Public Schools of Osceola County, FL

transcribed by Anza Bast
(member of the Genealogy Club of Osceola County)

Source: Kissimmee Valley Gazette, Friday, May 1, 1914, pg. 13


(By C. A. Carson)

        In this sketch of the schools of this county I shall date back to November, 1888, at which time I first arrived in Kissimmee. Kissimmee had been established only a short time before, and there were probably between two and three hundred people living here. It was then a portion of Orange county. The schools managed by the superintendent of public instruction of Orange county, Hon. J. F. Banks being superintendent. The school building consisted of one small room located on the southwest corner of the McIntosh block in North Kissimmee. An effort was being made to construct another building at a more central point, and such a building was being erected on the site of the present school building. It was a one-story building of one room and was built and paid for by J. M. Bryan and W. A. Patrick. There were no churches here at that time, and this school building was used by the various denominations for their services as occasion would permit, and during the week, of course, it was used for school purposes.

        The first recollection I have of this building was in November, 1883, when I attended Sunday school; it was not complete and there were no seats in it, and as I approached the ground I noticed Dr. W. J. Sears, with one or two others assisting him, carrying some planks into the building, which were placed across blocks so as to improvise seats. I do not recall who was teaching at that time, but not long thereafter Mr. J. Mack Towne, now of Tampa, taught for one term. Prior to the formation of Osceola county in 1887, probably in the latter part of '85 and '86, the school board of Orange county appointed trustees for the Kissimmee school as follows: Rev. C. E. Jones, Hon. J. M. Bryan, Capt. R. E. Rose, T. M. Murphy and William Cannon. I believe I am not wrong when I say that this board of trustees was the first to provide for nine months' session of school. The funds derived from Orange county were not sufficient to extend for this period. The board requested the city council to provide additional funds for the extension of the term, and it was done. This was the beginning of the system which worked so beautifully for many years in maintaining a term of eight to nine months.

        In 1887 Osceola county was formed and the governor was required by the act creating the county to appoint officials and in accordance with this he appointed Dr. W. J. Sears superintendent of public instruction, and L. P. Hughey, J. V. Spears, William P. Morgan, D. J. Sumner and Robert LaMartin, the first board of public instruction, the law then requiring five members, and C. A. Carson, treasurer. The board organized for business August 39, 1887, as shown by the following certificate:

        "Kissimmee, Fla., Aug. 29, 1887 - At a meeting of the board of public instruction for Osceola county, Florida, held in the office of the county judge, L. P. Hughey, J. V. Spears and Wm. P. Morgan were present. Motion by L. P. Hughey to organize and elect W. P. Morgan, chairman was carried and the organization was complete.

        "On this day, Sept. 5th, A. D. 1887, personally appeared before me W. J. Sears and Wm. P. Morgan, who, being duly sworn, depose and say that the above language is a true and correct copy of the articles of organization of the board of public instruction for Osceola county, Fla. W. J. Sears, Sec. and County Supt., and William P. Morgan, chairman.

        "Sworn to and subscribed before me this 5th day of Sept., A. D. 1887. John M. Lee, clerk of the circuit court of Osceola county, Florida."

        The school term was established at five months, and the following provision was made for the payment of teachers: "Payment of teachers shall be for schools of an average attendance from ten to fifteen inclusive, $20 per month, and teachers holding first grade certificates to be entitled to 20 per cent. additional pay." The first warrants issued to teachers from the county as shown by the records were as follows: Mrs. Octavio Brown, $20; Mrs. J. H. Steffee, $20; R. M. Bridges, for all the teachers in the Kissimmee school, $261; G. F. Parker, $40.50; F. H. Bickford, $39; A. H. Erving, colored, $33. The salary of the superintendent was fixed at $300 per annum. As indicated above, Prof. R. M. Bridges was principal of school No. 1 and served for a term of years. During the year 1888 Wm. P. Morgan, chairman of the school board, died (Nov. 19, 1888) at the age of twenty-five years, having shown himeslf [sic] an efficient worker; an honest and upright gentleman in all positions; and having been of great aid in the establishment of schools in the county. In January, 1889, J. V. Spears succeeded Dr. W. J. Sears as county superintendent, having been elected in November, 1888. The school board at this time consisted of L. P. Hughey, J. M. Bryan, S. Miller, D. J. Sumner, Robert LaMartin. Prof. R. M. Bridges was succeeded in principalship of the Kissimmee school by Prof. W. T. Laine and the school at this time had reached a point where the salary of all was on the basis of $1.50 per month, amounting to $283.90 for the month of January, 1889. By this time the schools of the county had been thoroughly established, and much progress was being made under the management as it then existed.

        Prof. W. T. Laine was succeeded in principalship of the Kissimmee school by Prof. J. J. Smith, whose salary for the month of April, 1889, covering himself and assistants, was $217.42. During this administration a course of study was provided for the various departments of the school, and it was then that the school, was first designated Osceola high school. In November, 1890, J. V. Spears, superintendent, removed to Texas, and appointed C. A. Carson to act as his deputy until January, 1891. C. A. Carson, having declined to be a candidate for county treasurer to succeed himself, was appointed county superintendent to succeed J. V. Spears, as soon as his office as treasurer expired, which was January, 1891, the board of instruction at that time being composed of Dr. W. J. Sears, S. L. Lupfer and C. F. Prevatt. During this administration the salaries of the schools were fixed at a definite amount rather than on a per capita basis, as heretofore. A strong effort was made during this administration also to place the schools on a high moral basis, as evidenced by the following action taken by the board: "1st. Absolute refusal to appoint a man well-known of intemperate habits, to teach in one of the public schools, although all the patrons of the school petitioned for his appointment. 2d. Removal of a teacher who showed marked imprudent or indiscreet attention to one of his pupils. During this time Prof. W. B. Hinton became principal of the Kissimmee school, but resigned and was succeeded by Prof. W. C. Dodd, who continued in this capacity until the close of the spring session in 1892, Professor Hinton having been retained as assistant. In the fall of 1892 all the schools opened under very auspicious circumstances with a full corps of teachers, with Prof. D. L. Ellis of North Carolina as principal of the Osceola high school. During the administration of Professor Ellis the school was thoroughly graded; a new course of study provided, and a new series of textbooks adopted. During this administration also the county schools were extended to seven months, although the levy for school purposes in the county was only four mills. In January, 1893, the same school board and school superintendent qualified for another term, having been elected in the November election. In March, 1893, C. A. Carson resigned as superintendent, advising the board in the following way of his action: "March 6, 1893 - Board of Public Instruction of Osceola County: Gentlemen: I beg to advise you that I have forwarded to Governor Mitchell my resignation of superintendent of public instruction, to take effect as soon as a successor is qualified. This is done because private interests suffer from lack of proper attention while I occupy this position. If I believed for a moment that the interests of the county would suffer by this action it would not have been taken, for there is nothing so important to all our people as our educational interest. Yours very truly, C. A. Carson."

        Gov. H. L. Mitchell then appointed Prof. W. B. Hinton as superintendent and he discharged the duties of the office very acceptably until January, 1895, at which time he was succeeded by Rev. F. Farnsworth, who had been chosen at the fall election. The board as reorganized at that time was composed of C. A. Carson, C. F. Prevatt and A. S. Campbell. All the schools of the county were prosperous and flourished under the corps of teachers previously selected. At this time the salaries of the schools had been increased to some extent, but the Osceola high school of Kissimmee had shown the greatest growth, of course, so that the total salary at this time was $350 for this school. Professor Ellis continued as principal until the opening of the fall session of 1895, being succeeded by Prof. F. B. Shipp, who continued as principal until the fall of 1900. The salary of principal at that time was $90 per month.

        It was during this administration of the county affairs that the school board adopted the policy of furnishing free school books throughout the county, and this proved a very economical way of supplying books; and advanced school progress, especially in the county schools, very largely. In the meantime another election had been held and in January, 1897, the school officials were as follows: W. H. Hinton, superintendent of public instruction, H. C. Stanford, W. W. Chandler, C. S. Acree, members of the board. Much progress was made under the administration, which lasted until 1895. I believe I am correct in saying that during this administration a very handsome school building was erected, being a frame building of twelve rooms, the cost of which was provided for from three sources: 1st. By subscription of $1,500 by the city counci;l 2d. By subscription of $1,500 from the board of public instruction; 3d. By private subscription of $1,500. The building committee charged with the erection of this building was composed of C. A. Carson, J. W. Watson, J. M. Willson, H. C. Stanford, P. A. Vans Agnew. The contractor who built the house, which proved to be a very modern and substantial structure, was J. W. Thompson. It served its purpose admirably until 1908, when it was burned on the night of July 7, 1908. In the meantime the state had adopted the "uniform high school law," and Osceola high school readily fell into line, pursuing a course of studies provided by a committee of state educators provided for this purpose. Superintendent Hinton's term of office expired January, 1905, at which time he was succeeded by the Hon. W. J. Sears, who is the son of the first superintendent of this county, namely, Dr. W. J. Sears, who has continued in office from that time to the present date. During the time intervening the following gentlemen served on the school board at various times, in addition to those already mentioned: F. W. Hill, Geo. J. Strickland, Jonathan Strickland, C. E. Franklin, J. B. Tumblin, W. C. Bass, E. E. Brown, Geo. W. Overstreet.

        When Prof. F. B. Shipp resigned the principalship of the school he was succeeded by Professor Simpson, who had for a number of years been his efficient first assistant. Professor Simpson discharged the duties of the office with marked fidelity and success until ill health caused his resignation. He was succeeded by Prof. J. M. Wood, now a successful lawyer of Atlanta. Upon Professor Wood's retirement Prof. Don Register of Hillsborough county, who is now a practising [sic] lawyer at Fort Myers, succeeded him and in one year succeeded by Prof. Marvin Smith, who is now a practising [sic]physician in Jacksonville. Upon Professor Smith's retirement, Prof. R. M. Evans succeeded to the principalship, and still occupies that very important position. By constant and untiring attention to his duties he has succeeded in maintaining a most excellent school, which has increased in numbers and efficiency until at the present time the enrollment exceeds seven hundred. The school is still as it has been for the last twenty years - regarded as in the forefront of Florida public schools.

        The board is at the present composed of W. C. Bass, G. W. Overstreet and W. W. Chandler. It is worthy of note that the present superintendent and the present chairman of the school board first attended the school in the original building of one room, situated on the McIntosh block in North Kissimmee. During the administration of the present superintendent the school building above referred to, situated in Kissimmee, was burned and it became necessary to provide another larger and better equipped building to meet the requirements. Accordingly within three days after the building was burned plans were set on foot which culminated in the erection of the present school building, which was completed in August, 1909. It is one of the largest and most commodious and best equipped buildings in the state and was thought at the time of erection to be ample for all purpose for at least twenty years, but the rapid growth of the school, however, showed the fallacy of this opinion, and has rendered it necessary to have additional quarters, so that in April, 1913, the school board purchased the old Methodist church building, which is now being used for primary grades.

        The financial side of it is very interesting and shows the total taxes accessed in the beginning for school purposes in Osceola county was $6,152.55, based on a millage of 41/2. During the year 1899 there was an increase to approximately $7,505.52. When we notice for 1913 we will see a wonderful increase in the amount of school taxes paid, namely: $38,525.26.

        At the present time the schools of the county seem to be all efficiently manned, and the enrollment of the Osceola high school has passed the seven hundred mark, with a splendid corps of teachers in charge. It might be interesting to know that at least some of the teachers have been employed in the same capacity of the school for probably more than twenty years.

        In the meantime the wonder city of St. Cloud has been established and has now the second largest school in the county. They have a verey [sic] splendid brick building, equipped with modern appliances, with the necessary corps of teachers, efficient in all the branches assigned covering the high school departments. It may be well to know that during this same period the state laws have materially changed. At the beginning of the period the board of public instruction was composed of five members appointed by the governor. It was subsequently changed to a board of three members elected by the people. The original board of public instruction appointed trustees of the local school of from three to five, as they might prefer. Subsequently the law was changed and provided for one supervisor of the school. J. W. Thompson is supervisor of the Osceola high school and has been for a number of years.

        The system throughout the county has kept pace with the development of the Osceola high school, pursuing courses of study that fit readily into the high school course. It is safe to say that no school system has shown larger growth and development nor has sent into the world graduates who have demeaned themselves more creditably in their subsequent lives than has the Osceola high school. May its progress and development continue even more rapid in the future than it has in the past.
Copyright  2007:  Anza Bast
Donated to the Genealogy Club of Osceola County for posting on their website