Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Man and His School

It was my privilege recently to participate in the rededication of Cassidy School. Just renovated, Cassidy School was also celebrating its 75th anniversary.

Last summer, a research assistant and I spent the better part of a week in Superintendent Stu Silberman's office pouring over old Fayette County Board of Education documents extracting information on M A Cassidy, Lexington's progressive school leader at the turn of the last century. The analysis is not yet complete, but enough details have emerged to present an interesting story of the development of the Fayette County schools in general, and one school in particular.

Current Cassidy School principal Rhonda Fister opened the program and made introductions - including one very special introduction.
Superintendent Silberman also greeted the crowd.

Then it was my turn to tell the story of a man and his school.

The Rededication of M A Cassidy School
on the Occasion of its 75th Anniversary

18 November 2010
Photos of the event by Amanda Ferguson

Good evening ladies and Gentlemen. As always, it’s great to be back at Cassidy. Tonight, I hope to share with you a few of the reasons why I feel that way.

First I’d like to thank Kelli Helmers and the best PTA I know, for the invitation to speak tonight, about this school I love, and the inspirational man for whom it was named.

And I’ve got to acknowledge Charleen Hiten – THE most senior staff member in the Fayette County public school system. For 47 years, and counting, Charleen has greeted visitors, put on Band-Aids, organized the school, and kept the books – all in good order. We thank her for her uncommon dedication.
Leadership is key to any successful enterprise and I‘d also like to thank Rhonda Fister for taking such great care of the place; and Stu Silberman for his stewardship of the district. Both the school and the district are in good hands and achieving new heights.
Our greatest superintendents have been men and women of vision. Able to foresee the increasing needs of American industry, they worked tirelessly to meet the rising demand for an educated workforce, and to make Kentucky a better place.

The most visionary educational leader in Kentucky at the turn of the last century was arguably Massillon Alexander Cassidy.

So great was the public affection for Cassidy, that upon his sudden death in 1928, the school children of Lexington and Fayette County collected sufficient funds to erect an impressive monument. An unnamed Italian artist was commissioned to fashion a monument, including a marble bust of Cassidy, which stands in the Lexington Cemetery near that of Henry Clay’s.

Cassidy’s eulogy was delivered by Dr. A W Fortune, pastor of the Central Christian Church who said it was the optimism of M. A. Cassidy that created confidence in the public school system.

“His genial spirit created an atmosphere of good will which has characterized our schools,” Fortune said. “M A Cassidy loved people and enjoyed mingling with them. He had a big heart and was sympathetic in his attitude toward all. He had the confidence of children and…He had the confidence and love of his teachers.

We honor M.A. Cassidy because of the conception of education which he impressed on our children… He believed the supreme function of education is the development of character. He said, “Learning without character is a vain and noxious thing.”

“The worth and strength of the nation depends far less on the form of its institutions than upon the character of its people,” Cassidy wrote. He believed it is the function of the public school to serve the nation through development of character. He believed the time to develop character is in the early years. He was convinced that it is infinitely better to start boys and girls in the right direction than it is to let them drift in the early years and try to redeem them when they are grown. As Cassidy understood, and we understand here at the elementary level, “One former is worth a thousand reformers.”

Like other visionary leaders Cassidy was a man of his time. He understood the changes that were occurring around him and set out to educate the larger community to meet those challenges.

From the start, Lexington attracted a relatively educated set of settlers who were sufficiently interested in the cultural arts that the town came to be called, “Athens of the West.” As early as 1783, John “Wildcat” McKinney opened the first school near the fort at Lexington. As the story goes, Wildcat earned his nickname by chasing a real wildcat out of the school house before class one day. Today, those who attend Thursday Night Live or the Farmer’s Market at the new pavilion next to the old Fayette County Courthouse on Main Street are once again playing in McKinney’s school yard.

Over the next 40 years, a handful of tuition-based schools were opened for white children, the closest by Waldemar Mentelle, at the other end of Henry Clays’ property near Ashland, commemorated today by Mentelle Park. The first “Sunday afternoon” school for free blacks was organized by Lexington merchant Col. Patterson in 1798. The school taught various “trades” like masonry and carpentry at a time when many of the skilled artisans in Lexington were blacks. In 1810, Lexington’s 4,300 residents ranked 35th largest in America.

The first tuition-based city school was established, in 1835, when William Morton bequeathed $12,000 to establish a school. The Morton name has been the oldest - in continual use since that time - and since 1938 has shared a campus here on the city’s “old circus grounds” with Cassidy School.

It was not until 1848, following the crusading efforts of State Superintendent Robert J Breckinridge that a fledgling state-wide system of free schools was established. For the first time free common schools could be built using public funds derived from taxation. Several private schools were also opened around this time but only Sayre, which was formed in 1854, has endured.

Since the time of Socrates - and I believe it is still true today - nothing relates more completely to the success of the educational enterprise than the quality of the teacher. Numerous studies strongly suggest that there is a direct relationship between the knowledge of the teacher and the learning of the student. Lexington was fortunate for its ability to attract “good teachers” which was a major stumbling block for much of the rest of the state. A teacher could only teach what they knew or had books to support.

The instructional method, since antiquity, considered the brain to be like a muscle. If you want to get strong, you lift weights, repeatedly. In school, scholars were led to develop “mental discipline” by memorizing large passages of text through endless repetition, choral reading and recitation. Physical discipline could also be harsh for wayward students, and there was no choice of what to study, as it was thought that all students needed the same curriculum.

But a new progressive way of thinking about schools emerged in the late 19th century spurred by a series of articles published in the Forum Magazine. While “muckraking” journalists like Upton Sinclair, was exposing corporate wrongdoings to the American public, Joseph Mayer Rice was doing the same thing to the public schools. His investigation of 1,200 American teachers revealed, “political hacks hiring unqualified teachers who lead children through mind-numbing drill, rote repetition and meaningless verbiage.” The response from the public was massive and the first education reform movement was launched.

Into the fray stepped Massillon Alexander Cassidy and his high-minded effort to make schools child-centered – and to democratize intellectual capital by making it available to all. Cassidy expanded the function of schooling into such areas as health and occupational competencies. He sought to apply scientific research to improve teaching and began “tailoring instruction” to different types of students variously identified within the school population.

Born August 22, 1856, at Morristown, Tennessee, Superintendent Cassidy was the son of “an educator of some note” from Virginia, Jeremiah Alexander Cassidy, and Martha Matilda Jackson Cassidy. He was educated in private grammar schools, graduated Regan High school inMorristown, and received a Master of Arts degree at the University of Kentucky. Professor Cassidy, as he came to be known in Lexington, had been a teacher and journalist in Tennessee and practiced law in Knoxville.

Cassidy was chosen superintendent of Fayette County schools in 1885. He served both the city and the county schools until 1901, after which he remained superintendent of the Lexington Schools until his death in 1928.

The Cassidy family tells a story from his youth. At the close of the Civil War, when Cassidy was a young teen in Tennessee, he was said to have served the Confederate cause. One day he came home to see his mother. Union soldiers were patrolling in the area and came to her home in an attempt to find him. His mother, Martha, saw them coming and had Massillon climb down into the family's well, with its cedar bucket and windlass, to hide. When the soldiers had finished searching the house and grounds, the Union Captain, despite his obvious power, politely asked Martha for a drink of water.

Massillon's mother said, "On one condition: Provided that I can have the first bucket load." The Captain agreed.

When the soldiers cranked up the first bucket with Massillon aboard, the Captain smiled and said, "Madam, I am a man of my word. You can keep the first bucket load."

Cassidy, it is said, came to believe he was spared from an uncertain fate by kindness and the meaning of a man's word - a lesson about honor he carried throughout his life.

Cassidy’s later writings carry overtones of religion and science as was expected of this new breed of progressive schoolmen. Educational leaders of his time made use of religious imagery to underscore the importance, even reverence, with which they undertook to educate the masses and lift the common folk into a civilization full of possibilities for those of good character who were willing to work hard. Along with the efficient use of scientific management the schools were seen as America’s best vehicle to fulfill its destiny as a nation. Schools became the instruments of democracy; to be run with “authority” by professionals who knew best how to run them - in loco parentis. The schools began to be consolidated and curriculum tracking and electives emerged. The system offered “equality of educational opportunity.”

Judge Charles Kerr's 1922 History of Kentucky cites Cassidy's leadership of the Lexington schools as comparing favorably "with those of any other city in the country." His innovations were frequently replicated "in various other sections of the country which have realized the value of elevated educational standards."

During his tenure, he rallied to get children in school and dramatically increased enrollment, "from a few hundred pupils to about 7,000." Kerr writes, "The City of Lexington has long enjoyed the reputation of having one of the best administered and most up-to-date systems of schools found anywhere in the country ... and was one of the first cities in the United States to reorganize its schools on the 6-3-3- plan" – which relates to 6 elementary grades; 3 in junior high; and sophomore through senior years in high school.

The list of Cassidy’s innovations in the schools was long:
• Cassidy condemned nearly every school in the county as his first act as superintendent
• employed teachers who were college graduates
• instituted the penny lunch
• manual training for boys
• "domestic economy" for girls
• Indoor restrooms,
• "opportunity classes ... for irregular children"
• "open air schools"
• "kindergarten in all white schools and some of the negro schools"
• opened building for community use including laundries in the basements of schools for both children and parents" and a community center with a swimming pool and auditorium
• he introduced the "moving picture apparatus" to instruction
• held the first county graduation ceremonies in Kentucky
• formed the Fayette County teachers' Normal Institute in 1887
• appointed a Catholic school trustee in 1896
• formed the Fayette County Colored Teachers' Institute in 1901 with Prof J H Johnson.
• removed the colored board of trustees for not reporting school census
• was regarded as the father of Kentucky's progressive school laws from 1893 - 1905.
• Called for tax increases to better support the schools on several occasions
• was a member of the Democratic Party, the Masons and the Presbyterian church
• And was described in the Lexington Leader as "familiar to every teacher in Kentucky"

Cassidy won wide recognition in educational and other fields. He was a member of the National Educational Association and served as president of the Kentucky Educational Association and of the Southern Educational Association. Cassidy also was widely known as an author, contributing short stories and other articles to various magazines. He won recognition nationally as the author of the Golden Deeds system of character building, which was used throughout Lexington schools.
Cassidy died of a sudden heart attack at 2:45 o’clock after working at his offices downtown that morning. He was 72 years old.

Despite the Great Depression the east end of Lexington was growing rapidly in the thirties. Chevy Chase was being developed and contained many desirable homes for Lexington’s young families. Hollywood and Ashland Park were already established neighborhoods and there was need for a school in this section of the community. M A Cassidy School was completed in 1935 to meet this demand.

Dr Henry H Hill was the director of the building program for the Lexington Public Schools under Cassidy. When he was appointed superintendent in 1930, he named the district’s next new building in honor of his predecessor. Professor Cassidy had won a place in the hearts of Fayette Countians following forty-three years of dedicated service to educating the young.

Annelle Kelly, Cassidy School’s first principal wrote, “The building is a modern red brick structure consisting of six classrooms, large kindergarten room, library, small museum room, office and lavatories. Initial plans were made so that rooms could be added as the enrollment increases.” Interestingly, the land on which it rests once belonged to the Great Compromiser (Kentucky statesman) Henry Clay. The total cost of the building and land was $103,267.00. President Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration paid for 30 percent of the cost and the building was erected by PWA workers.

During the first year (1935-36) the total enrollment was 108. There were three grades and a kindergarten. It was planned to add one new grade per year. Since there was no cafeteria, auditorium or gym, there was only one daily session which ran from 8:30 to 1:15 in the afternoon with a midmorning lunch. It was not until Morton Junior High School was built in 1938 that Cassidy’s school day was lengthened to two sessions and the students shared use of the Morton’s gym, cafeteria and auditorium.

A few years later a new library and one classroom were added to the building. But by September 1956, a large number of children, who were born during the post World War II baby boom, were ready for school, and a new ten classroom wing was built including a cafeteria and gymnasium.

According to the Cassidy Chronicles, published by Cassidy students in 1989, from the start Cassidy School was considered modern and progressive. “The school used phonics in the teaching of reading, rather than the Look-Say method.” During World War II, in lieu of classes one day a week, students planted victory gardens, and collected paper and metal to assist the war effort. The Halloween Carnival was a favorite for years. School children enjoyed the band, orchestra and fully stocked library. City Council member Bill Farmer recalled for our young researchers how much Cassidy emphasized hands-on activities. At one time, the school sponsored both basketball and football teams.

School principals included Mignon Newbern (46-50), Owen Cammack (50-52), Briscoe Evans (52-56), Jeannette Pates (56-65), Emmet Hardy (65-66) Dorothy Friend (66-89), Richard Day (89-04) and Rhonda Fister (04-present).

In the 1968-69 school year, the school was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and exceeded all of the goals that had been set for its improvement. Cassidy received a comprehensive rating from the State Department of Education. The school boasted many fine programs and strong community support. The Cassidy PTA was similarly recognized as the best PTA in the state, honorable mention at the national level and among the first schools to be recognized by the National PTA for its high level of parental involvement. Cassidy had become a model for other schools to emulate.

To prepare for a renovation in December of 1976, the entire school population was moved, for the entire school year, to that other school named for Cassidy - Picadome. Picadome School derived its name from the first two letters of the names of four men: State Superintendent Pickett; Superintendent Cassidy, and District Trustees Douglas and Meyers.

By the mid 80’s a national wave of school reform had begun again. Following a report called A Nation at Risk, schools began a number of efforts including increased testing of school children. The state developed the Kentucky Essential Skills Test and began recognizing the best schools through the Flags of Excellence program. To receive a Flag of Excellence, 80% of the student body had to exceed the national average on the test while maintaining better than 95% attendance. Cassidy received a flag every year of the program and routinely ranked at the top of district ratings.

Four more classrooms were added in 1988 as major changes were about to take place in schools across Kentucky because of the Kentucky Supreme Court’s declaration that the entire state system of schools was unconstitutional. By 1990 the Kentucky Education Reform Act took effect. A host of new initiatives were implemented including the Primary Program and School Councils. By the mid nineties, the state had implemented a high-stakes accountability system based on test scores reported by subgroups. The operating philosophy in the schools changed from “equality of educational opportunity” to “equity of student achievement outcomes.” Overnight, Cassidy went from being the school with the highest average performance, to being the school with the largest achievement gap. Much of the school’s subsequent effort went toward closing those gaps. In 2006, the school was recognized by the Fayette County Educational Foundation for having closed 80% of the achievement gap.

The current school reform movement echoes the challenge Cassidy faced a century earlier. In his day, a grammar school education was no longer sufficient and high schools were built in every county in Kentucky in response. Today’s educational leaders face a similar, but still higher, goal of increasing the percentage of Kentuckians who have Bachelor’s Degrees or advanced technical training required by today’s industries.

Remarkable recent advances in technology and communications have once again raised the bar, but this time the competition is not just state to state. It is global. I shudder to think of the future of a Cassidy child who goes out into the 21st century world armed only with a high school diploma. What kind of job might they expect to get? I am comforted by the knowledge that Cassidy parents are already planning for the advanced education of their children.

In 2009, the state legislature called for a new testing system, which will be based on national standards, to replace the CATS test. The new system promises to take less time to administer and it will collect student test data from 3rd grade through graduation on each student. It will also include the ACT, and end of course exams in Algebra, Geometry, Biology and U S History. The arts will be assessed through a program review.

In the meantime, several state education groups have continued to report the performance of our schools under a revised version of the CATS system. By that reckoning, things are going better than ever at Cassidy School. In the most recent testing, Cassidy kids finished with a nearly perfect Transition Index of 123. That’s number one in Fayette County, and number two in the state. Way to go, y’all.

At the district level, Superintendent Silberman reported this week that 24 Fayette County schools have reached proficiency. Overall the district has moved 76 percent of its students into proficiency while achievement among most subgroups of student have improved. The superintendent credited the district’s success to the same group of folks who have always come together wherever successful schools exist: hard-working teachers, dedicated administrators and a community that values a great education for its children.

Silberman also credited the nickel tax, approved in 2007, for securing state-of-the-art educational facilities for the future. We find no better example of that than Cassidy’s $11 million makeover.

In the words of architect Susan Hill of Tate Hill Jacobs, "Buildings are not just about the architecture, they’re really about the life of the community that's gone through them. They're about the lessons learned, the stories shared, friendships made – and [this] building embodies all of that. A new building would never do that, even if it was built on the same site."
I feel quite certain that MA Cassidy felt the same. He knew that we public school folks are in the people business.

Soon after his death, Cassidy’s friends began receiving his annual self-designed Christmas greetings in the mail – complete with one of his famous poems. It was entitled,

My Picture Gallery

I’ve strolled in halls where famous art displayed in all its splendor,
stirred deep emotions in my heart- repulsive mixed with tender.

But in my heart there is a hall adorned with finest pictures,
on every side they deck the wall with no revolting mixtures.

A single artist painted them on canvas that’s eternal,
and every one that artist’s gem, whose joy is diuturnal.

The artist is well known as Friend, a true and tender painter,
whose colors last unto the end nor with the years grow fainter.

His colors are affections, smiles, and trueness and devotion,
unmixed with any sordid wiles, or any base emotion.

Within my hall, you I behold, and count you as a treasure,
that paintings all by artists bold can never find a measure.

And in my heart hall there’s a glow that comes from sunny faces;
and nothing sweeter shall I know than all your friendly graces.

By Dr Richard Day
Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations
Eastern Kentucky University
Principal, Cassidy School, 1989-2004


Anonymous said...

Mention was made of Dr. Henry Hill. Later he served on the staff of UK president Herman Lee Donovan inb 1941 before becoming chief of the Pittsburgh school system. He completed his career as president of Peabody Teachers College in Nashville, now a part of Vandy.

Richard Day said...

Thanks for that. : )

Anonymous said...

Was Mr. Cassidy a segregationist? (No need to recite the Day Law for me) Also, when did Cassidy admit its first African American students?

Richard Day said...

Well, I'm not going to knowingly leave out the central parameters or motivations for any account of history. Doing so would surely leave one susceptible to clams of bias.

But the short answer to your question is, I don't know.
Last summer a research assistant and I spent the better part of a week in Stu Silberman's office going through old FCPS Board records. I also have many of the related newspaper articles for the period. But much of that material has yet to be analyzed. That could become a book project.

We know Cassidy was a Tennesseean who supported the Confederate cause in his youth but I am not clear, at all, as to the depth of that involvement. We have a three generation old family story that smacks of Americana. But it does not seem, that as a 14 year old boy, he strayed very far from his parent’s politics. Like Cassidy I suspect, most of us find out who we really are later in life; once we’ve been tested.

There is every reason to suspect that Cassidy was leading in a different direction. He followed the progressive ideas of Harvard President Charles Eliot, but I haven’t put all of that together yet.

OK. Here’s the deal: The best thing that could be said for schooling in the antebellum period in Kentucky, as regarded blacks, was that it was not illegal to teach a slave or free black to read. The first law (amended 1868) contemplating schools for blacks required that only taxes collected from blacks would support schools for blacks, after 50% of the fund had gone to paupers. Superintendent HAM Henderson, who warned against “mixing ignorant Africans” with “whites” was convinced by a $60,000 federal gift to begin a system of schools, which he did in 1874. It was funded at roughly one-third of those for whites.
Cassidy joined FCPS in 1885. There are photos of Cassidy with a number of schools (black and white, I believe) from 1901. In 1904, the Day law forced blacks out of Cassidy’s school system. I do not know what public position he may have taken on the law. He is credited with improving the schools for African American children, but I don’t know enough of the particulars.

I think it is an interesting story.

Heather Kisselburg said...

This is a very informative blog. I really enjoyed reading about Cassidy and all of his hard work that he put toward the Kentucky school systems. Since I am not from Kentucky I do not know very much about it's educational history. This blog was great for helping me learn about some of the background of Kentucky's educational system. I really enjoyed reading it and learning the new information!

Heather Kisselburg said...

I really enjoyed reading over this blog. I am not originally from Kentucky so getting more background information was very helpful and interesting. I am amazed at all the things that Cassidy did for the education systems in Kentucky. Thank you for posting this and making this information public!!

Kelley Georgel said...

I think that it is great to see the passion that you put into speaking about your former school, Dr. Day. It is evident that you have done your research dedicated to the man that founded that school tha in essence set a foundation for your experiences as an educator and administrator. I am from Kentucky and did not know most of the information included in this blog. One thing that stuck out in my mind was that M.A. Cassidy held the first graduation ceremony in Fayette County Public Schools. That is something that I honestly had never thought about. I am from Richmond, of course just south of Lexington, so this hits home well for me being so close in proximity. I have to think that Cassidy not only did great things in the Fayette County School system but in all schools systems in Kentucky and potentially country-wide. With being so close in proximity it would be interesting to see what influences he had in the Richmond area as well, as I'm sure many aspects of his ideas were installed here in Richmond as well.