Historian Gary Kremer touted the Jefferson City Public Schools "incredible record" Tuesday evening at the JCPS Foundation's Annual Gala held at the Capital Plaza Hotel.
The event was held not only to induct seven new members into the foundation's Hall of Leaders, it also served as an opportunity to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the launch of the public schools in the Capital City.
About 335 people bought tickets for the gala, which serves as a major fundraising event for the public schools.
As emcee at the dinner, Kremer interwove lectures about the most important "turning points" in the district's history with the recognition of people who have excelled in helping the community's students.
"It all began in 1838 with a handful of kids," said Karen Enloe, foundation executive director. "Now there are 9,915 students ... that calls for an evening of celebration."
Kremer said one of the most important turning points occurred Feb. 19, 1838, when the first public school in the city opened with one teacher and probably no more than two dozen students.
At the time about 1,000 people lived here and education wasn't compulsory. Kremer noted that 1843 census figures indicate there were 243 school age children in the city at that time, only 30 of whom attended public school.
He said public education was stigmatized as something for poorer families.
"In many ways the first challenge for the public school system was to persuade citizens that public education was desirable and something they should support," Kremer said.
He noted there is little evidence that public school was in session during the Civil War years, but one outcome of the war was a renewed interest in public education.
He talked about the impact of a new expansive public education state law passed in 1866 that required local citizens to adopt it, although adoption meant implementing an increase in property taxes for local schools.
"In Jefferson City sides were drawn over whether or not city residents should tax themselves to pay for public schools," Kremer explained.
He added one news outlet - The Missouri Times - argued in favor of supporting the law; the People's Tribune countered with an editorial titled "Taxpayers of the City of Jefferson, Look Out!"
Ultimately the tax election failed the first time but passed a year later.
Soon after, the first Board of Education was elected and they set the first school taxes in the city's history: a total of 50 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for operations and buildings.
In his remarks, Kremer also talked about the impact of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown vs. Board of Education, which integrated American schools. And he discussed the impact the Baby Boomer generation had on the school system.
He also talked about the events that led to the construction of the current high school in 1964.
He noted the first attempt at a $2.9 million bond issue failed, but a second try a month later was successful.
"This time the bond issue received the necessary two-thirds vote by 15 votes!" he said.
Wrapping up his remarks, Kremer noted Jefferson City today faces the challenge of educating a new generation of children in a time of economic challenge.
"Fortunately we no longer debate whether or not a high school education is important or whether it should be publicly funded," he said.
At the gala, the foundation also inducted six new members into its Hall of Leaders. They include: Janie Potts, Outstanding Volunteer; Russell and Betty Holt, Foundation Donors; Dennis and Roberta Licklider, Outstanding Retired Educators; Dorothy Williams, Outstanding Retired Educator; and Paul Sugarbaker, Distinguished Alumni.