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ITASCA'S ELEMENTARY SCHOOL SYSTEM began in the 1860s with several dozen students and one teacher in a single classroom. Over the years, the village's academic needs expanded and changed, and eventually School District 10 grew to three public elementary schools and a student body of about 1200. Education has probably been one of Itasca's biggest growth industries.

Index:
First Schoolhouse: 1860 - 1890 | Move to Larger Quarters: 1895 - 1937 |
More Space Needed: 1939 -1945 | Growing Pains: 1945 - 1973
Looking Ahead: 1975 - Present

The First Schoolhouse
Itasca's first school, a one-room all-grades wooden structure, was built in the 1860s near what is now the southeast corner of Center Street and Walnut Avenue. The land on which the school was located was a gift from Dr. Elijah Smith, who also helped pay for construction of the building. The school faced south toward Spring Brook and in winter, when the brook froze, a favorite student sport after class was going sledding down the snow-covered hill onto the ice. (This building was moved to 316 North Linden Street, and is now a private residence.)

One of the early teachers at the school was Miss Carrie Eddy, whose family had come here in 1869 from Limestone, New York. Miss Eddy began teaching in 1874, in Bloomingdale, Meacham (now Medinah), and Roselle. After either one or two years, she left to accompany her family back east, only to return in 1876. It seems that discipline in the Itasca school was poor and the parents wanted a teacher who could maintain order. Mr. Henry F. Lawrence who had been given the task of hiring the proper person, wrote to Miss Eddy and persuaded her to take on the responsibility. Two years later, he persuaded her to become Mrs. Henry F. Lawrence.

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A Move to Larger Quarters
By 1895, Itasca's growing population meant a larger school was needed, and a new building-costing about $4800-was erected next to the old one. It was made of brick rather than wood and was the only solid brick building in town at the time. It consisted of two floors, with a cupola on top, and was heated by a boiler that stood a short distance away. This feature was the idea of A.G. Chessman, the school's architect and builder. It greatly reduced the danger of fire to the school and, in fact, was such an excellent safety precaution that it was later adopted by the Chicago school system.

Each of the new structures floors contained one large room. Children attended downstairs for the first four grades, and then went upstairs for the remaining grades. There were two teachers on the staff. Several older residents of Itasca remember being taught around the turn of the century by Carrie Whittier Chessman downstairs and W.N. Hazelton upstairs. Mrs. Chessman, according to one oldtimer, liked to teach songs and had pictures of famous American poets hung around the classroom walls. Apparently teaching the older grades was considered more difficult than teaching the younger ones, for in 1903 Mr. Hazelton received $60 a month while Mrs. Chessman received $30. The school day ran from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. with an hour for lunch. Pupils brought their lunch to school with them. It usually consisted of a sandwich and an apple or other fruit-generally home grown-that was in season. Pupils came not only from Itasca proper, but from nearby farms, Roselle, and Meacham (now Medinah).

Because the school and the First Presbyterian Church stood next to one another at the time, there was much cooperation between the two institutions. For example, if a play or some kind of program were being given by the school, pupils would carry church benches to the schoolhouse to provide adequate seating. If the next major event were taking place at the church, the pupils would haul the platform and seats back again.

As they are today, games and sports were an important part of school life. A popular game in the early 1900s was "Pum Pum Pullaway." The name came from the chant with which the game started. "Pum, pum, pull away. If you don't come we'll fetch you away." There was an east line and a west line, with a no-man's land in between. One player guarded the no-man's land, while the other players lined up along one side. As soon as the guard finished the chant, all players rushed from one side to the other, trying not to get caught. A player was caught if he got thumped three times on the back. Then he joined the guard and helped catch more players the next time. The game ended when the last person was caught.

On at least one occasion, an injury occurred when Pum Pum Pullaway was played. Elmer H. Franzen recalled that he and a friend collided in no-man's land. All of Mr. Franzen's front teeth were knocked out and he had to wear a bridge for the rest of his life.

Many of the things pupils take for granted in a school today did not exist seventy or eighty years ago. If a student was thirsty, for example, instead of turning on a hall water fountain, he went outside and pumped water out of a well. There was no electricity then. On dark days, pupils read under kerosene lamps. Nor was there indoor plumbing. In fact, the first sidewalk between the school building and the outhouses was not built until 1909.

By that time, teachers were receiving $65 a month upstairs and $40 downstairs. During World War I, the salary for the principal teacher went up to $75 a month but the primary teacher still received $40. In 1921, salaries were considerably higher. Miss Frances Bartlett was hired for the fall term at $125 a month and Miss Ila Woodworth was hired at $95.

During the 1920s and 1930s, an old-timer recalls, the teachers used to ride bicycles to work. Many boarded with local families during the week and went home on weekends.

By 1937, population had increased so much that the school board hired a third teacher and partitioned the first floor of the school into two separate classrooms. Miss Lorene Wilson taught grades I and 2, while Miss Doris Hanson taught grades 3 and 4. H. Morton Webster, who also served as principal, was the upstairs teacher, handling grades 5 through 8. (Previous principals were Miss Frances Bartlett, a Mr. Bunnell, W.N. Hazelton, a Mr. Burns, and Arthur Hoveland.)

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More Space Needed
Despite these changes, however, it was evident that once again it was time for Itasca to build a new school. In 1939, B.B. Clover negotiated an exchange of land for this purpose. The school board-which then consisted of Elmer H. Franzen, president; George Goeddeke, clerk; and Jesse Beaver (who later became village president, 1941- 1949) received 63/4 acres near the corner of North and Linden Streets. Mr. Clover received the old school building, which he remodeled into four rental apartments. He also received six adjoining lots.

After Itasca voters approved a $28,000 bond issue, ground was broken early in 1940 and construction went forward rapidly on a two-story, four-room structure of some 8,500 square feet. It was designed to accommodate 120 pupils, about one-third more than the existing enrollment. Part of the landscaping costs was paid for by a donation from the Woodcraft Girls. This was a student group that had once been active but was no longer functioning. However, it had some money left in its treasury. So the group decided to make a gift to the new school, with the understanding that one of the trees bought with its money would honor Arthur Hoveland, who had been school principal when the Woodcraft Girls was formed.

The North School-then called the Itasca Grade School-opened in September 1940. In noting the event, the Du Page County Register observed that the former school building had served the community for half a century and hoped that the new building "will be the joy and pride of every citizen for the next fifty years." But the Register reckoned without the postwar baby boom and the migration to suburbia. Itasca's school population, like its general population, exploded. And from 1945 through 1975, Itasca residents authorized nine separate construction projects for the school system, an average of one project every three years.

Before the first of these was concluded, however, the school board again entered into a land exchange. In October 1945, it gave the village board the north section of its North Street property to be used for public playgrounds. It received in exchange a tract of land south of the railroad tracks, on the corner of Rush and Washington Streets.

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Growing Pains
The first school expansion project was voted in December 1947, and completed by 1950. It included the addition of four classrooms and a gymnasium to the North School, as well as interior remodeling. Now each grade had its own room! Costs ran about $225,000.

In 1952, a bond issue for a second addition to the North School was presented. It failed to pass. Residents living south of the railroad tracks felt that any school expansion should take the form of a new building in their part of town, and they turned out to vote as a bloc. The school board-which had been enlarged in 1945 to seven members and was then headed by Lowell Rutherford-decided to take a straw vote on the question. Results of the unofficial poll showed that a majority of Itasca's residents preferred enlarging the North School to building a new one. Another bond issue of $155,000 was accordingly presented in December 1953. This time it passed.

The need for facilities on Itasca's south side increased, however. So, in 1956, the voters changed their minds about a second school. A bond issue of $180,000 was approved, and the first part of the Washington School was completed by fall of the following year. With the opening of the new building, Itasca hired its first Superintendent of Schools, Arnold Rusche, who originally came from South Dakota. He met his wife while attending midshipman's school in Chicago during World War II and when the war was over, settled in the area. He taught in Bensenville and earned a master's degree in administration and guidance before assuming Itasca's superintendency.

The Washington School was enlarged in 1958 and again in 1960, the first time at a cost of $150,000, and the second time for $130,000. Also in 1960, the school board acquired a tract of land near the northwest corner of Catalpa Street and Bryn Mawr Avenue. Three years later, voters approved a bond issue of $285,000 for construction of Itasca's third public school. Similar in design to the Washington School, the new building was named the Elmer H. Franzen School. Mr. Franzen was a member of the school board from 1933 through 1946; he headed the three- man board for seven years and also served as the first president of the seven-man board.

When Mr. Franzen was told about the school board's wish to name the new school after him, he replied, "Only God knows who really should have that honor. I can think of a dozen people it could just as well have been. The present and other recent boards have really had to stand the gaff of Itasca's growing pains."

Itasca's growing pains continued even after the Franzen School went up. Additional classrooms were added there in 1968, and both the North School and the Washington School were enlarged in 1971.

By that time, the North School was no longer known as the North School but as Itasca Middle School. Three years earlier, in 1968, the school board had changed the grade composition of the village's schools. Instead of having kindergarten through eighth grade at each of the three schools, the Washington and Franzen Schools both became K- 5 attendance centers, while the North School was designated to serve grades 6, 7, and 8. The Washington School served as the neighborhood school for pupils who lived south of the railroad tracks. Pupils living north of the railroad tracks attended the Franzen School. In 1975, the Itasca Middle School became the F.E. Peacock Middle School, named for F. Edward Peacock, a member of the school board for twenty-one years and its president for seventeen years from 1956 to 1973.

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Looking Ahead
Early in 1975, after a long hard look at population statistics, the school board acquired two new sites for future expansion. One was a square ten-acre site west of Mill Road between George Street and the Commonwealth Edison highlines, purchased jointly with the Park District. Three acres were to be used for school purposes, the remainder developed as a recreational park. However, all ten acres were used for recreational purposes. The second site, a semicircular one of twelve acres was located just south of the Interstate-290 Expressway west of Lombard Road.

Later in the year, the two new sites were named after Itasca residents who had given many years of dedicated volunteer service to the school system and the community. The Mill Road site was named for Raymond Benson, a school board member for twenty-one years and chairman of its building committee for the same period. The 1-290 site was named for James Clayson, who served on the school board from 1948 to 1954 and was also president of Itasca for four years, from 1957 to 1961, and a member of the village board for nine years. However, in the early 1980s, the school district enrollment began to decline from a high of 1,200 students to a low of 680 students. As a result of the decline in the enrollment, the 1-290 Clayson School Site was sold. The Mill Road Benson School Site continued to be used by the Itasca Park District.

The curriculum in the Districts three schools continued to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. The curriculum continued to foster the basic skills-reading, phonics, writing, spelling, composition/creative writing, mathematics, science, social studies, health, physical education, art, and music. In addition, programs were developed in gifted education, foreign language, pre-school, speech, English as a second language, computer education, and a full range of special education services.

Special education services are offered by in-district staff and through the School Association for Special Education in Du Page County, and Du Page West Cook Special Education Cooperative.

Test results in 1988 showed that 76.7% of third graders, 75.8% of sixth graders, and 62.2% of eighth graders scored in the top 50% of the State of Illinois Reading Assessment Tests.

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"The Three R's" from The History of Itasca, Centennial Edition
Edited by John Fridlund, Ph.D.
Copyright ©1990 Itasca Historical Society.

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Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010


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