District History

Bronson High School cira 1940

Bronson School circa 1909

The first permanent school in Bronson township, as well as in Branch County, or in the entire distance between Clinton and White Pigeon, was taught at Bronson's Prairie for three months in the winter of 1830-31 by Columbia Lancaster, whose permanent home was in St. Joseph County. It was supported by the six families then living at the Prairie, and some fifteen pupils attended, among them three young ladies, the daughters of Mrs. Bronson and Mrs. Tillotson, and a son of Beniah Jones, Esq. of Jonesville. The school was taught in a log tenement, which stood near the Harold VanHusan home on U.S. 12 just west of Mowry Avenue. The only prior school classes held at Bronson's Prairie were in 1829 when John Toole taught the children for a short time.

The first summer school on Bronson's Prairie was taught by Mrs. David Waterman, the former Cynthia Lloyd. In 1836 her husband owned the first and only frame building built at the prairie up to that time.

Bronson School date unknown

Bronson School circa 1930′s?

School District No. 4 was organized by Jonathan Holmes in the fall of 1839, and school was taught the following winter by Mr. Ward who was from New Hampshire and lived at Three Rivers. Miss Sarah Smith taught a school in the neighborhood during the summer and fall of 1839 in a frame schoolhouse on the Chicago Road in the eastern section of the village. This was the first school building in the district and was used until the increasing number of pupils demanded that a new and larger building be erected. The Union School at Bronson village was organized about 1858 when a two-story frame schoolhouse was erected on the crossroad. The site was changed to a short distance northwest of the location of the old one (present Chicago St. School site). In 1878 a brick addition, also two stories high, was built in front of the old edifice, at a cost of about $3,500 making the total value of the building as it stood in 1879 some $4,500. The enrollment of pupils in 1878 reached 300, and in March 1878, was about 250. At this time the school consisted of four departments: High School, grammar, intermediate and primary. The teachers were: Principal - J. P. Borton, Grammar Department - Elizabeth McMann, Intermediate Department - Louisa Lowell and Primary Department - Mary
Brown. Enrollment in 1897 in the Bronson School was 219.

In 1899 in a listing of primary school apportionment was given semi-annually to each township in Branch County, Bronson led the townships outside of Coldwater both as to amount and number of school children. The amount apportioned was 50 cents per capita. Bronson township school census was 630 - $315.00 In the ensuing years, several changes were made in the school building on the
northeast corner of Lincoln and Chicago Streets to accommodate growth and change in curriculum. A partial listing of superintendents serving the school prior to 1927 includes James Swain, Mr. McClane, Frank Robinson, Mr. McCollough, and A. C. Burrell. In 1927, an addition was built onto the front of the 1901 section of the school. This addition, which included a gymnasium, was completed the same year David Frye became superintendent.

Bronson High School cira 1940

Bronson High School cira 1940′s

Bronson High School circa 1964[/caption]Elwyn J. Bodley took over as superintendent in 1939 from David Frye and served until 1951. It was during this period, in the summer of 1946 when approximately 24 individual school districts voted to reorganize and form the "Bronson Community School District No. 1 Fractional", more commonly known as Bronson Community Schools. Since that time additional districts have annexed such as Canfield, Batavia Center, Snow Prairie, Lindley, Trayer, Hitchcock, and Hickory Corners. By 1966, the Bronson district included all of Noble, Gilead, and Bronson townships, most of Bethel township, and parts of Matteson, Batavia, and Ovid townships.

The Florence Elgin Anderson Elementary School, consisting of seven rooms, was built in 1950 on the East Corey Street and Wayne Street corner property. The school was named after an elementary teacher who had just previously retired after having taught for fifty years.

Bronson High School circa 1964

Bronson High School circa 1964

George E. Carpenter was superintendent from 1951 to 1957. During his term of office an addition was built on the high school in the form of a gymnasium, vocational agriculture room, band room, machine shop, wood shop, mechanical drawing room and superintendent's office. This addition was completed in 1953. The old gymnasium was remodeled in 1954 to form a study hall and five classrooms.

Gareth W. Heisler who joined the teaching staff in 1946, was high school principal from 1948 to 1957 when he became superintendent. Under his guidance in the spring of 1959 a seven-room addition with an all-purpose room and kitchen for the cafeteria was started on the Anderson building, being completed by fall. At the same time on fifteen acres in the southwest section of town, the Ryan Elementary School, named in memory of Robert Ryan who served for forty-two years on the school board, was constructed and opened on November 30, 1959. In 1965 on East Grant Street a new high school costing $1,147,000 was constructed, opening on September 30, 1965. The former high school, which had housed grades 7 through 12, became the Junior High School and was later renamed Bronson Middle School, which contained grades 6 through 8. The 1901 section of the school was torn down. Also, three new rooms were added on the west side of the gymnasium and
alterations made in the southeast section of the building to provide four new classrooms.

George Brusak, who had been assistant high school principal since 1957, became the first principal of the new Junior High School. William French who had been assistant high school principal from 1955 to 1957 and high school principal since 1957 served as the first principal of the new high school until 1970. Gordon Van Wieren became superintendent of schools in 1966, serving until 1969 when Burton Aldrich became superintendent. In 1970, through extraordinary efforts of the community a large complex of athletic facilities including a football field, baseball
field, softball fields and tennis courts was constructed just west of the high school.

In 1971, Robert Beauchamp replaced Mr. Aldrich as Superintendent of Schools. The following year the federal law regarding Title IX was passed. This saw the advent of girls interscholastic athletic teams. The girls were no longer required to play club sports through organizations like the GAA (Girls' Athletic Association.)Besides the basic curriculum, the approximately 1600 pupils attending Bronson Community Schools in 1979 were afforded many other opportunities. A remedial reading program under federal Title I program was operated at each school. Beginning in
1978-79 a compensatory education program in mathematics became available in the elementary and Middle schools. Special education was offered at all levels in the
Bronson Schools and the Branch Intermediate School District provided additional services in this area.

The high school had vocational agriculture and home economics programs available and since 1973 high school juniors and seniors have been able to receive vocational training at the Branch Area Careers Center in Coldwater for half of each school day. A high percentage of Bronson juniors and seniors took advantage of this opportunity.

The 1980's began with declining enrollment in the district and a financial crunch brought on by hard economic times in the State of Michigan. It was decided that the Middle School would be closed in the summer of 1980. At the citizens request a portion of the building including the gym and home ec room remained open. The buildings and grade levels then were aligned with Anderson Elementary being a K-6 building, Ryan Elementary housing K-5 students, and the 7th and 8th grades moved into the high school which became the Bronson Junior/Senior High School. A year later the elementaries split into a different configuration. Anderson housed K-3 students and Ryan became a grades 4-6 building.

In 1983, Mr. Richard Wragg became superintendent to fill the position of Mr. Beauchamp. Tough economic conditions early in the decade caused staff layoffs and much labor unrest. Difficult negotiations with the Bronson Education Association led to a teachers' strike. Mr. Wragg resigned from the superintendency in December of 1986 and was succeeded by James Thrall. With student enrollment on an upward trend and buildings bursting at the seams, a bond issue was passed in 1986 to remodel and reopen the middle school. This process included the demolition of the 1927 portion of the building along with many other changes. The old ag room was changed into district administration offices, the old band room became an all-purpose room, the wood shop was used as a district maintenance shop, the old kitchen became two special education classrooms and the old home ec room was split into two classrooms. When the building was reopened in the fall of '86 it was renamed from the Middle School to the Chicago Street School. The building housed grades 5 and 6. Anderson Elementary became a K-2 building and Ryan hosted grades 3-4. The federal Head Start program also made its first appearance in the Bronson Schools in the '86-'87 school year.

In the early 90's emphasis was placed on serving students "at risk." In addition to participation in the National School Lunch Program the district began providing breakfast for those students who chose to take advantage of the opportunity. The Michigan School Readiness program, an extension of the federal Head Start program for pre-school children also began. These two programs, run by the Branch Intermediate School District, were housed in a new two classroom modular building placed on the Anderson
School grounds.

More remodeling took place in 1993. At Chicago Street School the maintenance shop was eliminated and the space was divided into two classrooms including a new computer lab. This forced the maintenance shop to be moved to the old machine shop in the Jr./Sr. High. It wasn't too long until a new maintenance pole barn was built to house the maintenance shop, office, and staff. The old machine shop in the high school was then remodeled to become a Career Prep Lab/Drafting area.

In August of 1997, Robert Walter became the new district superintendent taking over as Mr. Thrall retired. At about this same time the citizens voted a bond issue to build five new classrooms onto the Jr./Sr. High School including 3 science rooms and 2 computer labs. Also, included was a new kindergarten and reading room at Anderson School along with remodeling of the restroom and office areas. Chicago Street School was also expanded with the addition of a new math/science room. The work was doneand the spaces were occupied at the start of the '98-'99 school year. In the summer of '98 the district acquired a new property at the southwest corner of Chicago and Walker streets. In November the central administration staff was moved to this building and the former administration offices at Chicago St. School were remodeled for the principal and
auxiliary staff.

A great milestone was achieved by the district in the 2000-2001 school year when each building in the district was granted accreditation through the North Central Association of Schools. The district participated in a pilot project in the model of accreditation called the "transitions" endorsement. Only 53 schools in the nation were among those so honored. This process required tremendous human resources from district staff and the continued support of the community. The Bronson Community Schools continue to provide excellent educational opportunities to area youth.

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