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A factual mistake upsets Tamaqua's former administrator

Published August 02. 2010 09:30AM


The summer of 1910 did not mean a recess in education-related matters.

On the state level, members of the State Education Commission appointed by Gov. Edwin Stuart were charged with writing a new school code. The new code was "to encourage and promote agricultural education, manual training, domestic science and such other vocational and practical education as the needs of the commonwealth may require, prescribe rules and regulations for the sanitary equipment and inspection of school buildings, and to take such other action as it may deem necessary and expedient to promote the physical and moral welfare of the children of the public schools of the commonwealth."

The writing of a code had been attempted four years earlier but it was vetoed by the governor following extensive legislative debates.

One focus of the 1910 code was to specify the chain of command within school districts, specifically addressing the duties of superintendents and school directors.

"The duties of the board of education are to legislate upon all matters concerning the conduct of the schools," a writer said in outlining the new code in the July 12 edition of the Tamaqua Courier. "Supervisors of all public schools, high as well as elementary, will be invested in the superintendent."

As chairman of the board, the superintendent was to serve a four-year term.

One health guideline for teachers was especially interesting.

"Teachers' certificates will not be granted to applicants suffering with tuberculosis or any other chronic or acute physical defect," the code stated.

Information on teachers, including the names of persons with certificates of qualification to teach were kept in the office of the superintendent, and were open for the inspection of board members and school visitors.

The duties of the state board of education were also outlined in the new code "to make the public schools of the commonwealth more efficient and useful."

In 1910, Tamaqua was seen as one of the more progressive schools in the area. While state officials were busy refining the school code, the former and current school superintendents from Tamaqua did some verbal sparring over the number of students who had graduated from the district and gone on to college.

A front page report on "Boys and Girls Going to College" started the print controversy between the current superintendent, William Derr, and his longtime predecessor, Robert F. Ditchburn.

In the newspaper article, a Courier writer pointed out that more young men had entered college from the district in the past two years (1909-10) than during the previous 18 years.

"No reason can be assigned for this unless it is the fact that Superintendent Derr and the principals have reminded the students more frequently to enter college than in years gone by," the writer said.

He boasted that the percentage of boys who entered college from Tamaqua "has been larger than any town of its size in the state."

It didn't take long for Ditchburn to take exception, especially with the reference about the "previous 18 years," which came under his watch as superintendent.

He began by stating that the number of graduates planning to enter college was misleading since the course of study at the high school had changed from a three to four-year course.

"We really have two in this year's class, rather a small number for a town like Tamaqua which during the preceding 18 years of darkness could always have an average of some 20 graduates," Ditchburn said.

He asked Derr and the principals to provide a class roll for publication, "as soon as convenient" showing the name and date of graduation of those pupils who had gone on to college over the past two years.

"I do not want the names of those pupils who have left our high school in disgust and went to a preparatory school of some college, nor the name of others who have joined preparatory schools of any other kind," he said.

Ditchburn also took issue with the declining student numbers in the upper grades. He said a town the size of Tamaqua, with a population of 2,000, should have a high school graduating class of at least 40 students. While the grammar schools were experiencing overcrowding, he said many of those younger students "have no prospect of reaching high school."

Superintendent Derr pointed out that he did not provide the Courier with the statistics for its original article on students going to college. He did agree with Ditchburn's statistics that one graduate from the previous two graduating classes planned to enter college and that 22 had entered college in the previous 21 years.

The mistake was made by the reporter who wrote the first article. The figure he cited was for the number of high school graduates, not the number who planned to enter college.

"In rewriting the article, the mistake was made by inserting the word 'graduates,'" the Courier said in its correction.

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