Franklinville School: Dave Weatherly, Principal, ca. 1918.
To research the history of our newly-acquired early Randolph County school bus, Dremia Meier, Beverly Fowler and the very accommodating staff of the Randolph County Schools Administrative Office allowed me to inspect some of the earliest Minute Books of the Randolph County Board of Education.
Book 4 begins with the 1920-21 school year, when the statistical report showed that there were 123 rural school houses in the county- 104 for white students and 19 for “colored” students- with a total of 184 classrooms (161 white, 23 African-American). Only two of those school houses were of brick construction, and 83 of them housed all grades in one classroom. (Vol. 4, pp.6-7)
Those statistics did not include the four ‘urban’ schools in the county- Asheboro, Randleman, Ramseur and Franklinville all were funded by special tax districts. But the combined schools of Randolph County served 8,490 black and white students in that 1920-21 school year, with a total of 178 teachers. Two “autotrucks,” were that year used “for public transportation of pupils” – 52 white pupils. (ibid, p. 7).
“Autotruck” was soon shortened to “truck,” which remained the preferred term until the state of North Carolina took over student transportation funding in the late 1930s. The term “bus” appears first in December 1928, when the new state law setting a 25 mile-per-hour “school bus speed limit” was referenced (p. 252). Trucks are not commonly called “buses” until after August 1939, when the superintendent reported that “25 buses [are] painted and 15 remaining unpainted but will be gone over by the time school starts.” (p. 494).
It is very clear from these BOE minutes that school busing was the catalyst to consolidate the county numerous one-room rural schools into larger centralized schools. Randolph County was at that time divided into literally dozens of independent school districts, each with its own governing committee and taxing power, all as authorized by the state Constitution of 1868. “Standard” high schools, with a full 3 or 4-year curriculum, were first authorized by the state legislature in 1907. “Farm Life Schools,” modeled on Virginia’s 1908 agricultural high schools, were authorized in 1911 to provide boarding school instruction in agriculture and domestic science. That same year Moore County established a Farm Life School at Vass, and Guilford County established three, in Jamestown, Monticello and Pleasant Garden, but Randolph County’s first accredited high school appeared in 1913, in Asheboro.
One busload of students was the equivalent of one classroom teacher at any small school, and had rippling consequences in classroom scheduling and administration. In August, 1926, “Application was made for Cedar Grove School, Liberty Township, to be transported to Liberty. There was objection… In order to give those desiring better school opportunities a chance, it was agreed to put on one truck, providing as many as 20 pupils could be secured who would ride the truck, thereby eliminating one teacher” (p.200). It quickly became apparent that the success of busing could cause difficulties as well as opposition: “Piney Grove, Concord Township, was allowed two teachers with the understanding that no one shall go to Farmer on the truck below the 8th grade, as it seems that so many went to Farmer last year… that attendance was reduced to one teacher” (Sept. 5, 1927, p. 220).
Consolidated classes with a larger school was the most cost effective way a small school committee could provide better quality education for its students. For example, on October 2, 1922, “A delegation of citizens from Marley’s Mill District came before the Board and asked that the children be transferred to the Staley District. It was decided after consideration that the children be transferred, provided, the [Marley’s Mill] district furnish the truck” (p. 41). By April 1923, the Marley’s Mill, Shady Grove, Kildee schools had all been drawn into the Staley District (p. 93), and a year later the “Patrons of Marley’s Mill District” asked the county to assume the costs of “a truck to transport children to Staley….” The Board therefore “Ordered that Marley’s Mill School be abolished and a truck placed there to transport the children beginning with the fall term of school” (p. 93). By October, 1924, local “patrons” had become so dissatisfied that the school closings were reconsidered: “Such opposition was made against putting trucks at Kildee, Marley’s Mill, Pine Hill and Gold Hill that the Board agreed to place a teacher at each one of the schools and operate a truck in Marley’s Mill and Kildee sections for any students who want to go to Staley” (p. 118).
Having more students bused to a school allowed the county to build more elaborate facilities. In 1924 the county solicited plans from Winston-Salem architect W.C. Northrup for new brick schools in Trinity and Farmer. The Farmer School (which is still standing), was to have 11 class rooms, an auditorium, and a modern “heating and lighting plant” (p. 101). J.R. Owen was the low bid at $40,400, and construction began in June 1924 (p.103). Construction of the new Trinity School, a more elaborate 2-story building, waited on the demolition of the old Trinity College building, which was accomplished and the new foundations laid in August (p. 111). In July, 1926, a new facility was approved “to be established two and a half miles north of Asheboro on Highway 70 [now 220 Business] to be called Balfour School…” (p.195).
New school construction went hand-in-hand with the need for more ‘trucks.’ At the end of the 1922 school year, there were still only two trucks in service, carrying 52 students (p. 37). But the next two years minutes are full of entries such as the following: “Ordered that a truck be placed at Red Cross for transporting children to Liberty. Ordered- truck be placed at Kildee for transporting children to Staley” (July7, 1924; p. 105). “Ordered- purchase a truck to transport children from Pine Hill district, Columbia township, either to Staley or Ramseur high schools; Ordered- a truck to be placed on the road from Garner’s Store to Seagrove and transport that portion of Cox’s District which desires to be at Seagrove” (August 1924, p. 113). “Ordered that a truck be put on at Fair Grove District to transport students to Franklinville school” (October 6, 1924, p. 118). “Ordered that a truck be placed on the highway, north of Asheboro, to haul children to school at Asheboro (October 6, 1924, p. 118). “Ordered- two Ford trucks, to transport children of Miller School, Trinity Township, to Trinity” (July 6, 1925, p. 145).
By the August 1925 statistical report to the school board, the county system had shrunk to 105 school houses, but the bus system had expanded from 2 to 16 “Autotrucks” transporting 448 pupils per day an average of 280 miles per day (p. 153). In 1926 there were 97 schools and 26 trucks operating an average of 149 days, carrying 711 pupils 494 miles per day (p. 197). By 1927, 34 trucks served 10 schools, operating 145 days hauling 1,104 pupils an average of 676 miles per day (p. 217). In the school year 1930-31 45 trucks served 45 white schools and 1 truck served 12 black schools, hauling 2,034 students 1,256 miles per day for 160 days (p. 281).
After the rapid expansion of the system in the 1920s, the thirties showed a slow but steady increase: 47 trucks hauling 2307 pupils (1932, p. 311); 49 trucks hauling 2735 pupils (1933, p. 334); 50 trucks hauling 2,958 pupils (1934, p. 353); 52 trucks hauling 3,188 pupils (1935, p. 376); 53 trucks hauling 3590 pupils (1936, p. 416); 58 trucks (3 serving black schools) hauling 4,154 students (1937, p. 434); 59 trucks hauling 4,460 pupils (1938, p. 498); 65 trucks hauling 5,085 pupils out of a total system of 8,513 students (1939-40, p. 506). As the old one- and two-room “Field” schools were closed, buses were added, transporting students from farther and farther away to fewer and fewer schools.
When the state of North Carolina began to take over financial responsibility for public education in 1932, the “State Equalizing Board” in Raleigh proposed a reorganization of the county schools (May 2, 1932, p. 312). The combination of state funding with improved transportation led to a corresponding increase in new school construction. Bids for a new high school in Seagrove were solicited in the summer of 1934 (p. 347). The county commissioners issued school bonds sufficient for the construction of new schools at Asheboro, Ramseur, Staley, Archdale, Coleridge, New Market, and Tabernacle in June, 1935 (p. 374). In 1940, new construction was authorized at Providence, Gray’s Chapel, Seagrove, Farmer, Balfour and “Asheboro City Colored” (p.510). By 1941 the county school system had diminished to 21 “administrative units” (i.e., school buildings), a total which included the separate Asheboro City schools (p. 543), but more than half the total had been built in the previous 7 years.
From 1920 to 1940 Randolph County reduced its population of school buildings from127 to 21, an 83.5 % decline. It had increased its fleet of buses from 2 to 65, a 97% increase. Yet its student population had only grown from 8,490 to 8,513, a 0.2% increase. The urge to centralize and modernize the infrastructure, not an increase in the student population, had driven the expansion and completely reorganized education in the county.
A modern student transportation system had been the key to creating a modern educational system. In just twenty years Randolph County had transformed a system of one-room schools that would have seemed familiar to Abraham Lincoln into the system which still serves 21st-century students.