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First Public School Built in 1884
Article first published in Vol. 19, 2000.
By Monica Guillen
As early as 1880, citizens asked the city government to establish public schools, but to no avail. In 1881, El Pasoan Ella Nunn opened a temporary school, moving from building to building, serving 42 students. But without a permanent home and few teachers, it died. In December 1882, the city held its first school board election. O. T. Bassett served as President and Dr. O. C. Irvin, Secretary. Taxes levied on private property paid for the first public school, a two-room adobe building.
Classes began with 107 students. Using a single blackboard, a few desks, and a "switch" for discipline, D.A. McKay became teacher and principal on March 5, 1883, at a salary of $135 per month. With the assistance of teacher Laura English, he succeeded.
In 1884, the school board purchased six lots at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Campbell Street in south El Paso for the construction of the first permanent school. Central School enrolled 302 students. That year, the board of education appointed retired army officer and West Point graduate Calvin Esterly superintendent. He successfully added music to the curriculum, introduced military training for boys into the high school and organized the classes into distinct departments.
The elementary department consisted of grades one through four; intermediate, five through eight; and high school, nine through twelve. A high school was added to the top floor of the building in 1885. Esterly split the school year into two semesters of four and one-half months each semester. In 1887, the first graduating class of Central School consisted of two students: Kate Moore and George Prentiss Brown. This building served as a school until 1905.
One thing was missing with the El Paso public school system: no provision had been made for children who could not speak English. Fortunately, in 1887, a mysterious man named Olivas Aoy decided to give Mexican-American children a chance at a decent education (see story on Aoy). See also El Paso times article on El Paso's early schools.