county, covering a period of about fifteen years. Previous to that time there had been no appreciable advancement in the system, and but little, if any, improvement in the schools. During that period the system has developed very rapidly, the results have been decidedly favorable, and, while the work has not been altogether satisfactory, it has, in a measure, kept pace with the great material development of the county.
No statistical information relative to the schools of the county previous to the year 1885 can be obtained, but by reference to the report of the county superintendent for that year we find that there were only nine school houses in the county, and those were log houses.
It is a source of amusement for those who are acquainted with the situation to glance at the list of teachers employed at that time, all holding first grade certificates, and compare them with the teachers at the present. But few of those teachers were sufficiently well advanced to enter the intermediate grade in our public schools today. But two of the teachers who taught in the county fifteen years ago are teaching now.
The space allotted to this sketch will not permit an elaborate account or a detailed statement of the growth and advancement of the schools, but a comparison of conditions and advantages existing fifteen years ago with those at the present will suffice to give an idea of what is being done.
Then there were about forty teachers, none of whom had ever attended a school other than the public schools of the county or a summer "subscription school;" there were nine school houses, worth less than one hundred dollars each; there was no furniture except "home-made" benches, and no apparatus of any character; the school term was from three to three and one-half months, and the teacher's salary fixed at the minimum allowed by law; the "three R's" constituted the cirriculum, and but few pupils completed the course contained therein.
Now one hundred and fifteen teachers are employed, a large majority of whom have attended the State Normals, the University, or some reputable college, many of them being graduates and having special training for school work; there are seventy-eight school buildings belonging to the districts and several others under course of construction, costing from three hundred to six thousand dollars each, and practically all of them furnished with the best modern school furniture, fixtures and apparatus. The total value of school property reported for the year 1902-03 was $51,276.00. Seventy of the schools have an eight-months session; twenty-seven have six months, and eighteen, five months. The salaries for first grade teachers are from forty to fifty dollars per month, and the total amount paid to teachers for the year 1902-03 was $30,018.25. All the branches prescribed for use in the public schools are being taught and in many instances the higher branches. Libraries have been established in some of the schools and during the past year more than 400 volumes of choice literature were added.
While the results are gratifying there are many difficulties which stand in the way of progress, and under existing conditions it will likely never be possible to reach the highest degree of advancement.
One trouble incident to the coal and lumber districts, and which we can not hope to overcome, is the character of a considerable element of our citizens who are locally designated as the "floating population." These people live but a short time at any one place and are constantly shifting and transferring their children from one school to another with the result that very little advancement is made by such pupils. In some instances the enrollment is almost completely changed during the term of school, and teachers upon returning to a school for the second year rarely find the same list of pupils who were enrolled the previous year and quite often find a complete change.
The most rapid development has been within the past five or six years. During this time those old fogy ideas which formerly predominated have been practically stamped out and exist today only in the minds of those whose influence, power, and control over boards of education once dictated and directed our educational interests.
By careful selection we are now supplied with boards of education who earnestly and conscientiously guard the interests of all classes, and who do not hesitate to draw upon the public fund when the interests of the schools demand it, and we expect in the future better houses, better furnishings, better salaries, and ultimately a much higher grade of schools.
An effort is being made to more thoroughly grade the schools, and looking to that end some of the boards have declared all schools employing more than one teacher to be graded schools under the section of the law granting that authority.
The first graduates from the public schools of the county were turned out last year. This class was from the Hallsville school in Brown's Creek district. A number of the schools in the county have reported that there will be candidates for graduation this year, and that larger classes are preparing to complete the course next year.
The question of consolidation has been given some consideration, and, though there is considerable opposition, based mainly upon the condition of the roads and other inconveniences in the way of travel, some of our boards have adopted a system by which we will be able to combine a number of the schools in the densely populated sections. In pursuance of this plan one of our boards this year consolidated five schools and built a house at a cost of six thousand dollars. There are four teachers in charge of the school and more than two hundred and twenty-five pupils attend. The results are so very satisfactory that further action will be taken in that direction next year.
Under the existing conditions the schools of this county are conceded to be making as rapid progress as could be expected, but it is to be hoped that we may be able to overcome some of the difficulties and disadvantages standing in the way, and that the efforts of those interested may be crowned with greater success than they now anticipate.
History of Education in West Virginia
Prepared under the direction of the State Superintendent of Free Schools
Charleston: The Tribune Printing Company (1904), pp. 227-229
Contributed by: Valerie Crook