“To insure good schools” was one of the goals of the leaders of the movement to separate Glen Ridge from Bloomfield, and in the ensuring 81 years, the citizens of the Borough have worked fervently toward the success of that goal.
In 1895, many of those living “along the Ridge” felt that the schools should be built nearer to their homes, but residents in other parts of Bloomfield were reluctant to vote the necessary tax monies. According to former Borough Clerk, James A. Brown in a speech made in 1939, “One of the reasons that led to our separation from Bloomfield was the lack of a school in this section; our children attended either the school on Liberty Street east of Broad Street, or the school at Broad Street and Belleville Avenue.”
Preceding the secession, the children of more affluent “Ridgers” attended Miss Northall’s Private School, sometimes called the Glen Ridge Private School. In 1892, classes were held in “Ridgewood,” the old Gallagher homestead behind the site of the present Congregational Church. Within the next year or so, Miss Northall’s School moved to Glen Ridge Hall, now the Glen Ridge branch of the Midlantic Bank.
In 1895 when Glen Ridge became a separate governmental entity, its children were no longer allowed to attend the Bloomfield schools. At the request of the Mayor and Council, the County Superintendent of Public Schools for Essex County appointed the first Board of Education.
On July 19, 1895, the first annual meeting of the Glen Ridge School District was held in the Depot to consider the school budget of $7,000. The polls were open only one hour, and all 52 votes cast were in favor of that budget.
After the budget was approved, the Board hired the five teachers necessary for the 74 primary and 68 grammar pupils. All five of those teachers were females. The one with the most experience, 12 years, was paid an annual salary of $650, the others $550 and $500.
Since there was no school building, the Board of Education leased two private homes. The kindergarten was initially placed in a house on the northwest corner of Snowden Place and Hillside Avenue, but soon moved to a room leased in the Glen Ridge Men’s Club on the site of the present Post Office.
The other private home which the Board rented was the Robert Peele house, the double house which still stands at 128-130 Linden Avenue. This building, called the Linden Avenue School, quartered the primary and intermediate departments for five years, augmented by the large assembly room and several other rooms on the upper floor of the Glen Ridge Hall.
At the same time, the Glen Ridge Board of Education also arranged with the Montclair Board of Education to have the latter accept both grammar and high school students from Glen Ridge, with tuition of $35 a year for grammar school students and $55 a year for high school students to be paid by the Glen Ridge Board. Thirty-eight students attended the Montclair School the first year, all but four of whom were in the High School. For the first five years of operation of the Glen Ridge school system, the average cost per pupil amounted to $44.
In September of 1895, Board called a vote on a $40,000 bond issue to purchase the property at the corner of Ridgewood and Bloomfield Avenues from the estate of Thomas Dodd and to build a school building on the prime lot in town. The citizens were polled and the issue approved, but a controversy arose from the vote, causing the resignation and reinstatement of the Board president. At the time, the new Borough had just borrowed $97,000 for its roads and sewers, and one faction in the community did not wish to have the very fewer taxpayers overburdened. There was a movement to seek a less expensive property and build a cheaper school.
Four years later, $80,000 was voted to purchase the Dodd estate and to build and equip a school building on the land. The architectural firm of Boring and Tilton in New York was engaged, and they designed the building that was to set the tone for the rest of the municipal complex.
The Glen Ridge School, an H-shaped building of 14 rooms, was opened on October 2, 1900. It housed all the grades, kindergarten through high school. Four years later, one girl comprised the first graduating class.
Several years after it was built, the school had improvements made on the heating and ventilating plant with a $3,500 bond issue voted by the Borough citizens. In his annual report the next year the principal reported that he was very pleased with the new plant’s efficiency but added, “I may say that some of the windows are very loose and admit much cold air. They should receive attention before another winter.”
At that time, the school population was growing at the rate of about 30 pupils a year, and by 1907, it was apparent that more school rooms were needed. A major controversy arose, not on the question of the need for more space or whether the taxpayers could afford it, but where the new classrooms should be located. An addition to the school at Bloomfield and Ridgewood Avenues was a possibility, but a group of residents at the south end of the Borough argued that there were enough children of school age in that part of town to warrant a separate school. Those who lived in the north end of the Borough, between Bloomfield and Bay Avenues, had a similar argument.
The issue went to the voters several times and although the plan proposed by the Board was passed, many citizens were still unhappy. Law suits were threatened and the matter went to Trenton, where settlement was in favor of the Board. The Board of Education, however, resubmitted the matter to the electorate to try to gain more of a consensus and to make an effort to establish an orderly plan of development.
During the following year, the ultimate configuration of the Glen Ridge school system had its beginning. The sum of $30,000 was voted to extend the Bloomfield Avenue side of the school, the first of four additions to that building. Monies were also voted to purchase a school site on the corner of Linden and Hawthorne Avenues, as well as another one on Sherman Avenue, near Bay.
The South-End School, later called the Linden Avenue School, opened in September, 1911 and the Sherman Avenue School in mid-term, February, 1913. By 1915, the north extension of what was by the called the Central School (now the Middle School) was built, enclosing the courtyard and providing a gymnasium with running track, lecture rooms, recitation rooms and a girls’ study hall seating 140 pupils.
Before the Board had finished the original Middle School building, it bought the property behind it as a playground. In 1907, it bought the property on the north side of Bloomfield Avenue between High Street and Hillside Avenue as a play field for the soon-to-be enlarged building. In 1923, when the Board realized it would soon have to build yet another school, the Borough Council purchased the site of the Edison Storage Battery Factory west of Herman Street, between Bloomfield and Bellville Avenues. The factory was razed and the Council turned the site into a play field which was very advanced for its time, with space for several sports, a one-quarter mile cinder track and facilities for spectators.
In 1925, the citizens approved a bond issue in the amount of $190,000 for a fourth school. Erected on the playground behind the Middle School, the new Central School was the Borough’s third elementary school. The original building at Ridgewood and Bloomfield Avenues became the home of both the Junior and Senior High Schools and was renamed the Glen Ridge High School.
During the boom times of the 1920’s, many new homes were built in Glen Ridge, primarily north of Bay Avenue and south of Linden Avenue. Therefore, in 1928, a large wing was built at Linden, adding the gym, kindergarten, three classrooms, and the assembly room. The following year a new school was erected on Forest Avenue to serve the northward shifting population and giving the Borough its fourth elementary school.
As early as 1931 and throughout that decade, there recurs in the Board and superintendent’s reports a note of warning about the disastrous physical condition of the “out-moded and inadequate” High School, as well as the social and disciplinary evils of having the Junior and Senior High School students in the same building. In 1932, the Board had purchased a lot on the corner of Belleville and Sherman Avenues as a possible site for a new High School. In 1936, two solutions were proposed, to build a new school on the site or to remodel the existing High School.
No agreement could be reached, so at the February, 1941, election, the citizens voted to have an outside survey assess the educational needs of the community. As a result of the Yale survey, the Board proposed a new L-shaped building, similar in character to the old one, two stories high in front, three in the rear, on the High School site but adding two more properties along Ridgewood Avenue. The citizens voted 875 to 255 in favor of the $920,000 bond issue in May, 1945.
By the time the materials were available after the War, escalating costs made the plan impossible. In 1949, the Board was in a quandary about how it could legally use the monies which had been specified for a new school building in any other way. The following May, the citizens voted to use that money to build an addition and renovate the old building. In October, 1952, the new wing of the High School, consisting of the auditorium, cafeteria, science and music rooms, was ready for use. The building’s last addition, the girls’ gym, was approved by the electorate in 1961 and finished the following year.
Meanwhile the Sherman Avenue School, which had been closed during the War in 1943, became veterans’ emergency housing in 1947, and then was sold to the Borough in 1957. It was ultimately razed and replaced by a medical office building. An influx of post-war babies in the late 50’s forced the Board to add six classrooms in 1959, four at Forest and two at Linden.
On the night of August 1, 1967, an all-night fire gutted the Central School building. Three local churches, the Congregational, Christ Church, and Sacred Heart in Bloomfield responded to the emergency and for a year housed the Central School pupils.
This disaster brought long-range change to all three primary schools. Instead of rebuilding Central School in the standard “egg crate” school pattern, the non-bearing walls were not replaced and when the school opened the following September, its open-space classrooms became the prototype for later renovation at both the Linden and Forest schools.
The school expansion program in the mid-60’s brought division of opinion in the Borough, but after defeating one referendum, the citizens voted a $2,790,000 bond for the new Glen Ridge High School in late 1966. Condemnation fights, construction delays, and increasing costs plagued the Board of Education during the next two years, but after three months of double sessions that fall, the High School students moved into the new building in November, 1968. The original Glen Ridge School, now housing grades five through eight, was renamed the Glen Ridge Middle School.
If those men on the first Board of Education could return in 1976, they would find a school system of 2056 students, served by 134 teachers, at an annual cost per pupil of around $1,900, in a physical plant worth almost $10,800,000, with equipment valued at $1,700,000.
As it did in 1895, the Glen Ridge Board of Education consists of nine members who serve three-year terms. From the beginning, women were permitted to vote in school elections. It was not until 1911, however, that women began to sit as members of the Board of Education. On March 21, 1911, Mrs. Mary L. Hinrichs became the first of her sex to be selected to serve on one of Glen Ridge’s governing bodies.
The Home and School Association came into being February, 1915.
Through the years, Glen Ridge has also had several private schools. In 1928, the Borden sisters founded the Sherwood School in the house at 71 Ridgewood Avenue. Later the school moved to the 30-room Darwin house across Ridgewood Avenue from the Women’s Club. Originally a boarding as well as day school for girls, in its later years Sherwood specialized in individualized education for both sexes from nursery school through high school. When the Board of Education condemned its five-acre property to build the High School in 1967, the Sherwood School joined forces with the Carteret School and moved to West Orange.
Still in existence in Glen Ridge are two nursery schools sponsored by local churches. The Pilgrim Nursery School at the Congregational Church is in its 19th year and the Christ Church Nursery School in its ninth.
The philosophy of education in Glen Ridge in 1976 might well be summarized by the words of a Borough Councilman and former Board member, spoken on the occasion of the dedication of the north extension of the Glen Ridge School on November 12, 1915: “The idea of our founders seems to have been this: That the right place to train the boys and girls who are to be citizens of a democracy is a public school and not a private school; but that the school for Glen Ridge must be different from the public schools that many of us have known elsewhere. It must be a place of beauty and dignity, because it is for the children their first point of contact with the government that they must learn to honor and love; it must be roomy, airy and clean; the classes must be small; the children must have a large measure of individual attention, so that the bright scholar may not be impeded in his progress by the dull one, and the dull one may be helped to accelerate his pace; we must get away from the myth that there is such a being as the ‘average child,’ and must treat each child as a the individual human being that he is in fact; the teachers must be ladies and gentleman; they must be attracted to the school by regular increases of salary, up to a liberal maximum; the course of study must be varied to meet the varied needs of the different kinds of children, and must be kept up to such standards that students will be able to step from the doors of our schools into the halls of higher learning. These things cost money. I think that we have attained them. If we have, the money has been well spent.”