Harmony school administrator Carolyn Duke presented a program on the history and current status of the Harmony Independent School District to her fellow members of the Gilmer Rotary Club Tuesday.
“A lot of people don’t know” that Harmony ISD, which lies partly in Wood County, is Upshur County’s second-largest school district in enrollment, said Duke. The school, which has its campus in western Upshur County, had 1,073 students at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, fewer only than Gilmer ISD, she said.
The number of pupils is increasing as the district receives transfer students from Gilmer, Hawkins and Quitman, said Duke. (However, she said some students transfer to Gilmer ISD upon reaching high school because it has more athletics and extracurricular activities).
Narrating a Power Point presentation, Duke told how the rural school district in Upshur and Wood counties was formed as the result of a 1938 election which resulted in consolidating four schools (Union, Honey Creek, Rosewood and Rhonesboro.)
The late James Gee, a former Harmony school board member, suggested the name “Harmony” after only four of the election’s 164 voters opposed the consolidation, Duke noted.
The speaker, who is the school’s director of testing, curriculum and special programs, noted Harmony has grown from an original graduating class of only 12 pupils in 1940 to a graduating class of 87 seniors in 2014. The largest class had 96, so Harmony has “come a long way from 12 kids” in the 1940 class, which went to school in an older building at Rhonesboro and graduated there, she said.
The school also had 12 original staff members, but today has 162 (excluding cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and maintenance personnel, which would raise the total to 200), said Duke.
Although it has built several new structures over the decades, Harmony still utiizes its original “rock building,” built as a Depression-era public works project. The native rock veneer structure has been renovated, but originally featured 12 rooms with a gymnasium and auditorium, and was built on land donated by the S.P. Williams Estate, Duke noted.
An open house in the 1940s drew 1,500 persons, she said. And eventually, other schools consolidated with Harmony so that it attained its current formal name of Harmony Independent School District in 1951, said Duke.
The racial makeup of the district is about 81 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent black.
She said probably 52 or 53 percent of the student body is considered “economically disadvantaged” enough to receive free or reduced price school lunches, and “that (fact) kinda surprises people.”
In addition, Harmony ISD’s average teacher pay of $42,638 is only slightly below Gilmer’s, she added.
Terming her school “a great place to work,” Duke said its small size lets it have “the sense of family” among its workers and students. A Gilmer High School graduate who had several relatives who had attended Harmony ISD, she originally joined Harmony as a junior high counselor in 1997 and is about to begin her 18th year with the district.
Continuity is one characteristic of her school, as evidenced by two facts Duke cited. It has only had five permanent superintendents (and two interim ones) in its more than 75-year history, and “we don’t have a high turnover rate,” she said.
When faculty members leave, it is usually because they retire rather than go elsewhere, Duke noted. Current Harmony ISD superintendent Jed Whitaker has been with the district more than 20 years in various capacities, originally as football coach, she pointed out.
She also credited a former Harmony faculty member, Charles Johnson, for much of the research of the school district’s history.