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Former School Superintendent Wrote of the Early Days

The following was published in a February 1972 special issue of The Citizen-Journal.

(Editor’s Note: The late and beloved John A. Kooken (photo to the right), who served the Arlington schools for 30 years, wrote his memoirs, “Thirty Friendly Years with the Arlington Public Schools” and published them in 1941, about two years before his death. This, the final chapter, sheds some light on what Arlington was like during that period, from 1908 through 1938.)

Thirty Friendly Years with the Arlington Schools

by John A. Kooken

Neither relatives nor friends attracted us to Arlington in 1908, for we had no such connections here.

I had passed through the town on the T & P Railroad many times on my way to and from my home in Ferris, Texas. On these trips from Hamilton and Vernon to Ferris, I became favorably impressed with the physiography and topography of the location. Here in the feather edge of the Cross Timbers, fourteen miles from Fort Worth, and twenty miles from Dallas, set among majestic oak trees was the nucleus of the town that was to be-Arlington. To the south and east lie the rich black land suitable for all standard Texas crops. The Trinity slope to the north is made up of sandy loam adaptable to another variety of crops. Then, too, the Carlisle Military Academy was located here. The Northern Texas Traction Company offered hourly service between Dallas, Fort Worth, and intermediate points.

Moreover, we found a hospitable, industrious, and homogeneous citizenship which was able to make its contribution in the utilization of the natural resources of the Great Arlington Country.

In 1908 there were no hard surfaced streets and few of the roads in this trade territory were graded. Seventy-five feet of concrete sidewalk in front of the Walter B. Taylor residents on North Center Street was the sum total of the sidewalks in the town thirty-three years ago. This situation made some of the roads impassible in the rainy season for all vehicles.

The community had two automobiles of the oldest model type owned by Doctors Davis and Cavens in 1908, and according to information given by Mrs. J. M,. Houston, 2,600 licenses for automobiles and trucks have been sold during the first four months of 1941.

A few days after arriving in Arlington, Frank McKnight, president of the Board of Education, called a meeting of the board. The board at this time was composed as follows: Frank McKnight, president; J. I. Carter, secretary; Webb Ditto, assessor-collector; D. C, Sibley, C. A. Hargett (C. B. Berry was appointed to take the place of Hargett, who resigned); A. H. Smith; and F. R. Wallace. Superintendent H. Tarpley made a report on the conditions and needs of the schools.

In addition to the superintendent and principal, ten teachers were employed in 1908, The children were housed in two buildings—one for white children and one for colored children. Neither of the buildings were equipped with modern conveniences. The schools were characterized by poor housing, poor organization, poor equipment, and poor moral and financial support. The 1908-1909 session was partially supported by private subscription and partially by public funds.

The public school situation in Texas during the latter part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century was such as to produce great irregularity in attendance and consequently many pupils were greatly retarded. Many of them withdrew from the schools before they had completed the course prescribed for the elementary schools.

Under these adverse conditions, the matter of discipline was a daily, if not an hourly, problem, and the paddle and the strap were very much in evidence every day. The same method of government was employed in the homes. In some cases, the new teacher became very popular with patrons because he “knocked out” two of the bullies on the first day of school. Sometimes that was the best way to begin the school year.

The collusion of large boys against the school executives resulted sometimes in physical combats and truancy. This lack of cooperation of pupils began to disappear with the awakening of the general public in Texas about 25 years ago (i.e. around 1916) with reference to the values of education and was the beginning of a new era in the history of education in our state.

A new era in the history of the Arlington Public Schools began in September 1922, when the high school moved into the new building on Cooper Street. The high school course of study was enriched and extended. Vocational home economics, commercial arts, public school music and four standard science courses became a part of our approved course of study, The old South Side building which had served for both elementary and high school purposes burned to the ground on June 10, 1933, and on the same site a new building was dedicated in 1936. It is complete in architecture, equipment, and landscaping. The profusion of trees, shrubs, and flowers make this campus one of the beauty spots in Arlington.

The building program was climaxed during Superintendent Ben Everitt’s administration (1938-41) by improvements on the high school building, the erection of a modernlyequipped gymnasium (1940), cafeteria, and a well-equipped department for agriculture and shop.

The new home economics building was erected as a model of architecture and equipment for all schools which contemplate the erection of a home economics building.

The new North Side School, rechristened in 1938 as the John A. Kooken Elementary School, is a model of the one-story type school. It has a combination auditorium-gymnasium and is completely equipped for cafeteria, library, etc.

Editor’s Note: John A. Kooken (1863-1943) came to Arlington in 1908 from Ferris, Texas, and became Principal of the high school. He was elected Superintendent of Public Schools in 1913, and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1938. He was known for his understanding and patience with students. In 1938 the new elementary school replacing the old North Side School was named in his honor. He was the first Arlington educator to have a school named after him.