Skip to Main Content
El Paso Community College
Library Research Guides

Borderlands: First Public School Built in 1884 19 (2000)

A unique resource of faculty edited college student articles on the history and culture of the El Paso, Juárez, and Southern New Mexico regions.

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.

Image caption:  El Paso's Central School was built on the corner of Myrtle and Campbell in 1884.  (Photo courtesy of the El Paso Historical Society / 

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. 

EPCC Web site || EPCC Libraries Web Site || EPCC Library Catalog
Report a problem