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150 years of Hall County Schools history: From schoolhouse to virtual learning
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Hall County Schools Finance Officer Jonathan Boykin browses through old school records from Hall County Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, with some dating back to before the Civil War. - photo by Scott Rogers

Every now and then, Jonathan Boykin will open a cabinet filled with historical documents and images tied to Hall County Schools. The district’s finance officer describes those moments as using “a magnifying glass and looking into people’s lives” throughout the decades. 

The district turned 150 years old on Feb. 7, and Boykin took the opportunity to share preserved pieces of its heritage with the school board and other community members. 

The oldest document held by the system is a land record from 1829. Other artifacts include board minutes dating back to 1871 and records of the local Poor Schools Fund between 1852-1857.

When Lee Lovett retired as Hall’s deputy superintendent, the “keeper of the district’s history” torch was passed to Boykin. The finance officer doesn’t take this honor lightly.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Boykin said. “It’s both a wonderful thing, but at the same time, there’s a little bit of responsibility because you know you’re entrusted with the memories of a community. You’re dealing with people's legacies.”

Looking back on the district’s history, Boykin said the push for education started with the Georgia Constitution of 1777. He said Georgia was the first state to publicly support education, allocating 1,000 acres of land in each county for “academies of learning” and establishing an academic fund. 

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Hall County Schools Finance Officer Jonathan Boykin browses through old school records from Hall County Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, with some dating back to before the Civil War. Hall County Schools is celebrating the district's 150th anniversary this month. - photo by Scott Rogers

“At the time, you didn’t have public schools like you did today, it was much more tuition based,” Boykin said. “Just like colleges today, some of it they get from the state and some of it they get from parents. Mostly wealthy families could afford to send their kids to school.”

He said it wasn’t until the 1870s when Georgia decided to become more serious about funding education in a consistent manner. 

Several acts were passed by the General Assembly in 1870, which established boards of education in each county. 

On Feb. 7, 1871, the Hall County Board of Education was born, which unified certain schools under one umbrella — the Hall County district. Boykin said the system still has the board minutes from the first meeting. 

“The first and only act was to appoint Brian Moses as the president of the Hall County school board,” he said. “Then, they adjourned.”

Unlike today, the school board back then didn’t have the level of authority it has today. Boykin said a separate board of trustees held the true power. Each schoolhouse or school district had its own board of trustees, which were typically made of a group of parents or community members. 

150 years at a glance

  • 1871: Hall County Board of Education was born, unifying certain schools under one organization
  • 1920s: Oakwood School was the first public school to receive a bus in Georgia
  • 1940: Georgia Constitution of 1940 establishes boards of education in each county as primary school authority
  • 1954-1957: Superintendent Henry Grady Jarrard leads consolidation effort, school clusters form
  • 1960-1970: Hall County Schools undergoes desegregation process
  • 1969: Butler High School closed and Black students were integrated among Gainesville High, East Hall High and South Hall High
  • 1970s: Kindergarten added to school system
  • 1997: Special sales tax for education, ESPLOST, introduced to help to fund school renovation and building projects 
  • 2007: Virtual learning introduced to district

“The trustees decided which teachers to hire, what subjects to teach and what supplies to buy,” he said. 

In his cabinet, Boykin has a document outlining the tax rates for different districts in 1916. At the time, Hall had 16. One of them included “Latty,” which is a combination of today’s Lula and what was once known as Belton.

Boykin said back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the schoolhouses had anywhere from 40 to 60 kids and sometimes less, and the school year took place over a few months, revolving around planting season. 

As a push for child labor laws popped up in the 1890s, that timeframe began to change. 

“Way back when, if you were a farmer, you had a big family to help run the farm,” Boykin said. “In the 1930s child labor laws were in place that said kids need to be in school. Then you had the Constitution of 1940 that really made school a unified effort.”

Before cotton became a dominant portion of Hall’s economy, corn played a large role in the area’s agriculture. 

Boykin said in the late 1800s and early 1900s the district had “corn clubs” in schools where students would bring in different crops and judge them.

“We have a history where the corn club would sponsor an annual essay contest and the winner got $5, which was big money back in 1900,” he said. 

In the early 1920s, the district celebrated another milestone — transportation. Boykin shared that Oakwood Schools was the first school in the state to have a school bus. He keeps a photo on file with students proudly standing around the vehicle near the schoolhouse.

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Photo of Oakwood School taken in the 1920s. The state's first school bus can be seen in the background. - photo by Hall County Schools

Even though many schools in Hall were governed by the board of education, many other cities had their own school districts. In 1940, Boykin said schools had the choice to consolidate under the board of education, and Buford and Gainesville decided to stay within their own districts. This period, led by Superintendent Henry Grady Jarrard, took place from 1954-1957, resulting in consolidation of schools into clusters.

Lovett spent over 50 years working for the district, most recently as deputy superintendent. When he first came to the county in 1969, he said schools were on the cusp of desegregating. 

He noted that the integration happened quickly during that year, as Butler High School, which served African American students, was closed down.

“I thought the integration process in Gainesville went relatively well,” he said. “The biggest factor was the fear factor on the part of parents on all sides.”

Bobbie Rucker Cox of Gainesville said she was a rising senior at Butler High when it shut down in 1969. She said at the time, the school was fairly new, having been established in 1962.

“To be honest we (Butler High students) were very sad, and I felt helpless,” she said. “You didn’t have a choice.”

Cox said her school had around 600 students in total, 60 of which were in her senior class. Butler High was composed of kids from not only Gainesville but other parts of Hall. 

In 1969, she said former Butler High students, who lived within the city limits, were integrated into Gainesville High, those who resided in East Hall went to East Hall High and students in the Flowery Branch and Oakwood area attended South Hall High.
Although the Brown v. Board of Education Education ruling took place in 1954, making racial segregation in schools unconstitutional, Boykin said the transition didn’t happen overnight but over the course of around 10 years. 

“There were many people who fought it and people who went along with it and supported it,” he said. “Just like modern politics, opinions run deep, and they run hard in some cases. It’s a very unfortunate side of our history and something we have to look at and reconcile.”

Lovett said other milestones in the district’s history include adding kindergarten to schools in the 1970s; introducing the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in 1997, which has helped fund school renovation and building projects over the years; and integrating virtual learning into schools. 

Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said the first online credits for classes were awarded during the 2007-2008 school year in conjunction with Georgia Virtual School. Since then, virtual learning has grown, offering a way for students to still finish assignments at home during snow days or temporary closures during the pandemic. 

“We didn’t used to have that luxury,” Lovett said. “They would’ve been dead in the water without virtual learning and technology this year and last year. That’s a major change to be able to have school from home.”

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Photograph taken in the 1950s for school improvements sought. Georgia was promoting school consolidation as a means of improving the delivery of education. - photo by Hall County Schools
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Hall County Schools Finance Officer Jonathan Boykin, who is a history buff, has studied through a collection of old school records from Hall County. Records show school enrollment back into the 1800s. Hall County Schools is celebrating the district's 150th anniversary this month. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Hall County Schools Finance Officer Jonathan Boykin looks and an old photograph Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, where a school in Oakwood shows off the first school bus in the state of Georgia. Hall County Schools is celebrating the district's 150th anniversary this month. - photo by Scott Rogers