Tri County Area Schools: Over 50 Years in the Making
by Kay Ransom
In 1963, the first class graduated from the newly formed Tri County Area Schools. A detailed journey back to the beginning give a fresh prospective of how far the district has come.
Over fifty years ago, former rivals found themselves sharing lockers, classrooms, and eventually walking down the aisle together on graduation day. It all began with the consolidation efforts in the 1950's and 60's with the phasing-out of one-room schools. By merging them with larger schools, Federal and State Education Departments found it easier to track enrollments. The government also wanted to ensure all students were getting a quality education, therefore, educational standards were raised.
Even though Sand Lake High School - then serving kindergarten through 12th grade - wasn't a one-room school, in 1961 they had to comply to state standards. "The state mandated that we meet certain requirements," said Earl Clegg, who served as Sand Lake School Principal from 1957 to 1962.
Some of the changes included updating equipment and improving courses. "We needed to update the chemistry lab and teach a foreign language," Clegg sited as examples. A lot of schools couldn't meet the requirements because of cost, added Clegg. Some community members wanted to have their children attend Cedar Springs Schools because Cedar Springs had a good school system and industry was booming south. "There was community friction over what to do," said Clegg.
Sand Lake found themselves having to make a choice. "We could merge with Howard City or become part of Cedar Springs Schools," said Charles Northup, a Sand Lake school board member at the time. "We knew if we went to Cedar Springs, it would still be called Cedar Springs Schools. Howard City was almost in the same predicatment as us," said Northup. "We figured we would have a good school system coming together."
On February 13, 1961, Minnie Farmer, publisher and editor of The Howard City Record, reported 300 community members met in Sand Lake. They planned to discuss possible consolidation of the schools including the one-room schools in the area. The article states, "Community members formed several committees to study the advantages and possible disadvantages of merging.
James Harris served on the Facilities Committee. "My wife and I worked with five other people and we went to neighboring schools to check out their technology." Harris is a 1932 graduate from Howard City High School and father of four children who attended Howard City High School. Six weeks after the February meeting, Minnie reported the benefits of a merge from the information delivered by the committees. First and foremeost, the goal was to give students a better education. Some classes were only taught every other year due to the small number of students. The merge would make it possible to teach these subjects every year. A broader field of subjects would also be made possible. The committee also hoped that the solution would help to maintain the districts' local idenity and control.
On April 3, 1962, 415 people showed up to cast a vote on the School Reorganzation Plan. It passed with 366 residents in favor of the merge. On the day of the vote, the Sand Lake and Howard City school boards were dissolved. The members form both boards met within five days to appoint a seven-member interim board for the newly formed district. In the June Regular Election, voters chose the new school board. However, it was the interim board that named the new school "Tri County Area Schools of Montcalm, Kent, and Newaygo Counties".
Students in both Howard City and Sand Lake schools finished the remaining few months of the 1962 school year at their present buildings. Meanwhile, the baseball teams from Howard City and Sand Lake went head to head. The May 3, 1962 headlines of The Howard City Record read, "Late Rally Gives Bulldogs a Narrow Win Over Sand Lake." The article stated, "This is a first loss for Sand Lake and the Bulldogs (Howard City) are still undefeated."
In the fall of 1962, the student body from Howard City Schools and Sand Lake Schools merged together. The 7th and 8th graders from Howard City High School. The Sand Lake students in grades 9th through 12th attended Howard City High School. The elementaries remained the same. The newly formed school had to decide on a school mascot and school colors. The mascot was voted upon and the decision was made to take one color from each school, arriving with the school colors black and gold.
When the once-rival teams joined forces the sports program soared. In February of 1963, both the varisty and junior varsity basketball teams won their league championships. The Howard City Record proclaimed, "The Tri County Area Schools in their first as a newly orgaized high school captured their first championship." The Tri County baseball team did an oustanding job as well. During their first year together they won league, then won regionals. Not only was the sports program enriched by the merger, friendships were as well. Chris Johnson, an 8th grader at the time of the merge, said his good friends today are individuals he had met through the newly organized school. Tom Clegg, a Sand Lake senior at the time revealed, "They (Howard City) accepted us well. They were a great group of people."
Much progress has been made over the years in Tri County Area Schools. While the school district is unique in that it serves students from three different counties, this has also proven to be a disadvantage. Communication and continuity have been a struggle. Dispite this disadvantage, the school has grown significantly and improvements in all areas are continuing.
History reveals Tri County's heritage of two separate districts pulling together to become one successful organization. May we continue to improve on this in the years ahead.