(Editor's Note: Many historical facts in the following article were taken from The Winkler
County Story, a 60-page edition published by The News July 23, 1951).
Today in 1954, the Kermit school system comprised of land, buildings and equipment worth nearly 4 million dollars and having an annual payroll of over a half million dollars, has been rated as one of the best schools in the Southwest.
But things were not always thus.
A hundred years ago when a group of Texans converged on Austin for a mass meeting which led to the establishment of the Texas Public School System, West Texas and Winkler County was a region almost as vast and trackless as the ocean -- a land where no man, either savage or civilized, permanently abided.
In the words of Captain Randoph March: "It spreads forth into a treeless, solitude, which always has been, and must continue uninhabited forever."
The pioneers, however, disagreed with Captain March. So much so, in fact, that in 1890, Winkler County was accorded a population of 18; in 1900, 60, and 1910, 443.
With so many people in the county, naturally there had to be a school for the children in Kermit, the little village near the center of the county which had been made the county seat and was the only town in the county.
The first school in Winkler County, according to Mrs. Tommy Thompson, was at Hay Flat, a townsite laid out west of the present Jal Highway near the T Bar Ranch. Miss Edith Davis was the teacher.
That was back in the days before the county was organized when ranchers lived in 12 by 12 foot shacks and kept the skillet and cooking utensils outside the door. A man only had to have a well and a house to live on the homestead long enough to claim it as his own.
First School, 1910
Combining memories of two early citizens of Kermit, Seth Campbell and Tom Marion, one learns that the first school house was built in Kermit between 1908 and 1910. Campbell, his brother a Mr. Poole donated their time to help build the one-room school building that was approximately 25 by 40 feet in size and was taught by one teacher.
In 1910, there were about 40 students who finally enrolled in the school.
Marion remembers the first teachers well because he was one of their students. Mr. Morris was the first teacher, he said, and next in order were a Mr. Poole, a Mr. Plummer, a Mr. Smith, Miss Mattie Williams and Miss Neva Burt.
Mrs. Seth Campbell taught the school in 1917.
Coming to Kermit in 1923, Mrs. J. B. Walton succeeded Mrs. Gussie Richberg as teacher of the Kermit school. Mrs. Walton taught two years here and then two years in Monahans, returning in 1928 for two more years in Kermit.
In 1923, Mrs. Walton had only one student, Louise Baird who later became Mrs. Tommy Thompson.
The teacher boarded in the Ern Baird home. By the end of the year 1923, there were seven students in the school and things were picking up a little.
It wasn't long until the total taxes collected in Winkler County reached the astonishing figure of $6,000, J. B. Walton said.
School Board Organized
On Aug. 9, 1926, the Commissioners Court, with J. B. Walton, George D. Hogg and W. W. Birdwell present, resolved itself into a County School Board. They appointed W. A. Priest and W. E. Baird as members and established a second school in the county at the Waddell Brother's Ranch. The Hay Flat School had formerly been consolidated with the Kermit School, leaving only one school in the county.
The old court house served as a temporary school and Miss O'Brien was employed as the teacher. After a few more students started answering roll call in 1927, a rickety-board school house was erected, occupied by Miss Helen Frame as teacher. The location was the ground of the old Junior High School.
Along about this time oil was discovered in Winkler County -- the county that was to boom and bust, boom and bust, until the present prosperity came in with discovery of deep oil.
Independent School District
About 1928, Jake Eisenwine, County Clerk, said, the Independent School District was organized and incorporated. Trustees were Mrs. Kate L. Baird, Miss Fay Halley, a daughter of Judge S. M. Halley, G. C. Dawson, J. B. Walton and J. W. Eisenwine.
Bond Election Cancelled
Judge Halley had ordered a bond election on May 23, 1927, to vote bonds to the amount of $50,000 to construct a brick and tile building in Kermit School District No. 1.
This election carried but the bonds were never sold. They were ordered cancelled in July, 1928, because the school district became divided.
Only 12 votes were cast in the school bond election; but this was before the people coming in with the oil field had time to become legal residents of the county.
While the old Junior High School building, the first permanent school building was being built, the classes of Kermit held forth in a sheetrock building, located near the present site of the Community Public Service building and where the Western Auto Supply is situated.
There was a little stove in each room, but, in the winter of 1928-29, the teachers had to dismiss school frequently on account of the cold. Mrs. Walton, then teaching, describes that cold winter as being one of the most trying periods in her teaching experience.
Boys Rode Burros
George Mitchell remembers that the area occupied by Kermit was mostly mesquite brush wilderness with zig-zag trails leading toward the railroad station and in other directions. The boys of Kermit owned burros which they rode up and down the trails and to school, much as boys of today ride bicycles.
The Mitchells lived where they do now and George could look out the window of his classroom and see his own backyard where the boys kept their donkeys penned.
An election was ordered for April 29, 1928, to determine whether Wink should be in an independent school district since there were over 600 inhabitants in the district at that time. Twenty-three votes were cast in favor of the move and the Wink Independent District was thus created. Later that year, Wink was incorporated as a city. Kermit Independent School District was created on June 6, 1928.
Toss of Coin
B. F. Meek won the Kermit superintendency as the outcome of a flip of a coin, and, for 17 years thereafter, he guided the destiny of Kermit Schools.
"My wife and I came here in 1929 seeking employment with he schools, she as an English teacher and I as superintendent," Meek said.
"Our first stop was the Texhoma Hotel, where the School Board was meeting. After making a speech, we left. The speech must have impressed them, because the board was equally divided, three wanting a Sul Ross applicant and three voting for me.
"Well, Mrs. Baird, Mrs. Tommy Thompson's mother, wanted us." and suggested to Dan English that in order to break the deadlock, a coin should be tossed to determine whether she would vote with him or he with her.
"She won and we won the job."
98 Pupils in 1929
In the fall, Mr. and Mrs. Meek returned to start work. The Junior High building was under construction. In the meantime, school was taught in some shacks across from Mitchell's Feed Store. There were 98 pupils in that year and two years of high school were offered, the 8th and 9th grades.
After the Junior High building was built, Kermitians girded their loins and began thinking about building a bigger school.
Built in 1936 by contractor Will O'Connell with David S. Castle Company as architects, the second permanent school building was greeted with the prediction and lamentations. Ken Burrow's said.
Die-hard pessimists wearing sackcloth and ashes gathered around to point out dismal doom to the wildeyed visionaries responsible for over expansion.
Bats in the Rafters
They announced with knowing nods, Burrows said, that bats would be roosting in its rafters within two years. Some of the more conservative were not so rabid in their prognostications, saying that, anyhow, the new building would serve as an excellent hay barn.
But Kermit kept growing in spite of all the booms and busts, and the school served as the center of Kermit learning for 15 years before it stepped aside to take its place as Junior High when the new 2 million dollar modern High School was opened.
During those 15 years, there has always been some building program going on in the schools, Steve Neely said.
"In ten years," Neely said, "we have built the West Primary, the present High School cafeteria, the swimming pool, elementary building and auditorium, the stadium, East Primary and cafeteria, and both bus garages, all finished within the 10-year period."
"The stadium," he pointed out "was a little wooden stand on the west side seating 400 people. We built two stands with a seating capacity of about 5, 600."
Negro School Good
The man who organized the churches and school for the Negro population of Kermit, 16 years ago, was Miles Jenkins who now lives in Monahans, Mrs. B. B. Kilgore, Dunbar teacher, said. The Dunbar School was completed in October, 1950. It is of the same type construction as the other campus buildings and is designed to meet the needs of its students.
Kermit Schools are big business now with five plants, and 128 employees and nearly 2,000 students. Included in the system are the new High School, Junior High School, Intermediate School, East Primary and Dunbar School, each of which has its own principal and its own corps of teachers, buildings, equipment and facilities.
"Not being satisfied with the present but keeping up with the times and co-operation of citizens of Kermit with the schools helps to make the Kermit schools the best in the Southwest." Tommy Thompson, superintendent of schools, said. Thompson was first employed with Kermit schools in September 1934, and grew with the schools being made superintendent in the spring of 1948.