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1911: Horace Mann

Horace Mann Elementary School

facade of Horace Mann Elementary School

Kansas City, Kansas School District architect William W. Rose designed the Horace Mann Elementary School. The three-story, 12-room elementary school at 822 State Ave. opened in January 1911. The masonry structure featured classrooms arranged around a central stair tower and had specialized rooms for manual training and assembly. The elementary school closed after the 1938-39 school year. After that, the Kansas City Junior College occupied the building and converted it for college use until 1968. Today, the building has been renovated into apartment lofts and retains its original configuration of corridors and classrooms and many of its simple historic finishes. The former school is on the National Register list of historical places in Kansas.

1914: Central Junior High School

Matthew E. Pearson portrait

Matthew E. Pearson

Superintendent of Schools, Matthew E. Pearson began pushing for the establishment of a Junior High School and Kindergarten classes in all schools.

There were only a few throughout the eastern US, but there were none west of the Missouri, so a junior high school in Kansas City, Kansas was considered experimental at the time.

During this period of time, Kansas City was home to the second-largest meat packing industry in the nation just behind Chicago. The cattle business attracted White workers from the Midwest region, immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, and African Americans from the agricultural South. The stockyards created a multi-ethnic labor force. The population in Kansas City, Kansas grew from 82,3331 in 1910 to 131,857 in 1930.

Mr. Pearson believed this was the prime location to implement his radical idea because most of the young people were attracted to these kinds of jobs. Pearson’s effort became a reality in 1914 with the construction of the first junior high school west of Missouri: Central Junior High.

Central Middle School facade in the early 1910s

It all began in 1907, when Whittier School was built at Boeke and Ivandale. The new school opened January 27, 1908.  The former Irving center for manual training was transferred to the new Whittier area. This building was to be the first of several units that now make up Central Middle School today.

Whittier ‘s enrollment increased, and the school was crowded within a year or two after its opening. By 1915, the new junior high school was under way. The teachers and children moved from their classrooms into portable buildings at 10th and Ivandale, until renovations and new editions were completed. Once completed, teachers and students occupied one wing of the school, which later became known as Whittier Junior High school. The junior high school offered six courses which English, English-German, English-Latin, industrial arts, household economics and business. The first graduating class in 1917 had 143 members. The portables used by the previous students during remolding were now being used by elementary school students until a new elementary school was built in 1922.

In 1923, Northwest and Northeast Junior High Schools came into existence and Whittier was no longer the only junior high school in the school system. Whittier Junior High School was renamed on April 23, 1923, to Central Junior High School. This became the third time a school named Central would be established. In 1927, the north and south sections of the main building were added, the gymnasium was extended, and balconies were added to accommodate the increasing services and enrollment. Additional facility upgrades and renovations of the school came in 1957, 1960-61, in early 1977, 2001 and 2016.

In 1982, USD #500 changed all junior highs to middle schools, serving grades 6-8.

A new state-of-the-art Whittier Elementary School was built in 1991 on the former ball field at Central Middle School located 295 S. 10th Street. was built in 1922 at 10th and Gilmore to accommodate elementary students in the area.

1915: Parker

Parker Elementary School

Parker Elementary School, located at 33rd and Haskell, was constructed in 1914-1915 in the "cottage" style, identical to Bryant, Chelsea, and Francis Willard schools. The school was named for Colonel Francis W. Parker, an educator of national renown from Quincy, Massachusetts, who gained fame as supervisor of the Boston schools and as principal of the Cook County Normal School in Illinois. In 1928, land was purchased for a new Parker school adjacent to the old one. The new Parker school opened in 1940.

1916: Frances Willard

Frances Willard Elementary facade

Frances Willard Elementary School located at 32nd and Orville Ave. opened in 1916 and was named for the author Frances Willard. The four-room brick school was located at 34th and Orville. Frances Willard was one of five "Cottage Plan" schools designed by Rose/Peterson Architects. The four-room brick building was in use until 1956 until it was razed in 1956 to make way for construction of a new Frances Willard School.

The 1920s

The 1920s saw a general expansion in the school district’s facilities, including the construction of major additions to the Argentine and Rosedale high schools. After the cities of Argentine and Rosedale were consolidated by Kansas City, Kansas, it was decided that it would be appropriate to change the name of Kansas City, Kansas High School to Wyandotte High School. This was approved by the Board of Education on January 3, 1928.

1921-22: Whittier Elementary School

Whittier Elementary facade

Whittier Elementary, located at 295 South 10th Street, was constructed in 1921 to provide improved lighting and circulation for the students and staff. The twelve-room brick structure opened in 1922 and was replaced in 1989 with a new Whittier School directly across the street.

1924: Northwest and Northeast Junior High Schools

Two Junior Highs were built in KCK. Northeast located at 4th and Troup for African American Students and Northwest located at North 18th and Haskell for White students.

Northwest Junior High

Northwest junior High facade

Northwest opened in 1924 and was located at 18th and Haskell. The four-story brick structure was designed by noted architecture firm Rose and Peterson. Additions were constructed in 1939 and 1960.

Northeast Junior High

Northeast Junior High School facade

Northeast was located at 4th and Troup and was built in 1923-1924.

The school officially opened in 1925 and was designed by Rose and Peterson architects. It was closed as a result of a court order desegregating the KCK school system in the 1970s and was recently renovated for use as apartments.

1930: A New Education Workforce

The Suffrage Movement established equality between men and women and allowed women to take up the position of teaching. This influenced the education professions history because of the courageous suffragists who fought for equality. Women continue to implement effective long-term change for education, vote at higher rates than men, and fight the ongoing battle for equality. The 19th Amendment not only granted women the electoral power to contribute to governmental change, but the ability to fight for equal opportunities in the workforce, education, and cultural and social spheres.

1932: Washington Rural High School

Washington High School facade

On January 4, 1932, Washington Rural High School opened on Leavenworth Road in the northwest part of Wyandotte County, Kansas. The new high school formed from the creation of Rural High School District #2 of Wyandotte County and named after the first United States President George Washington.

In 1940s, Washington Rural School district had their own fleet of buses that parked on Washington High School property. Transportation was provided for students attending schools in the western part of Wyandotte County that fell under this jurisdiction. They started with two buses and grew to 10 buses.

Washington school buses loading students in the parking lot

However, students living in the city rode the city bus, Benskin buses, or had private transportation of some form to reach their schools. Tokens could be purchased for students riding the city buses. The cost of going from 923 Ann Avenue to Central Junior High at 10th & Ivandale was 15 cents.

In 1962, due to a new Kansas law that required the merger of elementary school districts and high school districts to provide “Unified” districts that offer kindergarten through grade 12, Washington High School District USD 201 was formed. But by 1965, with rapid population growth and an urgent need for new schools, the new school district faced a financial crisis. Due to the lack of a strong industrial/commercial tax base and comparatively low residential property values, the district didn’t have the available tax base and corresponding tax revenues to fund its capital needs to expand.

The Washington District responded to its challenging situation by authorizing an election in 1966 to decide if USD 201 would be absorbed by Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools – USD 500. That election measure narrowly passed which resulted in USD 500 annexing USD 201 in 1967.

1934: Kansas City, Kansas High School on Fire

KCK High School after fire destroyed the building

A fire broke out at the Kansas City, Kansas High School on March 3, 1934. The fire reportedly started in a trash container in the janitorial storage room. The fire eventually spread to the timber frame and brick walls.

collage of images of KCK High School on fire and afterwards

It was reported that the alarm sounded at 5:20 p.m. and by 6:00 p.m. 10 local fire companies and two from Kansas City, Mo., were at the scene at 9th and Minnesota. Firefighters had their hands full trying to battle the blaze that some reported seeing from miles away. Flames were billowing through the roof and the brick walls were glowing like a blast furnace.

Firemen working inside the KCK High School wreckage

Thousands of people reportedly gathered nearby on the sidewalks to witness the blaze that would eventually overtake the once beautiful three-story Richardsonian Romanesque style structure. Textbooks and the library collection containing 6,500 volumes were all destroyed by the fire. Students had to finish the final six weeks of school without schoolbooks.

No one was seriously injured, but the estimated loss was $750,000 when the building was insured for only $336,000.

1937: Wyandotte High School

Wyandotte High School facade drawing

Wyandotte High School is the most notable public building in Kansas City, Kansas. 

Wyandotte high School building plan

The construction of the new Wyandotte High School at 25th and Minnesota Avenue was completed on March 4, 1937 at a cost of $2 million. It was a two-year process from 1935 to 1937.

Wyandotte High School being built

Leadership within the school district began having discussions about building a new high school in 1929 because they felt there was a need for a high school to be more centrally located to accommodate students living within and outside city limits. The Great Depression from 1929 to 1939 would muffle the conversations about the construction of a new school as the economy took a sharp turn for the worse. However, after the fire engulfed the Kansas City Kansas High School in 1934, school and city leadership knew they had to come up with a plan to build a new high school. This was the birth of Wyandotte High School.

students reading and studying in the Wyandotte library

The new school’s capacity increased to 3,000 students in 85 classrooms and employed a staff of 90 faculty members. The new gym had seating for 900 and the new auditorium could seat 1,800. The focal point of the building is the twin towers. The West Tower represents knowledge, and the East Tower represents character. Wyandotte High School was placed on the Register of Historic Kansas Places in 1985 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

1939: Prescott Elementary School

Prescott School facade

A school for Special Education Students was established at Prescott Elementary School

1940: Busing

A McCallop Bus with drivers in front posing for a photographer

Transportation services were available for students in the rural area attending the Washington District at the time. Students living in the city rode the city bus, Benskin buses, or had private transportation of some form to reach their schools.  Tokens could be purchased for students riding the city buses.  The cost of going from 923 Ann Avenue to Central Junior High at 10th & Ivandale was 15 cents.

1946: The Evolution of School Lunches

Wyandotte Cafeteria with students getting food

Students receiving standard lunches was not common practice in the early 1900s. Children either ate at home with their families or packed a lunch if they attended a school that was too far away.

World War I marked a turning point in the history of school health programs. The War exposed many challenges and health concerns throughout the public school system. The levels of poverty, malnutrition, and poor physical condition became more visible among the nation’s children.

Schools began serving hot lunches to students, drinking water from a pail, and single dippers gradually phased out of the classroom. The construction of sanitary facilities, dental clinics, and the hiring of nurses became a priority.

Food was scarce for everyone during the Great Depression in the 1930s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt partnered with American farmers who were making less than half of what they earned in 1919. As part of his New Deal policies, the government bought up surplus food and hired thousands of women to cook and service it to students. By 1941, every state had a lunch program in place for schools.

In 1946, President Truman signed the National School Lunch Act. The act provided low or no-cost hot school lunches to children living in poverty. Today, the program is known as the Free and Reduced lunch program.

KCKPS has the following School Nutrition Programs:

  • School Breakfast Program
  • National School Lunch Program
  • Afterschool Care Snack Program
  • Area Eligible Program (Supper)
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (Head Start)
  • Summer Food Service Program
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Snack

Today, school meal programs are on the frontline of providing critical nutrition to students in KCKPS and millions of children across the nation through several different school meal programs that have evolved overtime.

1954: New Argentine High School

New Argentine High School facade

The original Argentine High School built in 1908 was demolished and a new Argentine school building was constructed in 1955-56. Argentine’s ceased being a high school after the 1972-1973 school year. The school was converted to a middle school after the opening of the new J. C. Harmon High School.

Argentine High School dedication ceremony

Next: A History of Segregation in KCKPS, Part II