During the 2017-18 school year, Blount County Schools celebrated its 150th anniversary, based on the year 1867.
Schools operated in the area well before the county government was formed in 1790, such as within Fort McTeer and Fort Craig. Creating a public school system, however, took decades.
In the early 19th century, teachers traveled from one community to another offering “subscription schools,” during which they would live with families. Sometimes they taught only writing or music, historian Inez Burns noted.
In an April 30, 1965, special section of The Maryville Times for the centennial of the Tennessee Education Association, Burns wrote about the evolution of the county’s public school system.
“The first feeble attempt at anything like a public school was the act of 1815 to provide education for the ‘orphans of the late war.’ This strengthened the prevalent idea that public education was for paupers, which idea prevailed to a great extent in parts of Blount County as late as 1920,” she wrote.
“Before public high schools were established in the county, snobbishness and a feeling of superiority to those who attended public schools was inbred and very evident,” Burns wrote.
As early as the 1830s, there might have been an organization of common schools, and public schools had been held in churches and on private property before the Civil War.
In 1855, Blount County voters rejected a proposal to levy taxes to support schools. “This was the result every time a proposition for taxation was submitted to the people of Blount County for support of schools for several decades,” Burns wrote.
Finally, with support from a state law in 1867, Blount County chose a superintendent and began reporting to the state.
The superintendent, Professor T.J. Lamar, reported in 1869 that all the civil districts were able to draw state money for schools except two, which could not get teachers.
A report to the state of Tennessee on Jan. 1, 1869, said $2,191.89 was spent for 12 teachers or principals, according to Burns.
In 1870, when the state reversed the law that provided funding and oversight for public schools, those in Blount County became private institutions again because there was no county tax to support them.
A Feb. 27, 1872, editorial in the Knoxville Daily Chronicle encouraged the people of Blount County to levy a county tax for public schools. “Let not Blount stand alone refusing, by popular vote, to take part in this great progressive movement,” the paper said.
“At first examination it would appear that our forefathers were slow in establishing a public school system, but on further examination there seems to be some explanation for their failure to finance a school system,” Burns wrote in The Maryville Times in 1965.
While common schools were being created in the 1830s, a county tax then was levied to build a new courthouse.
“In the meantime the school fund had been lost or misplaced and a judgment was awarded to recover it,” Burns wrote. “This did not tend to excite the confidence of taxpayers in the school commissioners.”
In 1848, a new jail tax was levied, and when that was paid off there was the Civil War and a railroad tax.
“When the school system was finally established in 1873, the county was in the midst of a depression … the courthouse burned in 1879 and it was necessary to build another courthouse,” she wrote.
The state passed new school legislation in 1889 for establishing a county system instead of districts and enabling high schools.
Another jail was built in 1901, the courthouse burned and had to be rebuilt in 1906, and then there was a program to build roads and bridges.
“This is not an attempt to justify the failure to provide for adequate schools, but a logical explanation,” Burns said, of why the county didn’t take advantage of some of the state laws supporting public schools.
In 1873 the county had 72 schools, 64 for white, and eight for what then were called “negro” students. While there were 449 students ages 6-18, 535 were ages 18-21.
A scrapbook of notes from Superintendent A.M. Gamble includes his observations, mainly on discipline and spelling instruction, across schools in 18 areas then called districts.
For 1882, he noted, the districts received just under $1.50 “per scholar” and while the 1883 finances still were being prepared, he suggested, “Directors had best not run over $1.45.”
Complimenting the “splendid” discipline at a large school taught by Miss Dicia Baker, he noted, “I wish those who think that a woman cannot control where there are big boys could visit this school.”
In 1898, the county school report showed 7,074 students, with an average daily attendance of 5,925 white students and 600 “colored.”
The county had 79 primary schools and three secondary schools for white students and 11 primary colored schools.
Along with reading, writing and arithmetic, they were studying rhetoric, geography, U.S. and Tennessee history, vocal music, elocution, elementary geology, principles of agriculture, algebra, plane geometry, national philosophy, bookkeeping and hygiene.
The city of Maryville began setting up a separate system in 1900, purchasing the Quaker School known as Pride Mansion and combining two of the previous “districts.”
In 1908, the county still had schools in two log houses and 80 frame school houses.
Nancy Broady was the first woman appointed superintendent of Blount County Schools, serving from 1914-18 before asking that her new husband, Joseph H. Miser, succeed her.
In “Snapshots of Blount County History, Volume II,” editor Dean Stone notes Broady’s accomplishments included establishing the first county four-year high school at Friendsville, a school consolidation program, buying the first school bus, starting a school lunch problem, securing the first bond issue for schools in Blount County, and organizing a Parent-Teacher Association.
“Her leadership caught the attention of legislators and was credited with helping Tennessee’s effort to ratify the suffrage act, which gave women the right to vote,” Stone wrote.
Vose School was built by Blount County in an area known as North Maryville, and ALCOA and Knoxville Power Co. built the Aluminum Plant School, known as the ”Mule Barn,” which had electric lights, furnace heat and toilets, as well as a separate building designed to be a temporary school for black children until another could be built.
The companies not only paid for the building but also largely paid for the teachers’ salaries, according to a report from Superintendent Broady. “The Aluminum Company of America did not consider this work a ‘Sweet Charity,’ but a real investment , an outlay of dollars that will bring dividends in better workmen, a better community, and a more prosperous people,” she wrote.
Alcoa became a separate city and school district in 1919.
After Alcoa opened Charles Hall High School in 1926, the county sent its black students there for high school. But as late as 1953, the county had three “negro schools” at Wildwood, Chandler’s Station and Rockford, named Booker T. Washington, Frederick A. Douglas and New Lincoln.
Superintendent H.B. McCall’s report on schools on Jan. 5, 1925, noted the county consisted of 552 square miles with 2,601 farms, 100 miles of railroad and 500 miles of gravel and graded roads.
“Blount County has a population of more than 28,800 including 10,000 school children of the purest Anglo Saxon blood of America,” the report said.
Of the county’s 87 school buildings, 46 had just one room, “thirty-seven of which are old, unsanitary, poorly lighted and unfit for school.” Only 28 were well equipped with uniform, comfortable desks, the superintendent said.
Water supplies for the schools included wells, springs, cisterns and reservoirs.
“Blount County has a good school board and qualified teachers who work under less than desirable situations with low salaries,” the superintended reported.
Of the 154 teachers, 110 women and 26 men taught grade school, and 10 men and eight women taught high school.
“There is a great demand for providing high school programs for our County schools,” the superintendent reported, with six junior highs.
By 1928, the county had six four-year high schools.
The county started high schools in 1922 at Lanier, Prospect, Binfield, Townsend, Walland and Everett, according to Burns. The following year, Everett and Porter graduated their first classes.
The other high schools developed into four-year programs, with Walland reaching that level in 1926, followed by Townsend in 1927 and Lanier in 1928.
By 1929, the district had just three one-teacher buildings.
For the 1930-31 school year, McCall reported 58 schools in the county, including 18 with just one teacher.
He noted 31 high school teachers spread among nine schools, and four “elementary colored teachers,” one each at Friendsville, Mt. Zion, Wildwood and Louisville.
“We have improved the heating systems by placing 78 large coal stoves in the new buildings and replacing the hot air furnaces in six of our large schools and other places where necessary,” the superintendent reported.
Elsie Burrell, who came to Blount County in 1942 as elementary school supervisor, retired from the district in 1969.
She is credited with starting libraries in the elementary schools as well as the county’s special education program for student with learning disabilities.
Burrell also worked to implement a vocational training center.
In the 1970s, the county moved from K-12 schools to separate high schools, opening Heritage in 1977 and William Blount in 1979.
The population of Blount County grew by nearly 20,000 during the 1990s and led to crowding in the schools, so the district began moving to a middle school model.
In 1999, the school district began a comprehensive redistricting that for the first time used computer software to help develop the plan.
“What we’ve normally done in Blount County is kind of a hodgepodge of things,” BCS Director Gary Pack told The Daily Times then. “We’ve built a school and then basically we put more students in it than we can handle, and then we put 10 portable classrooms around it.”
While BCS had about 85 schools when Broady was director, in Pack’s time the district’s schools were supplemented by 83 portable classrooms to accommodate crowding.
In 1997, BCS had 12 elementary schools and two high schools, with two exceptions — Hubbard operating as a K-3 school and Walland serving grades 4-8. Two of the elementary schools, Eagleton and Mary Blount, had more than 1,000 students.
The district opened two new middle schools, Heritage in 2000 and Carpenters in 2001. Then it renovated the former Eagleton Elementary School to become Eagleton Middle, and what was then Mary Blount Elementary became William Blount Middle School.
New Mary Blount Elementary and Eagleton Elementary opened in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
Carpenters Middle School opened in 2006 and Union Grove Middle School in 2008. The William Blount Middle School became William Blount High School’s Ninth Grade Academy, to ease crowding at the high school.
The county’s last school to open, in 2011, was Prospect Elementary School, which eased crowding at Porter.
Now BCS has 14 elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools.
No new schools are being planned, but the district is working on a proposal to renovate both 40-year-old high schools. The school board expects to take a cost estimate to the County Commission later this year.
Prospect opened with two computer labs, plus each classroom was equipped with one computer for the teacher and three for students, making it a testing ground for technology in the classroom.
Under the BCS 1:World initiative, every student in grades 3-12 across the district will have a laptop computer in the 2018-19 school year.
About 700 seniors are expected to graduate from the BCS high schools this year. More than 50 also have completed work through a new program to earn a state diploma, the STAGE Academy (School of Technologically Accelerating Graduation at Everett).
In 2018-19, BCS also plans to offer families a home-school option supported by Blount County Schools, through the Everett campus.