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Local

Remembering Normandy School

NORMANDY — Scott Gerbitz doesn’t need to look through old photos to find memories of his school days at the Normandy School. All he needs to do is drive down Route 92 to see the Greenville Township school, looking much the same as it did during his years there.

Gerbitz said there were usually about two students in each class, or about 15 students in the entire school.

Gerbitz and classmate Clayton Blackert graduated together in 1955.

“I was second in my class,” he said with a laugh.

Gerbitz had the same teacher all eight years, Gladys House.

“When we played baseball, she was the pitcher for both teams,” Gerbitz said.

As the students got older, House kept pitching faster and harder.

“The first-graders didn’t get those fast balls,” Gerbitz said.

There weren’t enough students to field two teams, so they just fielded the infield.

“We probably couldn’t hit it that hard, anyway,” he said.

Gerbitz has many good memories about the school, particularly playing outside on the swing set and slide.

The children would bring their lunches to school with the sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. When the sandwiches were eaten, the older boys would slide down the slide sitting on the sheet of waxed paper.

The wax made the slide nice and fast.

“The little kids were afraid to use it after we had gone down,” he said.

Gerbitz attended the school with his two brothers, one four years older and another four years younger. They, and most of the students lived in town, but Gerbitz said all of the students walked to school.

The Normandy School had indoor bathrooms, and Gerbitz said the older boys took turns going down the basement and bringing up a bucket of water to dump in the cistern every day.

The basement was also furnished with long tables, and the students would eat their lunch down there in the wintertime.

“Summertime, we’d always go outside,” he said.

For classes, Gerbitz said the students had individual desks. The teacher’s desk sat up on a foot-high stage, something many schools didn’t have. Gerbitz said the other schools in the area would come to Normandy for programs because of that stage.

Gerbitz said there was a Victrola record player in the classroom, and House taught the students square dancing.

One time a man visited the school and taught the students music.

“We wrote a song about the school, about the train going by, and then pretty soon it came back,” he said with another laugh.

On Thursday, Gerbitz returned to the school, which is now used for storage by the Atherton family. He descended the narrow flight of stairs and stood looking around the basement.

“I haven’t been down in quite a while,” he said. “These ceilings used to be a lot higher.”

Jean Atherton said few changes have been made to the building over the years.

“They just painted it last year, which it needed,” she said. “I said, ‘As long as you have it and it’s a good building, you don’t tear it down.’”

Atherton said the family doesn’t need the ground the school stands on for anything else.

“I prefer keeping things if they’re something that’s worth keeping, and I think the school’s worth keeping,” she said.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

A 'Superior' one-room school
According to a history of the Normandy School, which was read during a program held in 1914, the original building was built in 1853.
The current building was erected by Henry Kerchner in 1907 at a cost of about $1,800. The teacher was Edna Clark, who was a graduate of Walnut High School and of Drake University.
According to the history, "She is recognized as one of the ablest teachers in Bureau County." For her ability, she was paid $70 per month for the nine months of the school year.
The Normandy School held a special distinction among Bureau County's almost 200 one-room schools.
In December 1913, the school was made a Standard School.
According to Superintendent of Public Instruction Francis Blair, who wrote "The One Room and Consolidated Country Schools of Illinois" in 1914, in the early 1900s, Illinois State Superintendent of Public Instruction Alfred Bayliss decided he would try to stimulate interest in improving one-room country schools. He would visit the schools,
evaluate the conditions of the buildings and assess the quality of the academic programs being offered. Those schools that met the specifications he set up would then receive a special diploma.
Bayliss' plan for improving rural schools put in motion a movement that would impact thousands of country school students in six Midwest states during the next four decades.
The next superintendent decided he would continue improving the schools. He hired two assistants to develop written guidelines and requirements for the standard school program and an offshoot that came to be called the superior school program. Once that was done, the men conducted school evaluations all across Illinois between 1909 and 1913. They evaluated thousands of schools and awarded diplomas and doorplates
to the top schools. Some 1,681 schools had qualified for standard school designation and only seven were recognized as superior schools.
Until 1914.
According to the history read at that ceremony in Normandy in 1914, that number increased to eight.
"This year we have gone one step farther and through the efforts of our school board, (Messrs. Wm. F. Kruse, F.C. Ganschow and C.W. Wahl), Country Superintendent Smith, and teacher, we have met the requirements and today, March 30, we are to receive the diploma for a Superior One-Room School, the first in Bureau County and the eighth in the state of Illinois."
By 1921, Illinois had 3,771 Standard Schools and 26 Superior Schools.
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