| Austin Grade
by Mike Cox
being the capital of Texas, all the laws dealing with major aspects of public
education are made there. But the city has another distinction when it comes to
teaching children: It had the first school in the state built entirely with public
That institution, the Austin Grade School, was dedicated on Oct.
28, 1876. Built of stone, the three-story school had 12 classrooms and accommodated
funds built the school, but the money to run it came from a combination of state
funding and tuition paid by parents. The state money was only sufficient to support
the school four months out of the academic year, tuition covering the rest.
children who attended the school got a better education than many children in
Texas, but they had to abide by some pretty tough rules by modern standards. According
to a list of rules developed shortly after the school opened:
may not leave their seats without permission.”
“Pupils may not communicate
with each other in any way.”
“In the morning, the male pupils will enter
through the center door and the females through the side doors.”
lunch time, the males and the females will be kept separate.”
of tobacco in any form is strictly prohibited.”
“Pupils who arrive before
nine and engage in sports unfit themselves for study. Such pupils must go to their
classroom and enter their studies.”
School, as one of the rules indicates,
began at 9 a.m. and ran to 4 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break. Boys attended
classes on the third floor, girls on the second.
While the rules were pretty
strict compared to what school students must abide by today, some issues from
the 1870s still sound pretty familiar. That’s particularly true of this early
entry in the minutes of the Austin School Board: “We find the teachers, while
not complaining, embarrassed because of their meager salaries.”
a teacher’s salary in 1876 ranged from $70 a month for the person who taught the
first graders to $100 a month for fourth grade teachers and the principal.
Austin grew and other schools had to be built, school officials renamed the Austin
Graded School as the West Austin School. It turned out pupils versed in reading,
writing, composition, spelling, literature, geography, arithmetic, algebra, physiology,
chemistry and Latin.
Not quite two decades after its doors opened for the
first time, the school burned to the ground on May 28, 1896. Someone had poured
oil inside the lower floor and torched it.
An arsonist had succeeded in
destroying a building, but not the city’s understanding of the importance of public
education. The school was rebuilt, with two additional rooms. It continued to
be known as the West Austin School until Aug. 8, 1902, when it was renamed in
honor of former Gov. E.M. Pease, who had signed the bill spelling out Texas’ public
school system in 1854.
Pease Elementary School has been added to and remodeled
several times over the intervening years, but it’s still open – the oldest continually
operated public school in Texas.
Since 1958, it has been the only elementary
school in Austin to which any student can transfer. It has only two classes per
grade, which as the school’s Web site says, “creates a close, friendly, and old-fashioned
community school feeling.”
And these days, girls and boys get to go to