Rochelle News-Leader | How the Rochelle School System Has Grown and Changed

It was in 1840 that Mrs. Miranda Weeks called the first class of primary school to order.

The school was located in a log cabin just north of Kyte Creek and east of present-day Main Street. A small group of children met when they could and when household chores did not require their attention.

A few years passed and the arrival of the railroad brought more families to the area. A new schoolhouse was needed and construction began on a larger log schoolhouse south of Kyte Creek and on the west side of Indian Trail (Main Street).

The log schoolhouse was one block south of Kyte Creek and served until 1854. Around this time, a new schoolhouse was opened on North Sixth Street. The new school was located on the west side and about the middle of the block of the 400 block of Sixth Street. After only four years, a bigger building was needed.

The Sixth Street school became a gristmill and a new school was again built. Rochelle’s Fourth School was a two-story wood-frame building near the corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street, the current location of the Central School.

Erected in 1858, the fourth school served the community of Lane. The name change to Rochelle was still seven years away. On April 7, 1869, disaster struck and a fire consumed the school. The newspaper article was short and not too complimentary about firefighters.

“The school on the 400 block of Eighth Street destroyed by fire, our hitherto invincible fire department, consisting of a worthless engine and two worthless water guns, was utterly inadequate for the opportunity.”

The cost of construction in 1858 was $10,000. The bonds were sold and a new school was planned. During the construction of the new school, the first and second years were held at the Methodist Church, the high school was in the Shockley building at the corner of Cherry Avenue and Lincoln Highway, and the rest of the classes met in the Peter Unger building on Cherry Ave. .

In 1871, the fifth school building was ready for students. Sitting on the ashes of the burnt-out timber frame, the new three-story brick building stood like a phoenix. It was a monument to Rochelle’s commitment to education. 1872 saw an enrollment of 314 students. 1874 saw a promotion of three graduates. In 1878, the school saw 21 students graduate from high school.

Education has gone through many changes. In the 1880s, a teacher only needed an eighth grade education to teach elementary grades. With a budget that did not exceed $11,000 per year before 1900, teachers were poorly paid and individually earned $300 to $600 per year.

The school system took a big step forward in the period from 1893 to 1903. Superintendent C. F. Philbrook implemented a program that established Rochelle as a chartered educational institution. The opening of the Northern Illinois Normal School in DeKalb raised the quality of instructors to meet the new and improved requirements for graduation.

Disputes between the school board and Mr. Philbrook caused a parting of ways. Philbrook left in 1903 and several teachers followed him to Arizona. Rochelle High School moved to its own building on North Seventh Street in 1921. Seventh Street High School saw major additions in 1942, 1954, and 1970.

A new secondary school was built on Flagg Road and the old school was demolished in 2005. As the community grew schools were added. The South Side School was erected in 1909. The name was changed to Lincoln School in 1915. The old Lincoln School was closed and a new Lincoln School was opened at 1450 20th St. in 2013. In 1937, the three-story brick central school was demolished. In 1938 a new Central School was built at 444 N. Eighth St. Tilton School was brought online in 1950 at 1059 N. Ninth St. May School was built in 1959 at 1038 N. Second St. Rochelle Middle School began serving students in 1964 at 111 School Avenue.

Over the years, many additions and improvements have been made to the schools in La Rochelle. One thing has never changed, the community’s commitment to providing the opportunity for a first class education.

Tom McDermott is a historian at the Flagg Township Museum and a Rochelle City Councillor.

Jeremy S. McLain