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The History of Education in Schenectady, 1661-62 — 1961-62
Chapter X: Superintendent Freeman Sparks Controversy, Advances

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[This information is from pp. 116-121 of The History of Education in Schenectady, 1661-62 — 1961-62 by Jeanette G. Neisuler (Schenectady: Board of Education, City School District, 1964), and is reproduced here with the permission of the author. It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 370.9747 N41, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

As the city progressed, the school system continued to move forward, too, but the road became rough.

Mr. John T. Freeman, who took over from Dr. Howe in 1905, was a native of Washington, D. C., and held degrees of B.S. and M.S. from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The new superintendent possessed deep sincerity, extraordinary efficiency, unquestioned integrity and no tact. He was responsible for many praiseworthy measures, some in use even today, but due to his unfailing talent for alienating friends and antagonizing people, he stirred up more conflict than cooperation.

Freeman Fired, Rehired…

Mr. Freeman had little trouble with the general public; in the main they approved his methods. His skirmishes took place with those who stood in the direct path of his decrees — teachers, principals, school board members. In less than two years the board became so vexed that they voted 7 to 3 to fire him. This move infuriated the town. The Mayor and the School Board became storm-tossed figureheads for opposing sides with the Superintendent caught in the middle. The Business Men's Association demanded an investigation. Citizens petitioned the Mayor for the removal of the Board members who had voted against Mr. Freeman. The Board protested that the Superintendent was generally incompetent. The Mayor "advised" the Board to continue him in office for another year, but the advice was refused. When the Board was again publicly asked to reconsider, and again refused, the Mayor invoked a right given him by the City Charter; he dismissed the five dissenting members. In protest, two others resigned. The seven new members of the Board and the three who had remained loyal from the first not only voted Mr. Freeman in again as Superintendent, they increased his power.

…And Resigns

The move proved a meaningless victory. Open opposition had become too high a barrier for Mr. Freeman to scale. On February 3, 1908, he tendered his resignation.

Freeman's Leadership

In the short time that Mr. Freeman had headed the school system in Schenectady, almost every department had benefited from his gift of efficiency and order. Unfortunately, during the same period, almost every person with whom Mr. Freeman had worked had been antagonized. Said one outspoken supervisor in a year's end report, "This year… the best work was done by those who most strongly resented the new order of things." Some of the sources of greatest resentment were, like poison ivy, rarely fatal, but uncommonly annoying. One such was the monthly report required of teachers. Previously, the report had called for four items. Mr. Freeman's requirement, put into effect in 1906, stipulated thirty-seven categories which had to be filled out each month. They included: whole number enrolled, original registration, admission by transfer, number of pupils transferred, withdrawals and dismissals, number of pupils on roll last day of month, those promoted, number not promoted, number of seats, number of re-entries, pupils present every session, those punctual every session, number of cases of corporal punishment, number of suspensions, number of days school was open, school days school was closed, aggregate number of days attendance, (aggregate number of) days absence, percentage of attendance, average number of pupils enrolled in daily attendance, number of pupils tardy, cases of tardiness, number of days teacher was absent, number of times teacher was tardy, number of visits of parents and others, number of visits from principal, number of visits from superintendent, number of fire drills, days flag was flown, visits of supervisor of primary grades, visitations from supervising teachers of drawing, domestic science, manual training, music, kindergarten, inspections by members of the Board of Education.

Even in spite of clashes, personal and ideological, this period had much to commend it. Under Mr. Freeman's direction the schools adapted a uniform opening and closing schedule to replace the previous autonomy of each separate school. Mr. Freeman recommended that playgrounds connected with the schools be established and used as neighborhood recreation centers. To break away from the reliance on one examination as the sole test for promotion, he abolished the use of Regents examinations and substituted daily work and written tests outlined by the teacher. He also introduced monthly progress reports to the parents. He sponsored special attention for the slow student, which led to a grouping within the grade and he encouraged special attention for the bright student by advocating individual promotions whenever during the term a child appeared ready for the next grade. He was responsible for the appointment in 1906 of the first supervisor of primary work, Elizabeth C. Hall. The resultant unification of this branch of the educational system, and the recognition of its importance proved to be one of the most valuable legacies of Mr. Freeman's administration. A summary of the aims of the primary grades written in 1907-08 for the Annual Report of the schools states,

The purposes of the primary grades… are to teach children to read: — to get thought from the printed page and to enjoy good books; to spell common words correctly; to write legibly; to speak the English language correctly and to write simple English with a reasonable degree of accuracy; to master the so-called 'fundamental operations' of arithmetic, and to be able to make simple calculations with practical application of such knowledge; to obtain some knowledge of the world about them through a study of nature; to know something of the past and present history of the city and state in which they live; to begin the study of geography intelligently by gaining some general ideas rather than a mass of facts. All these purposes are so interwoven with the work in drawing and music that they cannot be separated in practice… A child cannot be educated unless he has energy which can be called forth and directed. An anemic child, languid, listless, feeble in all his reactions cannot be properly educated… The moral aim in education is, after all, the absolute one… so above and beyond all other purposes, we are trying to teach the child to work and to value achievement, and every effort is being made to establish right habits of activity and conduct. (1)

Certainly, there was no lack of valuable accomplishment during Mr. Freeman's administration. The misfortune was that each accomplishment had had to battle its way through tension and discord.

Notes for Chapter X

  1. Annual Report of the Board of Education, 1907-1908, p. 93. (Schenectady City School District, Schenectady, N. Y.)

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