CELEBRATING 50 YEARS: EARLY DISTRICT INFORMATION
A couple weeks ago, I shared that this is the 50th year of the ROCORI School District and that I would periodically offer information about school district history. I would like to use space this week to review some of the very early history of the district.
ROCORI AREA SCHOOLS—EARLY HISTORY
Much of the early history of the district was captured by the first superintendent of schools, William J. Virant. He gathered a lot of information in a book called, ROCORI Area Schools: Early History. The book was published in December, 1997.
I find the book to contain some fascinating bits of history about the conditions in the 1960s and the events that led to the formation of the ROCORI Schools.
The first few pages of the book briefly review the history of education in the United States. A favorite quotation of mine, which provides much of the reason for public schools, is cited at the outset. Virant quoted Thomas Jefferson who said, “For a Democracy to survive, it requires an educated populace.”
The opening of the book talks about the formation of the first schools, the authority of states to create schools, and the process in Minnesota to create schools. The introduction concludes with “the common school district was geared to teaching the ‘3 R’s’ to students in grades 1-8.”
The text that follows begins on page 6 of the book and describes early conditions in the region. The focus of the text provides background to the formation of the district and the organization of the Richmond School District.
COMPULSORY ATTENDANCE LAW
In 1953, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a Compulsory School Attendance Law that required pupils to attend school until their sixteenth birthday. To comply with the law, pupils, upon completion of the eighth grade in the common school districts, enrolled in community independent schools or private secondary schools.
Students attending public schools were transported at the expense of the local district. Then, in 1965, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill (Chapter 857) authorizing school districts to transport students to private elementary and secondary schools as well as to the public schools.
CLOSED SCHOOL LAW
As farms increased in size after World War II, there was a subsequent decrease in farm population and school enrollments. To reduce costs, some common school districts annexed with neighboring districts.
Many of the school districts continued as “closed schools” where the elected school board members arranged for the few remaining pupils to be bussed to Independent School Districts or to another common school district.
Closed school districts remained in existence until the Minnesota Legislature in 1965 passed the “Closed School Law” (Chapter 547). The law called for closed school districts to be attached to or consolidated with an adjoining common school district or to independent school districts maintaining classified elementary and secondary schools by July, 1967.
Visionary school board members in the Richmond area did a jump start on the Closed School Law in 1962 when Richmond School District No. 20 along with three other common school districts, north, west and south of Richmond consolidated to form School District No. 747.
The six school board members of the newly organized school district were B.J. Brinkman, Norbert Kascht, Alphonse Rausch, Benedict Spohn, Norbert Straus, and Math Worm.
Since District No. 747 did not have a school building, the school board rented three classrooms from the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Center. J. Nic Demuth was hired to be the principal and eight grade teacher for the 1962-63 school year.
Grades 1-5 with twenty-four students were taught by Norma Prose. Grades 6-7 had twenty-eight students taught by Margaret Stoss. Grade 8 had thirty-two students.
In 1965, the enrollment in the school district increased to where the school board began planning to build a new school. A bond referendum was successful; construction of the Richmond Elementary School began in March, 1966 and was accomplished for the start of the 1966-67 school year.
In April, 1967, Commissioner of Education, Duane Mattheis, visited the Richmond Elementary School to determine whether the school met the requirements for graded school classification.
Clerk Norbert Straus was informed that the State Board of Education, at its annual meeting in August, 1967, approved the recommendation. The K-8 enrollment was 258 pupils. There were nine teachers and Principal J. Nic Demuth.
There also was a parochial school in Richmond. The Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School was a four-room school house that conducted classes for grades 1-8. When the Richmond Elementary School was built, the Catholic school building was razed and classes were moved to the spaces vacated by the public school in the Parish Center. The enrollment in the Sts. Peter and Paul School was 150.
In Minnesota history, the ROCORI School District (along with a few of our neighbors) is a relatively young school district. With only 50 years of history, we are one of the last public school districts to be organized in the state. According to the writings of Superintendent Virant, Pierz, Sartell and St. Michael were the others formed at about the same time.
Consolidations of school districts, of course, has occurred since that time so school districts have certainly changed over the 50 years. However, the formation of public school districts across much of the rest of the state happened earlier than it did in this region.
As we continue through the year, I will periodically come back to the story of the ROCORI Schools.