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First Eads School built in early 1901-1903.
Kiowa County Museum

Long Time Gone and the History of the Office of Kiowa County Superintendent of Schools

By Excerpt from "Kiowa County" by Roletta Teal and Betty Jacobs (1976)

August 9, 2023

Another school year is approaching and soon the 2023-2024 school year will launch with new teachers, new classrooms, new schedules, new athletic teams ready to kick off a busy year filled with a lot of learning, experiences, and growth. The small schools in the region are led by Superintendents who are the top administrators and call the shots making recommendations to the school boards. This is education in rural America in the 21st Century.

One hundred years ago things looked a bit different. The most obvious difference is that instead of two school districts in the entire county of Kiowa there were, at one time, a total of 26 districts scattered in areas where pockets of students lived. It would have been impossible to hire a superintendent to oversee each and every school in the county, so instead the county created an elected (by the taxpayers) Superintendent of Schools position.

The following history of the development of the school system in Kiowa County was written by Sarah Lancaster Eder in 1976, one of the numerous Superintendents that helped to move the education of Kiowa County further along.

The office of County Superintendent of Schools had its founding in the interest of schools; schools have always been and are for and of and by people; many, many people.

This then partially accounts for the wide range of information in this compilation of historical events associated with the office of County Superintendent.

Many people deserve thanks for much of the information included in this sketch.

In 1876, at the time of Statehood, a vast area of eastern and southern Colorado was Bent County. In 1889 Kiowa county was cut from this area. The county is eighty miles long from east to west and twenty-four miles from north to south, both prairie and tillage land.

With the building of the Missouri Pacific Railroad east to west across the present Kiowa County in 1887, towns soon sprung up along the line. With the establishment of a town site, no doubt a schoolhouse was soon added.

Early office records in unbroken sequence are lacking. Perhaps too many moves have taken their toll of these. First, in 1902, the County offices and records were moved from Sheridan Lake to Eads.

Attempting to compile a history from the remaining records of the very first years of existence of this office has been similar to one’s own view of an isolated object from the window of a speeding auto—brief and indistinct.

It has not been possible to determine positively the name and location of the very first school established in Kiowa County. However, the present Superintendent of Schools (the author) is pleased to have had the opportunity to interview a present-day resident of the County who perhaps has had residence in the County longer than any other. This “old timer,” Mrs. Howard R. Sunday of Eads, was interviewed for the purpose of gathering information regarding the early schools.

Mrs. Sunday says when she arrived in Eads (which was founded in late 1887) in January of 1889 there was a schoolhouse in Eads and that the teacher of this school was Mrs. F. E. Torbet, wife of the first County Superintendent of Schools. Mrs. Sunday remembers that this school building was destroyed by a cyclone in 1902.

Mrs. Sunday also recalls that in 1888 a newly organized district and school called Kiowa Valley, four and one-half miles southeast of Eads, held classes. She says that in 1890 when she and other members of her family attended Kiowa Valley School, the teacher was Mr. Austin J. Matthews, and the term was for three months. Mrs. Sunday states that a three-month term, sometimes during the summer months, other times during the winter months, was customary in the very early schools.

The earliest Kiowa County School Census to be found is for year 1900 when there were fifteen districts with fifteen schools with a total of two hundred and twenty-two (222) names in the student census. A school census contains the names of those between the ages of six and twenty-one years of age.

The county population according to the 1900 Federal census was seven hundred and one (701). By 1910 the county population had jumped to two thousand, eight hundred and ninety-nine (2,899), in 1920 the population had increased to three thousand, seven hundred fifty-five (3,755) and to three thousand, seven hundred and eighty-six (3,786) in 1930. After 1930 each Federal census shows a decline in the County’s population.

In 1930, nineteen school districts reported one thousand, three hundred and sixty names (1,360) in the school census. This period bore the largest number of school districts and school age population of any time in the history of the County’s schools. During the middle and late 1930’s drought period, the number of districts, school age population and general population dropped off sharply.

The Kiowa County school census of 1964 contains reports of two districts containing three schools with a total of seven hundred and seventeen names. The county population for 1963 was estimated at two thousand, three hundred and fifty (2,350) by the State Planning Division.

The earlier day County Superintendents (one recorded traveling during one year over a thousand miles in visiting the schools in the county), teachers, settlers, homesteaders as well as residents of more recent years who have labored to establish an adequate educational system in Kiowa County deserve to have their schools listed. There are apologies to these people if a name has slipped forever into the past without recollection and record now.

Names which bring to mind instances of great hardships, tragedies, proud accomplishment and magnificent community spirit are:

  • Adobe – Albright family (the family that bore the first white child in Kiowa County)
  • Arlington
  • Big Range
  • Black Lake
  • Blooding
  • Brandon
  • Buell
  • Chivington (named for the leader of the massacre in November, 1864, on the Indians at the Big Sandy Creek with the site located nearby)
  • Diston
  • Eads (one of the three schools operative today)
  • Fine Flat
  • Galatea
  • Gerard
  • Grand View (it is thought that this is the school attended by Glen Cunningham, the famous miler, in his youth)
  • Harris
  • Haswell (one of three schools operative today—NOTE: Closed in 1992)
  • Hideout
  • Hightower (located on the land and near the homes of this family)
  • Hillcrest
  • Huston
  • Kansas Valley
  • Kellerman
  • Kiowa Valley
  • Marolf
  • Meadow Lea
  • McCommes
  • McWilliams
  • Mustang
  • Oswald
  • Plainview (one of the three schools operative today)
  • Pleasant Hill (this is the school of the school bus blizzard tragedy of the early 1930s in which the bus driver and five children lost their lives)
  • Prairie Center
  • Prairie Queen
  • Prairie Valley
  • Rehm (located on the land and near the homes of this family)
  • Rush Creek
  • Segreganset
  • Sheridan Lake
  • Soddy
  • South Chivington
  • Stuart
  • Sunny Ridge
  • Sweetwater
  • Tokay
  • Towner
  • Turner
  • Water Valley
  • Weirich

Kiowa County School District RE-1 became organized in July, 1960. This district has two operative schools including the Eads Public School (grades 1st through 12th) and Haswell School (grades 1st through 8th).

Kiowa County School District RE-2 became organized in May, 1961. This district has one operative school—Plainview School (grades 1st through 12th). The school is located between Sheridan Lake and Towner.

Even in the rather sparsely settled Kiowa County, school is big business. To show the gradual changes to the present-day status as well as the contrast, the following figures are reported from this office’s records:

Mr. F.H. Maile, County Superintendent, in his annual report of September 2, 1901, to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, lists this data:

  • Number of operating schools: 12
  • Number of teachers employed during year for the County: 12
  • Aggregate amount paid teachers during the year: $4,665.00
  • Total number enrolled in public schools: 138
  • Number of days of school in year: Varies in different districts from 80 to 180.
  • School bonded debt in County: None
  • Just one fund active—Special School fund. The aggregate of the 12 districts’ levies totaled 62 mils.
  • Total number of volumes in school libraries: 0
  • Financial summary: Total receipts-$8,666.24; Total expenditures-$6,670.62

Mrs. Rhua V. Smith, County Superintendent, in her annual report of 1930, lists this data:

  • Number of operating districts: 19
  • Number of teachers employed during year for the County: 61
  • Aggregate amount paid teachers during school year: $72,655.23
  • Total number enrolled in public schools: 1,071
  • Number of days of school in year: 160 to 180
  • School bonded debt in County: $157,800
  • Now 3 funds active – Special, Bond & Interest, and General. The aggregate of the 19 districts’ levies totaled 189.24 mils
  • total number of volumes in school libraries: 5,557
  • Financial Summary: Total receipts-$136,383.21; Total expenditures- $146,846.07

Compilation of the Secretaries Annual Reports for 1962-63 gives this data:

  • Number of operating districts: 2, complete county organization
  • Number of teachers employed during year for the County: 41
  • Aggregate amount paid teachers during school year: $200,781.30 (administrators/instructors)
  • Total number enrolled in public schools: NA
  • Number of days of school in year: NA
  • School bonded debt in County: NA
  • Total number of volumes in school libraries: 6,850
  • Financial Summary: Total receipts-$402,890.95; Total expenditures- $395,851.14

List of County Superintendents of Schools: 1890 through 1964

F. E. Torbit; H. A. Long; Emma Liggett; F. H. Maile; Adela Blain; Alice Abrams; R. T. Cline; Edna Corbet; Nellie Lytle; James R. Walker; Florence Barnard; Effie Mathews; Trix Croft; Wilma Ahern; Rhua Smith; Alma Vrooman; Henry Amyx; Florence Morris; Lydia Ellsaesser; Helen F. McMann; Sarah Eder.

The changes in all facets of public school education which these office holders have seen are tremendous. The administration of the public school system has indeed grown into big business.

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