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"School Days"  A History Lesson in Survival

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News
on January 18, 1992


by Roz Young


            Just before Christmas, School Days, a 208-page hardback by Virginia and Bruce Ronald, was published by Landfall Press. The book is a history of the public, private and parochial schools in Montgomery County from 1926 to 1990. It follows in general form an earlier history, Montgomery County History and Annual, published in 1926. Much of the information is dispensed in tables and lists of names, which are of little interest to the general reader, but it does provide a permanent record of the people and the movements in local education that otherwise are buried in school board minutes and other archives.

            Carol Walters, Bob Daniszewski, Toni Kucharski and Ada Barriteau made numerous tapes of interviews with some 64 principals, teachers and other educators in the city and county, and some of their recollections liven the pages. One day, for example, a little girl named Virginia told Mabel Barnes, who taught at Carrmonte School in Van Buren Twp., that she needed a pencil.

            "Pencils are two for a nickel," said Mabel, laying two out on her desk.

            Virginia pointed to one. "How much is that one?"

            "Three cents."

            "Then I'll take the other one for 2 cents," said Virginia.

            Byron Morton was principal of the high school in Vandalia for two years and superintendent of the Vandalia schools for 25 years. In the war years of the 1940s women's stockings were extremely expensive and is very short supply. One day two women teachers showed up with bare legs. Morton made them paint their legs and even draw seams up the back before they could go back to their classrooms.

            What most people will enjoy in the book is reading about the times when they were in school - the failed school levies, the teachers' salaries, the innovations in methods.

            In 1925, for instance, in Dayton the enrollment was 1,804 in kindergarten, 18,447 in grades 1 through 8 and 5,119 in grades 9 through 12. Several of the elementary schools had what was called the platoon system. In a platoon school pupils spent the mornings in traditional classroom work and in the afternoons in gym, art, music, home economics and speech classes.

            E.J. Brown School was a platoon school. In 1927 a school levy failed, requiring the elimination of night school, summer school and a number of teaching and maintenance positions. The next year a 4.10 mill levy was placed on the ballot. Anne Tuhey, the speech teacher at Brown, and Helen Steepleton, the music teacher, wrote a pageant that illustrated the glories of the platoon schools. It was produced and taken to various school PTA meetings all over town in an effort to drum up support for the levy.

            The teachers chose a number of us to represent various classes in the platoon system. One girl in her cap and apron represented home economics. Another one was dressed in a smock and beret and carried a palette and paint brush. One of the boys appeared in gym shorts and bounced a basketball. I was chosen to represent speech classes and the teachers left it up to my mother to concoct a costume.

            She decided to make a dress with a big collar out of crepe paper and a headdress like the back of a wing chair with a band around the forehead. The crepe paper was a violent shade of pink with blue trimming. With it I wore white stockings and Mary Jane shoes.

            While the school orchestra played, each of us came out on the stage, faced the audience and sang a line. Mine was "For poise and assurance, nothing can excel me." Then the whole group lined up and sang the chorus, a rousing "Vote for the four-mill levy, to help our schools along, so all schools in the city, can be nice as E.J. Brown. We need $4 million dollars. This message we do send: 'We want $4 million dollars, to help us top that end.' " When we sang "want," we all stepped forward and stamped a foot.

            The levy passed, and we at Brown School thought it was entirely because of our pageant.

            The history of the schools as evidenced in the book is beset with woes and troubles. For those toiling now in the troubled ranks of education it may be some solace to know that it was ever thus and ever will be.

            The book is available at local bookstores.