History of Quaker Valley
Present at the Creation: A Look at Quaker Valley's Birth By Its First School Board President
How exciting that the Quaker Valley school district is celebrating its 50 anniversary! Those of us who graduated from there in its early days, its first decade, take great pride.
But three of us are especially proud because our father, Frank Hawkins, was the first president of the Quaker Valley School Board and a key figure in its creation.
Those early days have faded into the mist, and most of the principal actors have left us. Today, we can look at their legacy with immense pride as we see how well Quaker Valley has succeeded, and what its administrations and faculties have accomplished in the past five decades to build it into a nationally-rated school district.
In the early 1990’s, our dad put together an unpublished memoir titled That Was Hot Type that recounted his newspaper days and also included discussion of his civic activities.
Foremost among them was his involvement with the Quaker Valley School District as head of the school board, as well as his service as chairman of the Pennsylvania Council of Higher Education.
In a chapter titled, “Misadventures in Education,” Pop recalled how he got involved in public education and shed some very interesting light on how the Quaker Valley School District was formed.
The birth of Quaker Valley was by no means easy, as Dad revealed in his writing. And, it’s clear that as he looked back, he had a few regrets about how he handled some difficult situations in getting the district up and running.
Dad and his fellow directors, along with Superintendent George Bedison, had the courage to push ahead and overcome stiff resistance in many corners of the 10 municipalities involved.
Dad’s story is remarkably candid, somewhat politically incorrect and often self-critical. But it gives us a real window into the formation of Quaker Valley.
Here is an excerpt:
“As a young reporter in Macon (Ga.) I often covered meetings of the Bibb County Board of Education. The board consisted of 15 or so of the community’s leading citizen, including my publisher … It was an appointed board and its members impressed me favorably as public-spirited citizens who served without pay in the community’s most important endeavor, the education of its children. Even then, it seemed to me that if I ever should enter public life, that would be the field in which I would prefer to serve.
“The opportunity came after I moved to Sewickley and was working for the Post-Gazette. One of my neighbors was Ross Buck, editor of the community weekly paper, the Sewickley Herald. I believe that he was instrumental in persuading the Sewickley School Board and its administrators that I would make a good member.
“Although members of the board were elected, they contrived to keep it, in effect, appointive by arranging for a member who did not plan to stand for re-election to resign prior to the expiration of his term so that the board could appoint his successor. That would give the appointee the advantage of incumbency at the next election. Incumbents were seldom challenged at the polls and so the board functioned much as a self perpetuating agency.
“The board chose me to fill a vacancy and I attended my first meeting on October 11, 1949. I was to remain active in Pennsylvania’s public schooling for more than 20 years.
“Public service by journalists presents possible conflicts of interest. Many of them serve, however, in positions in which they receive no remuneration. In other words, they keep their hands out of the public till. Before I served, I obtained the approval of my publisher.
“In the 15 years I served as a public school director, I never accepted reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses. I did, however, accept reimbursement for my expenses later as a member of the State Board of Education, which entailed much overnight travel to the capital, Harrisburg, and to other Pennsylvania cities.
“The Sewickley school board faced two major problems. For one thing, it had to compete with an elitist private school, the Sewickley Academy, to which most of the wealthy families in the area sent their children. Those families also contributed heavily to the provision and maintenance of good and attractive facilities. Attendance at the Academy was for many people a status symbol and a social cachet. Pupils there were spared the association with the area’s children of low-income ethnic minorities, concentrated largely in the Sewickley public schools.
“The other problem was the political fragmentation of public school districts. In the Sewickley area, embracing only about 16,000 people, there were 10 separate school districts in as many municipalities, most of them so small as to be financially incapable of supporting an adequate school system. Some of the students, especially in the upper grades, were sent to the Sewickley schools on a tuition basis. One of the districts operated a one-room school for six grades, two others operated three-room schools. They sent their high school students to Sewickley.
“The challenge was to consolidate the 10 districts into one financially viable system capable of providing a comprehensive program in adequate facilities. In that way, we could water down the ethnic problem and compete more evenly for the area’s better students.
“It took a lot of doing. Residents of the wealthier districts didn’t want their taxes raised to support children from the poorer districts. There were parochial rivalries; who would get the senior high school with its athletic teams? Action was needed locally and in Harrisburg, where legislation was required. Some states mandated school district reorganization but Pennsylvania had set up machinery for voluntary approaches.
“Under one approach, residents of neighboring school districts could vote to form a union district, surrendering their separate identities. The other approach provided for joint operations, in which district boards could agree – without referenda – to operate their schools jointly under one budget. Each district would retain its identity as a political subdivision of the state.
“I had written for the P-G a series of articles exploring in depth this problem and its possible remedies. The articles emphasized that thousands of Pennsylvania’s public school children were being cheated of educational opportunities because of the failure to consolidate poor school districts into economically viable entities.
“The Sewickley board took the lead in the organization of a jointure with nine neighboring districts and the Quaker Valley Joint Schools was formed in 1956. I became president of the Sewickley board on December 2, 1957, and president of the jointure on December 11, which meant I would preside over a joint board of 52 school directors, since each of the 10 constituent districts had retained its board.
“Each of the two largest districts in the jointure, Sewickley and Leetsdale, had high schools, both old and inadequate. One of the first objectives of the jointure was to expand and modernize the two schools at a cost of $2,750,000. The school in Sewickley would become the junior high school and the senior school would be in Leetsdale. That would require more busing but it afforded the best solution to the high school problem.
“Like all public construction proposals, this one aroused opposition among influential residents of the area, who feared its impact upon their property taxes, the jointure’s principal source of revenue. Thus we faced a challenge to sell the proposal to the constituent school boards, which could approve it without a public referendum.
“Needless to say, the major opposition flourished in the wealthier districts, whose residents would feel the heaviest impact upon their taxes. Many of them sent their children to the private school and saw no need to pay for better facilities for the public school.
“A school board director in one of the wealthier districts organized opposition and the group bought a full-page ad in the Sewickley Herald, using misleading information in an effort to discredit the building program. The ad appeared just before a meeting on December 14, 1959 at which the joint boards would take final action on the proposal. It helped to attract an audience that filled the Sewickley High School auditorium.
“I called first upon the spokesman for the opposition to make its case. Then I responded from a prepared statement refuting the misinformation in the ad. My presentation was intemperate. I had a short fuse and the misleading ad had lit it. In the course of ill-advised remarks, I charged that opponents of the building program wished to treat the public school students as if they were inmates of a county poorhouse. For that, I was deservedly booed.
“Nevertheless, we carried the day. The boards voted overwhelmingly in favor of the program. On May 28, 1961, the renovated and expanded buildings were dedicated and served the area well.
“The issue was unnecessarily divisive. Had I handled it more skillfully and diplomatically, we could have achieved the same result without creating ill will. I should have gone to the most influential people in the community and won them over from the start. It could have been done. But I was never cut out to be a politician; I was too impatient and inflexible. After seven years as president of the jointure and as president of the Sewickley board, which I served for 15 years, I resigned in December, 1964.”
Dad’s involvement with public education did not stop there, however. Gov. David Lawrence had appointed him to an advisory committee to review Pennsylvania’s educational program in 1960. This effort ultimately led to one of the most sweeping education reforms in the nation’s history, with Pop being appointed to the state Council of Higher Education in 1964 by Gov. William Scranton.
A major part of the state educational reform was to consolidate about 2,000 school districts into about 500. Under the mandate, Quaker Valley became a union school district, with a much smaller board to govern its operation.
In 1965, Dad became chairman of the Council of Higher Education and served in that role until 1968, when he resigned in a public dispute with Gov. Raymond Shafer on the state’s decision to make public money available to private schools. The next year, he joined the Board of Trustees of the Allegheny County Community College and served for a few years in that capacity.
Upon his retirement from the Post-Gazette in 1977, his educational involvement took a final turn, when he returned to his beloved University of Georgia, his alma mater an a visiting instructor at the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism. Dad had been one of the first students at that journalism school in the 1930’s, and taught there for five years until he finally retired in June 1982.
For the three of us, Dad’s dedication and service to public education has been an immense source of family pride. But clearly his pivotal role in the creation of the Quaker Valley school district is his true legacy.
The Hawkins family owes much to Quaker Valley. All three of us graduated from there with fine educations that enabled us to attend outstanding universities. Frank and Bill both graduated from Cornell, and John was the first Quaker Valley student admitted to Princeton.
But the QV connection runs even deeper. Bill married Diane Taylor, class of 1960, and John married Dottie Szura, class of 1967, and daughter of Leon Szura, the school’s legendary music director and composer of the Quaker Valley alma mater.
We congratulate the district on its wonderful success, and look forward to its continued growth into a stellar example of public education at its finest. Now 50 years later, we still look back on our QV days as among the highlights of our lives. We cherish the friendships we made, and the memories we created with our classmates. Although we have relocated to other parts of America, Quaker Valley remains a centerpiece in our hearts. We truly are a Quaker Valley family!
Frank N. Hawkins, Jr., Class of 1958
William E. N. Hawkins, Class of 1962
John C. Hawkins, Class of 1966