The History of Chandler Schools Part 1: The First Bell Rings

The History of Chandler Schools Part 1: The First Bell Rings

When did the first bell ring in a Chandler school? It’s hard to say exactly,
but it’s a good story all the same. It began about 1900. Ol’ doc Chandler had bought
up thousands of acres out here in the desert southeast of Phoenix. He was a veterinarian
from back east who had settled in Arizona in 1887. When the federal government funded
the Salt River Project in 1903, the doc planned to use its irrigation canals to farm his sizable
acreage, which he called the Chandler Ranch. He hired a mass of workers to farm it and
built them a settlement to live in. The first school in the Chandler area was opened for
the children of farm workers who lived on the ranch. The school was held in the cook
shack, a temporary building made up of wood and canvas little more than a tent really. Before long, the government came along
and crushed Dr. Chandler’s operation by restricting landowners to irrigation of only
160 acres. The Doc had 18 thousand so you can imagine his predicament. He was a pretty good idea man, though, and
often times he’d turn challenges into opportunities and that’s exactly what he did here. He
subdivided his land and sold it in 160-acre plots. On one of the sections he kept, he
decided to build a town and name it after himself which was common practice back then
if you had the means to start your own town. The doc hired a small army of architects and
construction workers to get his town off the ground. They lived at the campsite, some with
their families. Mind you, there weren’t many families around at the time but the doc
had big plans for that to change [Commercial Announcer]
Dateline 1911. Think the desert is just a dry, desolate wasteland? Then you’d be surprised were you to visit the brand new town site of Chandler, Arizona. Among the mighty saguaro
sits this oasis of farmland ready for cultivation. Retired veterinarian Alexander Chandler spent
a decade digging irrigation canals to bring in water harnessed by the newly completed
Roosevelt Dam. Now the land is primed for its new community.
The town will soon feature a bank, post office, restaurants and stores, all located near beautiful
city parks. Here, you can raise more than cotton and alfalfa. Family-friendly Chandler
will soon be home to a new, modern grammar school, making this the place to raise your
children. Opportunity is knocking at your door and land is selling fast. So act now and come meet your new neighbors in Chandler, Arizona! [Storyteller]
Like I said, the doc was an idea man. His national advertising campaign worked well,
and people from all over the continent started moving in. I guess he must’ve expected ‘em
though, because he had the important town buildings and services already being constructed
when the town officially opened for business. The grammar school was one of these and our
frugal-minded town planners, along with the new school board, were very resourceful in
its design. They used a modular plan, which called for the eventual construction of three
buildings with three classrooms in each one. Construction crews were working hard on the
first unit trying to have it ready for classes in the fall. Just as the first building was being completed,
doc Chandler ordered a census of the town and the surrounding region. Lo and behold,
119 school-age children lived in the area and another 80 were expected before winter.
Three classrooms for more than 200 students weren’t nearly enough. In an attempt to
head up the crisis Chandler school trustees, Leonard George, Jeff Duncan and Wes Heffner
quickly called a bond election to raise funds for the second school unit. All 22 people
who cast ballots voted to pass the $8 thousand bond. In September, classes began in the Chandler
Grammar School for the first time. Fortunately, only 67 students were in class when the first
bell rang, that was at least manageable. But every seat was filled in the two classrooms
that actually had furniture. The third classroom was held in reserve until it was needed. Besides,
the trustees had only two teachers on staff. Mr. Burt Alvin Markham, who had taught in the
old cook shack on the Chandler Ranch, taught grades 4 through 8. He also served as principal
and the district’s first superintendent. Miss Louise Kohlmire was hired to teach the
lower grades. More students kept showing up at a steady
pace and, within a few weeks, regular attendance was at 78. Now you might be wonderin’ why
attendance was only 78 when there were more than 200 school-aged kids in the area. Well,
I think there were two main reasons. First, the land area we’re talking about here was
big, and transportation to and from school every day was a challenge for many families.
There were few automobiles. The primary means of getting anywhere was either by walking
or by horse, and most families needed their horses to work their land. The other reason
was that most kids were needed by their parents to help out on their farms. Sometimes those
kids only showed up at school when the family had a reason to come into town for the day. With the growing attendance at the grammar
school, the trustees opened the third classroom, and hired Mrs. Ella Page Seward as the teacher.
This move eased the overcrowding problem…for about a month. By Thanksgiving, student numbers exceeded
the school’s capacity and the trustees faced serious overcrowding problems once again.
Voters had approved bond funding for the second building but construction hadn’t started,
and it was starting to look like the new building would be filled up as soon as it opened. Compounding
the problem, school attendance was overwhelming but erratic. With operational funding amounts
being determined by student attendance numbers, no one could say for certain how much money
would be available to run the school. Still, the board of trustees had no choice
but to take some action. The three members went to the bank and managed to pull together
enough money to fund the speedy construction of a temporary classroom building, they also
rented other spaces where classes could be held. They also hired a fourth teacher, Miss
Lillian Gollands, and urged parents, in every way they could think of, to send their kids
to school every day. Through the hard work of the dedicated grammar
school faculty and constant efforts of the trustees, the first school year in the town
of Chandler came to a close in the spring of 1913. It was hugely successful, and incredibly
stressful as well, perhaps too much for some. First, Leonard George tried to retire from
the board. But after a mistake in the election of his successor, he was asked to stay in
office for an additional year. Wes Heffner did succeed in retiring. His replacement,
Mr. Frank Van Nas Dana, joined original members Duncan and George. Then, before school started
in the fall, trustee Jeff Duncan resigned as well. His replacement, Pastor Edmund Napoleon Larmour,
was appointed to finish the unexpired term. Larmour had actually won the election to assume
Leonard George’s seat before the voting mix-up. Shortly after Duncan’s departure Superintendent Markham resigned too. After he announced his intentions the newspaper ran a brief commentary. [Reporter]
“Professor Markham, who has served as head of the local school for the last three years
will not take up the work another year, having decided to take a course along advanced lines
at the University of Chicago. Mr. Markham has done good work in Chandler, and for two
years was compelled to run his school under the most primitive conditions.” [Storyteller]
The new board of trustees appointed teacher Ella Page Seward to assume Markham’s duties
as superintendent and principal. This ruffled the feathers of some who didn’t like a woman
running the school. But, Mrs. Seward had proven to be an asset to the grammar school during
the first year, and she demonstrated her leadership talents on many occasions. They stood behind
the decision and began preparations for the upcoming school year. That summer, construction crews finished the
second building, and the town’s public works crew laid pipe to the school for running water.
With three new classrooms ready to go, the board of trustees sifted through 30 applications
to find three new teachers to go with ‘em. The state government even helped with the
preparations, it provided new textbooks, and a new attendance law to discourage truancy. As one of her first acts as principal, Ella
Page Seward expanded the school’s educational offerings with a “domestic arts and sciences”
curriculum. Mrs. Seward and the trustees figured that offering courses with practical applications
would appeal to many parents who would then be more inclined to send their kids to school. [Ella Page Seward]
It is the present plan of the board to use a temporary building for the domestic science
classes. Practical work along this line will be given. The girls will be taught sewing
of a kind that will be valuable to them, while the boys will be given the rudiments of carpentry.
In this area, an effort will be made to have a practical carpenter come in one or two hours
a day and teach the boys the art of handling tools and making things. [Storyteller]
On September 8, 1913, classes began in the Chandler Grammar School’s second year. On
day one, the enrollment was 131, which was appropriate for a 6-classroom school. A month
later, enrollment swelled to 219. Now this point in time marks an important
milestone for the Chandler district. The 200-student enrollment was a very big deal because state
law allowed a high school district to be established when enrollment exceeded 200. Qualifying for
a high school was much anticipated by community leaders and the board of trustees it was a
symbolic right-of-passage for the town. So, in the fall of 1913, school leaders began the steps to establish a high school district for Chandler. Excitement surrounding a high school was good
an’ all, but it didn’t help with the immediate crisis at hand, which was, of course, the
classroom shortage. The school board hurried a bond election before the voters while looking
for additional places in town where classes could be held. The ballot asked voters to
approve a $9 thousand to erect the third pre-planned school building, which would add another three
classrooms to the Chandler Grammar School. [Storyteller]
On election day in November, 23 of the school district’s eligible voters went to the poles.
Unfortunately for the school, most of them voted “no” on the Chandler schools bond.
Well, you can imagine the commotion that this caused. [Mr. George] Good evening everyone. May I have your attention please, please? Thank you. Thank you very much. Now ladies and gentlemen, we called this meeting to discuss our next course of action for the Chandler school in light of the failure of school bond election last November. To begin with, I would like to call on Mr. Dana of
the school board of trustees to provide us with a review of the current school plan.
Mr. Dana. [Mr. Dana]
Thank you, Mr. George. Members of the Chandler community, three years ago, during our preparations
to build this town, one of the many unknowns that we faced was the number of people, the
number of families, that would be moving here in the foreseeable future. Because of this,
the board, and Dr. Chandler’s group, proposed to the voters the present unit system, which
would eventually provide us a campus of three buildings containing nine classrooms. This
plan was put into place to manage increasing numbers of school children and allow our newcomers
a voice in building each new structure. Obviously, our growth has outpaced our ability to construct
school units. However, this is still a fledgling town. It is growing and the future looks bright,
but the tax base is uncertain. The board of trustees strongly believe that the wise and
economical option is to complete the third structure as planned and as soon as possible. [Mr. George]
Thank you Frank, thank you very much. Now does anyone wish to comment on the school
plan? Oh yes! Mrs. Clark. [Mrs.Clark]
I don’t oppose building new schools, Mr Dana. I simply think that our city deserves
bigger and better school buildings than the ones already built. I am opposed to building
units that do not compare favorably to our other town structures like our San Marcos
hotel. I believe the taxpayers of Chandler can afford, and deserve, the best kind of
buildings. [Mr. Turner]
I personally have no objections to the quality of the buildings that the district has constructed,
what bothers me here is the lack of interest among the public in these important matters.
How can we have proper development of our school system when there is such little participation
when we call meeting like this to discuss the problems of funding and taxation. Property
owners are… are conspicuous by their absence! That said, I agree with the school board of
trustees and think completing the school as planned is the wise course of action. I say
finish it. [Mr. George]
Thank you, Mr. Turner. At this time, I would like to call on Dr. Chandler. Alex, I think
we would all like to hear your thoughts on this matter. Would you care to address this
assembly? [Dr. Chandler]
Well, certainly. Thank you, Leonard. My dear friends and colleagues, I wish to express
my sincere interest in the school situation. It is of the utmost importance to the future
of this community that we have first class schools. So I believe it would be unwise to
leave the school unfinished and since we need a new building anyway, the third should be
erected. It will be less of a burden on the taxpayers than starting a new structure. I
understand the excitement for the new high school. But we mustn’t let it cloud our vision
of the present. We must be patient and work to expand the district’s tax base so that
we can afford the structures desired by so many people in our town. [Storyteller]
The meeting went on-and-on. In the end, the group recommended moving forward with the
third structure. The trustees called a second bond election for March 28, 1914, asking voters
for $12,000. The additional 3 thousand was requested to install heating and restroom
facilities in the school, buy furniture, and beautify the grounds. This time, the voters
approved the school bonds by a vote of 55 to 28. In this same election, a new trustee
was named replacing Leonard George, who finally retired after five years of board service.
Mr. George recieved many praises from the townspeople for his work in the district’s early formation.
They named him the “Father of Chandler Schools” for his dedication and leadership. His successor,
Mr. William Robinson was a popular author who had served on various boards for the city
of Phoenix. Robinson seemed particularly well qualified to aid in the effort to establish
the Chandler High School. Now the Chandler High School story is quite
interesting, although somewhat peppered with complications. But I’ll try my best to explain.
Remember the fall of 1913? When enrollment exceeded 200 at the grammar school, Chandler
qualified to form a high school district. The laws on the subject seemed straightforward enough. The board of trustees, circulated a petition and obtained the needed signatures to call
an election, asking voters to approve a high school district. They submitted the petition
to Mr. John Riggins, who was the Maricopa County Superintendent for Instruction. The
final decision whether or not to call an election was his. He considered the matter for quite
some time and then he refused to call the election. The reason for the refusal is where the story
first gets complicated. You see, Chandler was already largely within the limits of the
Mesa Union High School District, with the remainder of it in the Tempe district. Those
districts had already used Chandler’s tax base to sell bonds which funded those districts
schools. In fact, a quarter of the Mesa union district’s tax base was in Chandler. So
Chandler’s petition to the county forced a legal question: Could a new high school
district be created from within one that already existed? County superintendent Riggins, upon
the advice of the county attorney Frank Lyman, decided the answer was no and that any action
to create a Chandler High School District would be illegal. Now the Chandler people felt entitled to some
special consideration in having a high school district established. The Mesa and Tempe high
schools were a long distance from Chandler which prevented most of our families from
transporting the students each day. Only five students of the 225 attending the Mesa high
school were from Chandler. So our community was paying 25 percent of the Mesa district’s
taxes to educate 2 percent of its students. And to add fuel to the fire, the Mesa district
was planning a bond election that same spring to ask for an additional $150 thousand to
fund a new high school in its community. While the Chandler people were helpless to change
the bond taxes already in place, they objected to any further indebtedness unless it was
to fund a high school for Chandler. So the board of trustees hired a team of attorneys
and sued the county superintendent in superior court with the goal of forcing him to call
Chandler’s election. In late February 1914, judge John Phillips, who was a future Arizona
governor by the way, well he ruled in favor of the Chandler trustees and directed Riggins
to call the election. But Riggins apparently felt the matter should be decided at a higher
level. So once again under the advice of the county attorney, he appealed the decision
to the Arizona Supreme Court. While the high school decision was delayed
in the courts, life went on at the Chandler Grammar School. Attendance that spring approached
450. The two existing school units were filled beyond capacity. Every other old building
and space ever used by the school board was pressed back into service. Back in Mesa, voters passed the $150 thousand
bond election for their new high school. Up until then, the primary opposition to Chandler
forming a high school district came from Mesa. But with the likelihood of their bond sales
being caught up in the legalities surrounding the Chandler district, Mesa property owners
suddenly had a change of heart. At a public meeting called by the Mesa school board, community
members circulated a petition and approved a resolution supporting an independent Chandler
high school district. When the school year came to a close in 1914,
Chandler held its first eighth grade graduation ceremony. In spite of the legal conflict,
the board invited county superintendent Riggins to hand out diplomas to the 17 graduates. The graduation ceremony kicked off an eventful
summer for the Chandler school system. Construction crews rushed to complete the third unit before
the September start-of-term. In July, two years of diligent effort by trustee Frand
Dana paid off when the county board of supervisors, and superintendent Riggins, agreed to increase
the district’s size from 24 to 36 square miles. This allowed people in outlying areas
to vote in district elections and for their children to attend school without paying tuition.
The action also increased the district tax base to $2 million. The approval of superintendent Riggins may
have indicated his softening on the high school district issue. In August, he allowed his
appeal to expire which permuted the lower court’s decision to stand. Chandler could vote on the question of forming its own high school district. On Saturday, September 19, 1914, community
members went to the schoolhouse and cast their ballots. By the end of the day, they had created
the Chandler High School District by a vote of 45 to1. As the start of school drew near, trustees
Larmour, Dana and Robinson, made some important changes. First, they added 9th grade high
school classes and developed a plan to add a high school grade each year as students
advanced. They expanded the teaching force to a total of 12 “representing the best
that can be obtained from the point of character, education, and experience,” they said. The
board kept Ella Page Seward as superintendent and principal, but it also added a new assistant
principal position. This job the board designated to be filled by a man who would have charge
of athletics and aid in teaching the high school classes. Finally, they expanded the
school’s Domestic Science and Manual Training courses with full equipment in each department,
making those departments “equal to any other in terms of educational advantages.” When school started that fall, you could still
smell the fresh paint in the newly completed third building, which added three classrooms
to the school. One of the high school students, Ernest Koch Jr., who would later be one of
Chandler High’s first graduates, wrote a column for the local paper describing the
new school accommodations… [Ernest Koch, Jr.]
The Chandler School was started a comparatively short time ago taking into account that Chandler
is but a three-year old town. The third unit, which has just been completed, has added many
new and good features to the school in general. Cement walks have been constructed. Sanitary
lavatories and drinking fountains were also installed. The gate for buggies and horses
has been arranged in the back part of the grounds. Completion of the last unit also
brought the construction of a large porch connecting the three buildings; this is a
very important feature as it enables anybody to go from one building to another in bad
weather. This porch is also a very good place for the students to sit at noon and eat their
lunches in the shade. [Storyteller]
Even with three new classrooms, the school had to operate beyond it’s design capacity.
Temporary wooden structures and and alternative spaces were still needed. Growth continued.
While there was a economic boom for the community and state it was the main cause of many more
challenging days to come for the trustees and staff of Chandler schools.

7 thoughts on “The History of Chandler Schools Part 1: The First Bell Rings

  1. Great video. Has the Ezmerelda Adventures episode been released?

  2. Thank you. We're glad you liked it.

    The Ezmerelda Adventures series has had no new developments. It will likely be on hold for at least another year while the CET team completes part 2 of the documentary. We are excited to work on it again someday. Thanks for asking.

  3. Came out great!

  4. We have a DVD copy for you. Just let me know how to get it to you. Thanks for all your work.

  5. Great use of graphics and on-air talent… it was engaging and informative. Looking forward to watching part II.

  6. Congratulations on the Emmy nomination!!

  7. Mr.Prothro was my middle school teacher! Such a talented man. 🙂

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