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In 1818 when Illinois became a state, federal law required that at least one section of every township be set aside to benefit common schools. Since that time, nearly 50 one-room school have been used to serve Massac County’s needs.
Currently in Massac County there are two school districts — Massac Unit One and Joppa-Maple Grove Unit 38. Unit One School encompasses 198 square miles and includes 2321 students, six principals, three assistant principals, 153 teachers and 125 support personnel. Joppa-Maple Grove Unit 38 school district, is comprised of two schools — Maple Grove Elementary School and Joppa Junior-Senior High School.
According to the Massac County History Book Vol. II, Massac Unit One District was created in 1976, when 10 separate school districts voted by a margin of three to one to allow the formation of one administrative entity. The vote passed Dec. 11, 1976.
The creation of Unit One came at a point when a $3.5 million grant was available through the Capital Development Board for the construction of a modern high school facility capable of housing the students from the Brookport High School and the Metropolis High School Community.
The 10 school districts, which each had its own school board, were: Brookport Elementary, Brookport High, Franklin Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Metropolis City (Central, Clark, Junior High and Washington) Metropolis High, Unionville Elementary and Unity Elementary.
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Unity Elementary School, located at 6846 Unity School Rd., currently serves children from kindergarten through sixth grade. The attendance center is one of eight that make up the Massac Unit One school district in Massac County.
The Unity Community Consolidated District 36-A was formed in 1951, under then Superintendent B.D. Fowler and was the first building constructed in Massac County’s consolidation program, according to a Metropolis Planet article by Jean Fowler that was published in 1957. The creation of District 36-A led to the elimination of about 12 one-room schools located in the eastern part of Massac County.
Those one-room schools were: Washington, Point Pleasant, Sesech, Central, County Line, Neely, Pleasant Grove, Upper Union, Independence, Powers, Good Hope and Palmer.
The following school locations were included in a video Old & New School Buildings in Massac County, filmed by Unit One in the early 1980s. Anyone interested in purchasing a copy may contact the Planet.
• Palmer School District 40 — Was located 1-mile south of what is now known as the Smirk House in Unionville/Brookport area.
• Point Pleasant District 15 — Was located 3 miles north of Round Knob, near where Dr. James Bremer was raised as a child.
• Old Washington — Sat 1 mile west of Unity.
• Good Hope — Was located 3 miles east of Waldo Baptist Church and later became the home of Lula Spurlock.
While the Unity school board was negotiating the construction of the new building, the first four grades of the newly formed district attended school at Central and the upper grades held classes at Washington.
Unity Elementary School was ready for occupancy in the fall of 1953, according to the 1957 Planet article and had as many as 175 students in one year. In 1957, the enrollment was 150.
The building, at the time it was erected was a “modern” one-story brick building with five classrooms, a cafeteria, a kitchen, office, restrooms and a furnace room, and had a 5-acre playground.
The teachers in 1957 were: Herbert M. Darnell, principal; Clara Vineyard; Mayme Shelton; Alma Mittendorf; Alma Jean Henley and Bill Sundmacker, custodian.
The first principal at the school was Noah Neace, who currently resides in Metropolis. He recalls a friend telling him about the job opening and when he went to apply, he was asked about a half a dozen questions and then asked what his salary requirement was. He was hired to be the principal in 1951 before the school was even built.
According to Neace, the only thing in place at the time he was hired was the foundation and the frame. Later, when the school was built, he remembers working with Mittendorf. He said when one of the first grade teachers resigned, he hired Henley. He taught two classes — geography and history — to the eighth grade class part of the day while Mittendorf taught the other half.
Neace also remembers Stanley Brinker and the late Warren Koch, who both were on the basketball team. At that time there was only one sports team. He said there was one student, Red Stratemeyer, who was really good with the ball and all the members on the team kept throwing him the ball to shoot. He called a time out during a game to tell the players they did not always have to throw the ball to him. As for the children at Unity at that time, when asked if they were well-behaved, he said, “Oh yes.” Neace was at Unity Elementary School for three years before becoming be superintendent at Golconda.