Craig Alan Cook
In rural Illinois the neighborhood school idea was expressed as the one-room school. Students rarely had to walk more than two miles to school. Everyone knew everyone else. However, this changed with the rural to urban migration caused by the Great Depression and World War II.
Even though many parents, some of whom were the third and fourth generation to attend a particular school, opposed the loss of identity by closing these one-room schools, many factors forced change. The loss of students, low pay for teachers, deterioration of the buildings, and state pressures to meet higher standards all worked toward consolidation. In the words of historian Mildred Hill, "Men faced each other ready to go to almost any end if necessary to preserve their ideals of education, to retain their own community centers, and to exercise a controlling interest in the affairs of their children's formal learning."
As attendance declined in the Ewing and Northern townships (Franklin County) over the decades before World War II, pressure was put on the one-room schools to consolidate. As a result ten neighboring rural school districts sent representatives to a meeting. After several meetings a decision was made in 1946 to combine ten neighboring districts and operate a trial school known as the Ewing-Northern Associated School. In September 1947 a formal vote of consolidation was successful, and classes began with Superintendent Herbert Page and other former one-room-school teachers.
Leadership is very important for any school. J. Clark Phillips and county superintendent Geoffrey Hughes patiently guided the school's birth. A newly elected board of trustees gave the school its new name and number, Ewing-Northern Community Consolidated School District No. 115. They voted to purchase the old Ewing College campus as the permanent location for the newly formed school.
Without the support of the parents and the community, the school would not have survived. The first year there was no money to operate, so people gave generously to help support the school. Women canned fruits and vegetables so the students could have hot lunches. Lon Hill donated apples from his orchard. Farmers were helpful in the winter when the weather was bad and the roads were nearly impassable; they always had their tractors and chains available if they were needed to pull school buses through mud holes. Through the years it has been this kind of support that has kept the school going.
As the Ewing-Northern School District developed, the Whittington area schools did the same thing. A friendly rivalry had existed between the two schools, but as Rend Lake developed, Whittington School began having financial difficulties. Attendance dropped when the lake took more than half of the district's land. Efforts were made to save the school, but in 1972 Whittington consolidated with Ewing-Northern.
Much work has been done to improve the school. As attendance continues to increase, new classrooms have been added to accommodate the growing student body. In 1987, when the school again faced financial problems, the teachers accepted a salary freeze and the administration and board accepted other "belt-tightening" policies. Two superintendents, Walker Montgomery and Ronnie McCormick have provided excellent leadership for the school in these recent years. Without their hard work and the support of the teachers, the school would not have made it through this difficult time.
In 1994 fifth grade through eighth grade was separated from the lower grades. Superintendent McCormick said he felt this would help the students prepare for high school and also a career. "With teachers trained in specialized areas, students can receive more in-depth learning of their subjects. Our extended learning class for eighth graders helps focus on the future and how students can prepare for a career."
The community and the parents were determined to keep Ewing-Northern one of the best schools in the area. In effect, says local historian and teacher David Goss, "the ghost of Ewing College inspires a high level of expectation and commitment of students, parents, and teachers." Education is very important and essential to every child, and Ewing-Northern is determined to see that everyone receives the best.—[From student historian's interview of David Goss, Sept. 11, 1998; student historian's interview of Ronnie McCormick, Sept. 17, 1998; David Goss's interview of Riley Richardson, Mar 26, 1985; David Goss's interview of Roy Richardson, July 8, 1990; Celebrating 50 Years of Education, 1946-1996, Ewing Northern School and Whittington Community Consolidated School; David Goss, A History of Northern Township, unpublished manuscript; Mildred Hill, ed., 1975 Exodus.]
ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1998 11