The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 2, Page 13.


"Test of Community Is Its Schools," Writes School Head; Reviews Progress

(County Superintendent of Schools)

The test of any community is in its schools. There may be other tests. But, by whatever standards measured, a community never rises above the level of its public schools. For here are reflected not only the hopes and the aspirations of the community, the common desire of parents to provide opportunities for the children which they themselves never had, but also the degree of sacrifice which they are willing to make to achieve these ends. How has Porter county met this test?

Porter county in its historic background is essentially a farming community. It still remains so, notwithstanding the effect of the industrialism of the Calumet area upon the north section of the county. It is still essentially agricultural in its modes and concepts of life. But here is a farming community at its best.

Geographically Porter county is located at the great crossroads of America. From the days when Indians, and later the Franciscan missionaries and the French fur traders carried their canoes from the southern shores of Lake Michigan to the waters of the Kankakee, this area has been a great highway. With the coming of the railway, linking the Atlantic seaboard with the great plains of the west, due to its geographic position at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, Porter county became the natural site of numerous east and west railways. Today a dozen such roads cross Porter county.

Then came the automobile, to be followed by an unprecedented era of public highway building and improvement. And, as before, Porter county became the national highway of auto tourist travel. Hundreds of miles of the finest concrete and other hard surfaced roads checker the landscape of Porter county. Located as it is on these great highways of America, no farming section has been more thoroughly leavened and quickened in its thought and in its action than has Porter county. As the metropolitan and rural life of other parts of America have criss-crossed and filtered through Porter county, there has been absorbed a spirit and an outlook not common to the average farming community. Farmers still in the sense that they draw their substance from the soil but in their progressive idealism far transcending the traditional ruralism of common farmer folk. Hence, the quickened tempo of life, the cosmopolitan spirit of the people of Porter county.

In her contacts with the outside world, much of her provincialism has been lost. The people have come to think in terms of outside themselves.

Little wonder, then, that Porter county always rises to met her humanitarian obligations. Whether the appeal be made in the name of famine, floor and disaster, the defense of our country in time of war, or the support of a great philanthropic institution, such as the American Red Cross, Porter county always rises to the occasion. "Over the Top" has become her traditional watchword.

But what has this to do with the public schools of Porter county? Very much indeed! The achievements in the institutional life of a community rest upon both a materialistic and an idealistic foundation. Each is essential to the other. Schools, churches, philanthropic institution, etc., whatever the idealism back of them, must rest for their support upon a materialistic basis.

Fortunately for the people of Porter county the same set of circumstances that has contributed to their progressive idealism has also provided a financial foundation for the realization of that idealism, particularly with reference to public schools. For Porter county's railways and other public utilities now pay approximately fifty percent of the cost of her public schools.

In any fair estimate of the schools of Porter county, these facts cannot be overlooked. For while the people of Porter county demand a school system well above the average, it is the public utilities that make it possible for them to secure this demand.

But what have we today in the way of a public school system?

In common with the rest of Indiana, the rural schools of Porter county are administered through a township trustee system. Each trustee is charged directly with the responsibility of the schools of his township. The trustee must provide buildings and equipment, employ principals, teachers, janitors and bus driver, and purchase school supplies. Each trustee is the financial agent of his township. Acting in an advisory capacity is the county superintendent of schools.

As in any other type of organization, the success of the schools depends greatly upon the ability and the character of the officials in charge.

Various lines of development have characterized our schools, particularly during the past three of four decades. One of the most noteworthy, reaching back over a period of little more than a quarter of a century, has been the movement toward consolidation -- the elimination of the one-room schools, and their replacement by a single combination grade and high school for the accommodation of all children of the township. Of course, public highway development and improvement gave impetus to this movement, for consolidation became possible only with improved transportation facilities.

At the turn of the century there were ninety-four schools in the Porter county system, eighty-seven of which were one-room schools. The number of schools in each township ranged from six in center, Pleasant and Washington, to ten in Porter and Westchester. Today there are twenty-five schools in the county system -- ten combination grade and high schools, two six-room, one four-room, one three-room, four two-room, and seven one-room schools. Another year will see the passing of at least three of these one-room schools. Eight of the twelve townships will then have complete consolidation.

Consolidation has not been characterized by decreased school costs, as might be assumed, but rather by increased costs. In consolidation transportation costs run high. This, coupled with a greatly expanded school program, and the general increase in price levels over the last two or three decades, make school costs seem great when compared with the era of the one-room school. The advantages of consolidation are not to be found in the field of school costs, but rather in a greatly extended and enriched school program. Under the Aladdin changes since the beginning of the new century school objectives have greatly changed. In the attractiveness of the new school program, the child finds not only preparation for life but life itself.

Instead of the drudgery of the old school days, the child finds school one of the most interesting and pleasant periods of life.

In the school directory of the year 1905-06 appears the high school course of study outlined for the schools of Porter county. It was a five point program -- mathematics, consisting of algebra, geometry and commercial arithmetic; foreign language, Latin of German; English, composition and rhetoric, and literature; science, physical geography and chemistry or physics; and history, ancient, modern and American. The only subject that smacked of the modern was commercial arithmetic. And, even here the commercial arithmetic of those days was not materially different from the standard course in arithmetic long in vogue. Every subject was required. Not one was elective.

Compare this with the modern high school program, which retains practically all of the old, but to which has been added a full commercial course -- typing, shorthand, book-keeping, business English, commercial arithmetic, commercial law, junior business training, etc.; domestic arts, cooking, sewing, child care and home making; physical education, physiology, health, gym and field work; music, vocal and instrumental; art and numerous other subjects.

This phenomenal enrichment of the school program has been coincident with the rapidly developing changes in our new highly mechanized industrial order. Many of these innovations are still regarded by some as the so-called fads and frills of education. Yet, they are here to stay and will undoubtedly become a permanent part of our education setup.

Porter county maintains a school system considerably above the minimum program fixed by the state. For instance, the state's minimum program requires only eight months term of school, with a minimum salary for grade teachers from one hundred to one hundred twenty dollars per month; and for the high school teacher one hundred twenty-five to one hundred thirty-five, depending on training and experience. Also, the necessary curricular offerings fall far short of those outlined above.

Many schools, especially in the southern part of the state, meet only these bare essentials. Porter county excels these minimum requirements at every point.

For nearly a quarter of a century it has maintained a nine months term of school, interrupted only temporarily by the depression years of 1932 and 1933, when a few of the townships dropped to eight and a half, and other to even an eight months term. However, this did not last long. Due to an insistent demand on the part of the school patrons that the cost of the depression should not be paid for by the children through witholding from them the opportunities which were rightfully theirs and which had long been extended to the boys and girls of former years, the townships returned without exception to the nine months term. In this respect Porter county was unique last year in being pointed out by the State Department of education as the only county in Indiana with a full nine months term in every school corporation.

In financing their schools the people of Porter county are to be commended. While hundreds of school corporations in various parts of the state have borrowed, floundered, and defaulted, the schools of this county have remained on sound financial footings. The township trustees of Porter county have been outstanding in the handling of school finances. Teachers are paid somewhat above the requirements of the minimum salary law. And yet at no time, except when township funds were temporarily tied up in closed banks, have teachers had to wait for their salaries. Almost without exception pay checks have been available at the end of each month. And not only have current school costs been successfully met, bit townships carrying bonded indebtedness have been able to meet principal and interest payments when due. There is not a single township in Porter county now carrying a temporary loan. The only indebtedness carried by the townships is their bonded indebtedness incurred in the erection of their school plants. This is being rapidly liquidated and soon most of the townships will be debt free.

The physical condition of the school plants in Porter county is now better than at any previous time. During the past three years practically every school building in the county has been redecorated in the interior, and many of them have been repainted on the outside. Unfinished walls have been plastered, desks and woodwork revarnished, shelving and cabinets installed, roofs mended or renewed, drainage provided for, etc. In fact, every type of repair and improvement has been made, until today the physical condition of Porter county's school plants is outstanding.

The commission ratings of the consolidated schools of the county are high. Only one consolidated school, Kouts, due to the age, condition and inadequacy of its school plant, operated on a conditional commission basis. This, however, will soon be remedied through the erection of a most modern school plant now in the process of construction. All other high schools of the county operate under continuous commissions with the exception of the Chesterton high school to which was granted a first class commission in 1930, and Portage high school which received its first class rating in 1933.

Transportation service has steadily improved. Buses are without exception motorized, and, on the whole, represent a high type of up-to-date equipment. A number of the townships are moving to the replacement of their old buses much faster than is demanded under the law requiring complete replacement by 1940.

The teachers and principals of the county are, on the whole, well trained and efficient. Due to present-day training requirements the rural teachers of today rank well up with those of the towns and cities. This together with the finely equipped rural school plants afford educational opportunities to the rural students scarcely, if at all, inferior to those of the town and city school.

The tenure for teachers in Porter county is relatively very good. The annual teacher turnover in the county for the past three years has been under ten percent, and most of this has been due to voluntary withdrawals. The average tenure of the ten principals now in charge of the ten high schools is eight years; of high-school teachers, other than principals, 4.74 years; and of the elementary teachers, 10.55 years. These averages represent an excellent showing when compared with other counties of the state.

Also, the schools of Porter county are relatively free from partisan politics. Trustees often employ principles and teachers of opposite political affiliations and no questions are asked.

Neither do the trustees of Porter county, as is so often done in other parts of the state, make a practice of "cleaning house" with every change of administration. Seven new trustees took their office in January, 1935. And, in making appointments for the following school year, not a single change in the teaching personnel was made in five of these townships. One change each was made in the other two townships for reasons which seemed to the trustees, quite justifiable.

The twelve trustees of Porter county are high type men who have the good of their schools at heart, and are greatly interested in providing the best educational opportunities for the children of their respective townships that present day finances will permit.

the present high status of the schools of Porter county is secure, and the future is bright with promise. For, out of the heart of the people come its aspirations for knowledge and enlightenment. And the hearts of our people are right. The people of this county have the utmost faith in the value and efficacy of education. And, to achieve educational opportunity for their children they are ready to work and to sacrifice to the limit, even to the giving of all. For, in the rearing and training of their children they recognize the deepest values of life. Clearly do they see that failure in this field of family and community endeavor means failure in all.

And with this spirit on the part of the people, the schools of Porter county can only move forward to the achievement of greater and better things.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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