Littleton Public Schools:
A rich history and a solid foundation
How it all began...
To those of us for whom light happens at the flip of a switch and water runs clear and clean from a tap in the kitchen; to those of us who bundle our children onto the school bus to buildings comfortably heated where hot lunches are prepared in gleaming, modern kitchens, it's difficult to imagine what life was like when Littleton Public Schools was an infant.
It was the year 1889. Benjamin Harrison was inaugurated as the country's 23rd President. Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin were born. Robert Browning died. And Littleton Public Schools incorporated--a mere 13 years after Colorado became the thirty-eighth state of the union, and one year before the town of Littleton would incorporate.
The drive West was in full swing. North and South Dakota, Montana, and Washington became states. In two more years, Robert Womack would strike it rich at Cripple Creek. The country was on a roll.
1860s ::: A District Is Born
But it wasn't easy birthing a school district. Classes were taught in one room by two teachers. That first year, enrollment numbered 135 "scholars," only 70 of whom could be counted on to attend regularly.
Transportation to and from school was a problem. Textbooks, materials, and supplies were limited, and minimal creature comforts would have kept many a modern student home in bed.
In the year 1860, R.S. Little staked a claim to 160 acres on the Platte River, an area with no other settlers between him and the mountains. Soon other settlers would follow, drawn by promises of gold or newspaper accounts of good farming.
In the fall of 1864, residents of the South Platte Valley met at Little's cabin and voted in favor of establishing a public school district, the boundaries of which would extend from Sheridan Boulevard thirty miles east to the Kansas territorial line. The group elected Lewis B. Ames as president. The following winter, construction of the first school, a bare bones log cabin, was completed, for which Mr. John Bell was paid the sum of $65.
photo: First schoolhouse of Littleton School District, built during the winter of 1865-66 north of Union Avenue and east of the Platte River. (Littleton Historical Museum photo)
1870s - 1880s ::: Teaching Was Different
President Ames was paid $40 a month to teach the first class of fifteen students. Mr. Ames did not have a blackboard. Instead, he used a black cotton cloth, and the children wrote their lessons on slates.
In 1868, the first frame school building was erected on the Lilley Ranch west of the Platte River, and in 1873 the Rapp Avenue School was built, a one-room, brick structure with one teacher and 70 students. The older children were expected to help the younger children with their lessons.
In 1889, Littleton School District Six was incorporated. The staff roster was short: J.A. Fowler was principal at a monthly salary of $95; Miss A. James received $60 a month as assistant in the intermediate department; and Miss B. Topins was in charge of the primary department with a monthly salary of $45.
photo: Class of 1890 at the Rapp Street School: Harry Curtis, Bertha Allen, Nellie Chatfield, Joseph Bixby, Lelia Helms, Luther Bemis, Gertrude Eagleton, and Arthur Montgomery. (Littleton Historical Museum photo)
1890s - 1910s ::: Littleton Thrives
According to Mr. Houstoun Waring, editor emeritus of the Littleton Sentinel Independent, male pupils of the 1890s carried pocket knives to be used for whittling or to sharpen a pretty girl's pencil and a game of mumblety-peg. Boys brought tops and marbles for recess, and kites were made from newspaper.
Construction of Littleton School near the junction of South Broadway and Littleton Boulevard was completed in 1894. The Littleton telephone exchange opened in July of 1902, and in 1903, the town's first electric power lines were installed.
By the late 1800s, Littleton was a thriving community of over a thousand citizens, and the Littleton School District began bursting at the seams. The Broadway primary school was built east of town in 1904, and drinking fountains were first installed at the Rapp Street School in 1910.
Still basking in the glow of an Allied victory in World War I, construction of Littleton High School on South Grant Street was completed in 1920 at a cost of $100,000. It accommodated 225 students. According to census records, the year 1920 was also the first year that urban dwellers outnumbered rural dwellers in the U.S.
1920s - 1930s ::: Radio Changes Society
The Golden Age of Radio began in 1925. After homework and chores were completed, Littleton students and their parents clustered around the receiver to listen to their favorite programs.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh made the first successful solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, the same year that Littleton Public Schools was forced to shut its doors for a week following an epidemic of scarlet fever.
Two years later, the stock market crashed. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years followed. Every community in the country was affected. In 1932, the City of Denver shut off the Highline Canal water to farmers, making an already intolerable situation worse.
In the words of Mrs. Dorothy Kimsey, a graduate of Littleton High School's class of 1939, "We all grew up during that time. We knew what it was to be hungry, so when donations of canned food were requested for the farming families in Lamar who were suffering tremendously, we practically filled a boxcar."
Mrs. Kimsey remembers the excitement among students when New Deal presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt passed through town on the train during the campaign of 1932. "The schools were dismissed for the day so that all of us could go down to the tracks to wave to Mr. Roosevelt as he passed."
photo: A sixth grade class at the Rapp Street School, around 1910. (Littleton Historical Museum photo)
1940s ::: War Ends
Another Allied victory prompted the citizens of Littleton to reinstate their annual Homecoming festivities, which had been curtailed in 1941, not to be held again until "the boys came home."
Youngsters conceived and born in the elation of victory, once again resulted in a building program for Littleton Public Schools. In 1949, North Elementary opened. Four years later, South Elementary School opened its doors.
Television during those years had become a part of many American homes, and students and their families watched as the Cold War unfolded. Many Littleton families sent husbands, sons, and fathers to fight in the Korean War. That same year, teachers' salaries were raised to a minimum of $2,400.
1950s ::: More Schools Built
The old log schoolhouse built in 1865 still stood on the west side of the river, north of Union Avenue. In the 1930s, it had been used by a truck gardener for storage. In 1951, the Rotary Club moved the old school to Bega Park. It was moved to its current home on the grounds of the Littleton Historical Museum in 1971, donated by Ray and Helen Koernig in memory of their daughter Kate. Present-day students visiting the log school are treated to lessons from McGuffey's Eclectic Reader, taught by teachers in period dress.
East Elementary School opened in 1955, and a year later Littleton High School followed suit. The low bid for construction of the new high school came in at $855,389 "without all the nice little extras."
The Superintendent of Schools described the indecision on the part of parents and the school board regarding his choice for a site for the new high school:
Up until that time, schools had been built within walking distances of all students. The site I'd chosen for the new high school was way out in the country, and parents worried about their children walking a long distance. So I loaded all the school board members into my car and we drove over dirt roads to the proposed site. I asked them to imagine a football field and bleachers and students cheering, right there, I said, pointing. They were sold on the spot.
Still more elementary school space was required, and in 1958 Centennial and Highland elementary schools opened. Euclid Junior High opened in 1959. In 1961, students thrilled to the news that Alan Shepard, Jr. became the first American in space. Boys' and girls' heads reeled with the thought of future careers in space technology.
That same year, Peabody and Whitman elementary schools opened, and in 1962 Newton Junior High did the same. The openings of Field and Hopkins elementary schools soon followed.
While hundreds of thousands marched on Washington in 1963, Franklin and Ames elementary schools opened. U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas that year. Littleton's high school students were dismissed, and flags throughout the school district flew at half mast. In 1964, Arapahoe High School became the second high school to open to help accommodate the still-growing student population in Littleton.
1970s ::: Man Walks on the Moon
Goddard Junior High opened in 1968, and in 1969 students at the new Runyon Elementary School joined the nation in watching a televised view of Neil Armstrong becoming the first person to walk on the moon.
By 1971, 16,650 students were enrolled at 19 LPS schools. A large-scale building program was called for. The district print shop opened for business in 1971. The need for a third high school resulted in the construction of Heritage High School in 1972, and Twain Elementary also opened that year.
The VIPS (Volunteers in Public Schools) program got underway in 1972, and Wilder Elementary opened in 1974. In the U.S. Bicentennial year of 1976, the Transportation Center was completed, and Littleton Public Schools moved toward the '80s with the computerization of report cards.
A Gifted and Talented Program began in the elementary schools in 1978, the same year that President Jimmy Carter arranged peace talks between Israel and Egypt. In 1979, Lenski Elementary School opened, and the U.S. and China restored normal diplomatic relations.
1980s ::: Computers Invade Classrooms
Grant school closed and Powell Junior High opened in 1981. In 1982, computers were introduced into classrooms, and in 1985 the district CARE program for prevention of drug and alcohol abuse began. That same year, students, their families, and teachers mourned the loss of teacher Christa McAuliffe and the crew of the Challenger Space Shuttle. Grade reorganization was approved in 1986, giving birth to the middle school program. Due to declining enrollment in the mid to late '80s, North Elementary closed. East Elementary's extended day program began, and South Elementary was renamed Ralph Moody Elementary School. In 1988, the high school alternative, or Student Options, program was initiated.
1990s ::: LPS Continues Through Change
Middle Level Transition Program, which later evolved into Pathways, was approved to catch the students who might "fall through the cracks" before they became eligible for the Options Program.
1995 brought approval of an Early Childhood program called The Village for children 2 1/2 to 5 years of age. $2.5 million were cut from school programs, and a $44.3 million bond election passed with 63 percent majority.
In 1996 Littleton Academy became the first Charter School in Littleton, an International Baccalaureate (IB) Program was started at Littleton High School. Littleton Preparatory Charter School was approcated and instructional use of the Internet began.
1997 brought a $5 million budget override election that passed with 54 percent of the vote and Phase II of the 1995 bond program was in full swing. School was delayed and opened on September 8th to allow more time for completion of bond projects.
1998: A soft drink vending license agreement was formulated with Coca-Cola.
2000s ::: Educating Children for the 21st Century
From 2000-2006, a number of changes occurred that strengthened the district and the community as a whole. A bond issue for $85.4 million was passed in 2002, which helped the district keep appropriate learning environments throughout the district and provided for security and technology infrastructure upgrades at all facilities. The LPS community once again stepped forward in support of its schools in 2004 with the passage of a $6.5 million mill levy, which ensured the financial stability of the district for the next several years. A new math curriculum was put into place, and a focus on 21st century learning was at the center of decision-making.
Due to a history of declining enrollment and the district's financial challenges, Ames Elementary and Whitman Elementary were closed as elementary schools at the end of the 2008-2009 school year. Transportation boundaries were redrawn, and most students chose to attend Franklin, Peabody, Highland, Moody, Runyon, and Twain. Ames and Whitman were repurposed to serve both LPS and the communities in which they reside.