Murfreeboro City Schools 50 year history – John Hodge Jones – March 3, 1990

TO: Murfreesboro City Board of Education
FROM: John Hodge Jones
DATE: March 5, 1990
RE: A Review of School and School System Organization—A Personal Statement Reflecting Upon the Past, Present, and Future

Changes are rapidly taking place in Rutherford County and Murfreesboro’s education institutions. The history of where we are is relatively young and the opportunity window for change has again been opened. Because that window is now open, it is my responsibility to give you my perception of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Because of my own limited time to do research, many of the dates which I will use will not be documented; it will be based upon my memory. Conclusions which I will draw will be my own, and I will attempt to refrain from making recommendations until the subjects are more fully researched and discussed.


Recently a young local businessman visited my office to discuss school system unification. He is a member of the Leadership Rutherford class which is addressing this subject. After talking to him for approximately one hour, I realized that I had given him a lesson in local school/school system history dating back approximately fifty years. When reflecting upon this, it occurred to me that many of our local officials now in decision-making roles are either younger than I or may not be natives of this community. I have often thought that Mr. Hobgood should write down his thoughts and his knowledge of education history dating back to the early 1900s. This would indeed be valuable, but I also realized that I possess knowledge and experience which provide information on where and why we are at this junction in today’s local school organization and control.

My father served on the Rutherford County Court from 1936 until 1972. I started to school at Rockvale in 1943. Dad always felt a need and expressed an interest in consolidating the small schools throughout Rutherford County. I never heard him discuss school system unification. Because of this, I developed an early interest in the organization and control of local schools.

When I started to school in 1943, Rutherford County had more than 50 schools scattered throughout the county. Many of these schools were one or two-teacher schools. Grades 1-12 schools were located at Eagleville, Rockvale, Christiana, Kittrell, Lascassas, Walter Hill, and Smyrna.

There was a dual system for the races with small schools for black children being scattered throughout the various portions of the county. Most all of these schools were one- or two-teacher schools. Holloway High School was the one central high school for black high school age children. Not only was there a dual school system, but there was also a dual pupil transportation
program. An extensive separate pupil transportation program served the entire county with overlapping routes for black and white children.

In those days elementary children went to school for eight months and high school children attended nine months. Schools were closed for approximately one month in the fall in order for children to stay home and pick cotton. Many children from rural share-cropping families dropped out of school early because of excessive absenteeism caused by staying at home to assist their families with picking cotton and other farm work.

In Murfreesboro there were four elementary schools attended by Murfreesboro’s elementary children. Several children from the county also attended these schools. It has been reported to me that children from upper income or so called “elite families” attended the Homer Pittard Campus School, at that time called the Training School. Children from middle income families enrolled at Crichlow Elementary, and children from low income families attended McFadden Elementary. The old Bradley Academy, which now houses our maintenance shop (ed. this article was written in 1990), was the elementary school for black children.

Central High School, according to Mr. Hobgood, became a county high school sometime soon after World War I. Interestingly, Mr. Hobgood stated that the school originally started because many citizens across the county wanted to develop a football power house. Prior to that time, many Murfreesboro children had received their high school education primarily
in private schools. At some point during the twenties and thirties, the principal of Central High School also served as the superintendent of the Murfreesboro City Schools. This is probably one of the reasons why Murfreesboro never developed a high school program. Murfreesboro’s elementary schools encompassed grades 1-8.

Until the early 1950s, there was little change in the structure of the public school program as discussed above. Murfreesboro began to grow in the fifties in the Mitchell-Neilson, Reeves-Rogers, and Hobgood areas. Under Mr. Hobgood’s superintendency, Mitchell-Neilson, Hobgood, Bradley, and Reeves-Rogers were all built during the 1950s; I believe in this
order. Bellwood and Mitchell-Neilson Primary were not built until approximately 1964 and 1965. During the period of the fifties there was little change taking place in Rutherford County in terms of school construction. Additions, of course, were being built to all schools. Portables on campuses became popular. The Smyrna area had grown and the 1-12 grade school in that area had split up into more than one school. The Smyrna High School was built sometime during the mid fifties. Basketball was the center of activity for all of the rural high schools. Central High School, under the coaching of Mr. Lee Pate, became a power house both in basketball and Football. They nearly always competed in state competition.


In 1954, in Brown vs Topeka, Kansas, the dual system of public education which had historically separated the races was declared unconstitutional. Integration, however, developed slowly.

School systems across the nation first met the requirements of the Brown Decision by establishing freedom of choice for all children. Obviously, there were few black children to enter all-white schools, and in this area, no white children entered all-black schools.

By 1966 there were a few black children who had enrolled at Crichlow and only a handful at the other city schools. Not many black children attended Central High School and no white children enrolled at Holloway High or Bradley Elementary. Practically no integration had taken place at the schools scattered throughout Rutherford County.

Other suits to force desegregation began going through the court system of our country and forced desegregation became a way of life. Many school systems came under court order. Many boards and superintendents lost much of their control and school systems were placed under the control of the judicial system. During the latter part of the 1960s, both the black and white leadership of Rutherford County and Murfreesboro did an excellent
job developing desegregation plans and rapidly integrated our school systems. Holloway High School was closed and became an annex to Central with most of the vocational courses being housed at old Holloway. In 1968 Bradley was closed as an all-black school and Crichlow was closed as a 1-8 grade school. Central, of course, became a fully integrated high school, and Crichlow and Bradley became seventh and eighth grade schools for the City of Murfreesboro.

For the first time, Murfreesboro entered the pupil transportation business by establishing simple shuttle routes from the Bradley and Crichlow schools to the perimeter schools and brought seventh and eighth graders from the perimeter schools back to Crichlow and Bradley. Crichlow and Bradley remained seventh and eighth grade schools until the fall of 1972 when Oakland and Riverdale were opened as high schools leaving Central available for a large seventh and eighth grade school.


Another important event was taking place in the nation up to and during the late 1960s which had an impact upon the history of our school systems. These circumstances had to do with the one-man, one-vote court decisions that were being made in the nation. In an earlier decade, courts had ruled that congressional districts must be reapportioned on a one-man, one-vote basis. They later ruled that state legislative districts must reapportion. Not until 1968 was there a ruling on local governing bodies related to the principle of one-man, one-vote. This ruling came from the United States Supreme Court and was applicable to the local governing body in Midland, Texas.

A similar suit had been filed in Rutherford County against the Rutherford County Quarterly Court and against the Rutherford County School Board. Since the Midland, Texas suit was already pending before the United States Supreme Court, the local suits were held in local courts waiting for the Supreme Court ruling. The Rutherford County Quarterly Court, now called the Rutherford County Commission, was composed of fifty-four members; only four being from Murfreesboro, which at that time had approximately forty-five percent of the county’s population.

Likewise, the Rutherford County School Board was extremely malapportioned. There were eleven members of the Rutherford County School Board; only one representing the City of Murfreesboro. Obviously, this kind of representation contributed to very high provincialism for every community throughout the county making school consolidation almost impossible. Every magistrate and every school board member were elected by people who wanted to maintain the status quo, maintain their one- and two-teacher schools, and particularly maintain the six rural high schools which were the focal point for high spirited basketball games and other community activities. Practically no candidate had a Chinaman’s
chance for winning an election who became associated in anyway with the subject of school consolidation. Mr. Hollis Westbrooks defeated Mr. Wilkes Coffee in a bitterly fought campaign for the Tennessee Legislature in the early 1960s. The issue was reapportionment and to everyone, reapportionment meant school consolidation. Mr. Westbrooks obviously
represented the status quo on that issue. In 1966, I came much closer to winning a county-wide election. I was identified as a consolidation candidate for county school superintendent, but failed to win that election by 400 votes.


As soon as the Midland, Texas decision was made regarding one-man, one vote at the local level, the Rutherford County Quarterly Court and Rutherford County School Board immediately set up a reapportionment plan. In fact, our local governing bodies reapportioned prior to Midland, Texas, making them the first local reapportioned county government entities in the nation. Some very progressive local citizens had been behind the local suit. Some of these citizens were elected to the newly formed Rutherford County Commission and Rutherford County School Board. The Commission was lowered to forty-two members, and the new School Board was composed of seven members.

Many of the forty-two members on the new County Commission and seven board members did not represent areas of the County composed of the six rural high schools. Therefore, the stage was set for consolidation of many of Rutherford County Schools. The highly credentialed, qualified, and progressive county board that was elected around 1970 invited Mr. Hobgood, me, and other City officials to sit in with the county superintendent and board in the development of a consolidation plan for Rutherford County. Mr. Hobgood and I were quite actively involved in the proposal to build two new high schools at their current sites. The county commission agreed to the Board’s proposal and the city agreed to waive certain rights to tax collections. A half cent sales tax was approved; a wheel tax was imposed; and some increase occurred in local property taxes. The county built Oakland and Riverdale High Schools which opened in the fall of 1972.


With a very progressive and highly credentialed county school board and recognizing a new county commission that was able to support school consolidation for the first time, local city officials began to discuss with county officials the possibility of school system unification. Mr. Hobgood and Joe Sloan, Chairman of the Rutherford County School Board, using the Clarksville-Montgomery consolidation instrument as a guide, developed a school system consolidation proposal for Rutherford County-Murfreesboro. It had already been agreed that the available space at Central would become available for seventh and eighth graders in the City of Murfreesboro. It was felt that the systems would unify and the logical use of the old Central High School building would be for seventh and eighth graders. It was perceived that the Crichlow facility needed to be closed for school use; therefore, the city school board agreed to turn over the seventh and eighth grades to the County school system.

The unification proposal called for a superintendent appointed by the county school Board. This, along with rural suspicions, caused the 1972 vote on school system unification to fail. Once prior to this time, I believe it was in 1969, a referendum failed on the subject of changing the method of selecting the county superintendent to an appointed position. Another referendum was attempted on this subject in the late 1970s and it was also soundly defeated.

In summary, because of the highly credentialed progressive school board, the newly created progressive county commission, the effort to consolidate the school systems, and the available space at Central, Murfreesboro lost its seventh and eighth grade program to Rutherford County.

Most of us are aware of the changes and developments taking place in local school systems for the last two decades. Since 1970, there has been a change in the Rutherford County School superintendency every four years. Mr. Hobgood retired in 1975, Dr. Swick left our school system in 1981, Roger Landers was superintendent for only seven months in 1982, and I became your school superintendent in August, 1982. Since the opening of Bellwood
and Mitchell-Neilson Primary School, there was no new school building opened in Murfreesboro City until 1987 with the opening of Northfield. During that period of time, several additions were made to Murfreesboro city school buildings. Classroom additions were added because of increases in federal and state requirements for special education and our own efforts
to improve these programs. Additions were also made because of the new requirements for library space in elementary buildings and with the advent of the kindergarten programs in the early 1970s. Our schools were retrofitted for energy conservation in the late 1970s.

There were few changes in schools during the seventies and early eighties because our pupil population stabilized during these years. In fact our pupil population had decreased by approximately 500 students during this period while the city’s population was increasing by approximately 10,000. North Rutherford County experienced growth, and some school construction took place in the Smyrna and La Vergne areas. The county’s $40 million plus building program got under way in about 1984.


From the foregoing history, I call your attention to the following:

  1. One prime reason for the existence of the city school system was the gross malapportionment of representation on the county court and county school board.
  2. The city never developed a high school program because of the anticipated approval of a unification plan and the available space at Central when the two new high schools were built.
  3. The city lost its seventh and eighth program because of the anticipated approval of a unification plan and available space at Central when the two new high schools were built.
  4. Desegregation played a major role in the forming of our school systems as we see them today.

There is one other important reason for the justification of the city school system and that relates to the city’s willingness to spend more for a quality education program. I will refer to this later in this presentation.

There are several items under consideration at the state and local level which may have an impact on the Murfreesboro City School System.

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