Public School Superintendent +
With the resignation of Lusius W. Fast in the summer of 1919, the board began an immediate search for a new superintendent. Donald Harrington began his duties in the fall of 1919. Born in Lake County on July 4, 1874, he had grown up in Mecosta County where he received his elementary and high school education. He graduated from Ferris Institute in Big Rapids, and subsequently had gone to Scotville (near Ludington) where he served as superintendent of schools for six years. In 1910 he entered the Teachers College of Michigan State, and later obtained the degree of Bachelor of Pedagogy. He subsequently attended the University of Michigan, where he obtained the Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees. Harrington served as superintendent of schools at Big Rapids for six years, before coming to Albion in the fall of 1919.
It was during Harrington’s years as superintendent that the building of Washington Gardner High School took place, and the school system underwent numerous changes. On June 1, 1921, the high school bookstore wasopened and managed by the superintendent. The facility allowed students to obtain and rent books instead of having to purchase them at full retail prices from local merchants. Harrington developed a closer cooperation between the Albion Public Schools and AlbionCollege. In 1922, a plan was implemented whereby Albion College students who were working for teaching certificates served as student teachers in Albion schools. The presence of student teachers enabled the school system to set up a plan ofcumulative sick leave, which allowed the regular teacher to be absent because of illness for five days each year with no loss of pay. In turn, the College hired the superintendent and high school principal to teach courses on a part time basis in elementary school administration and secondary level education. Also in 1922, the board of education entered into an agreement with Albion College, which allowed the College to use the new high school gymnasium for its basketball games, and Albion High School was given use of the College athletic field for its football games. The College used thehigh school gym until the Kresge Gymnasium was completed in 1925.
The Albion Public Schools erected a sports field housein Victory Park in late 1926, using bricks and materials from the demolished Central School east wing. It was during Harrington’s tenure as superintendent that in June of 1938, the Albion Public Schools instituted a community recreation program, in cooperation with the City of Albion. Thefield house in Victory Park was used for many years as the recreation headquarters.
Other accomplishments during Harrington’s administration include the organization of a school band in 1920. A series of Junior High banquets commenced in 1923, a student council was instituted in 1924, the National Honor Society was chartered in 1928, a course in automobile mechanics was added in 1928, and a vocational education instructor was hired in 1937.
Harrington’s tenure as superintendent embraced the problems and consequences of the Great Depression of the 1930s. On December 22, 1931, the Albion State Bank was closed and the Albion Public Schools had several thousands of dollars impounded. As people lost their jobs, they were unable to pay taxes on their property, which meant a sharp decline in revenues for the school district.
In March 1932, letters to the school board from the superintendent and high school principal stated that they were waiving twenty and fifteen percent respectively of theircontractual salaries. The teacher’s salaries were also reduced ten and fifteen percent. The physical education teacher was eliminated, and a ten percent reduction in the budget was ordered. In June 1932, a petition from the rural school districts asked for a reduction in tuition payments for students who were attending Albion schools. The senior trip for 1933 was cancelleddue to a lack of funds. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a “banking holiday on March 4, 1933. Banks across the country were closed and many never reopened. Locally, the school’s funds of $16,213.18 in the local Commercial & Savings Bank were frozen in February 1933 as part ofa bank closing proclamation by Michigan’s governor. Neither individuals or the school board were able to withdraw money (except in two-percent increments for a short period of time).
The dire economic conditions were the subject of numerous meetings, and school officials were pressed to pay bills, salaries, and other expenditures. The extent of the financial crisis is perhaps best characterized by the board minutes beginning in June 1933, when the ledger sheets containing the board minutes consisted of the back side of unused and outdated assessor’s financial statements. An entry by the secretary stated:
Because of the failure of banks, delinquent tax payments, and lowering of receipts from all sources, we were obliged to conserve every cent. These pages were used as an economy measure. Lucile Moore, Secretary to Superintendent
The district received a loan from the State of Michigan in November 1933, against the funds impounded in the Albion State Bank and the Commercial & Savings Bank. Other arrangements were made with the Commercial & Savings Bank, which was in the process ofreorganization. As the district managed to overcome its financial difficulties, the situation by the end of the 1930s had eased considerably.
Before his retirement as superintendent at the end of the 1938-1939 school year, Harrington issued a printed pamphlet entitle “Albion Public Schools 1919-1939 Score Sheet, twenty Years of Growth,” in which he outlined the accomplishments during his administration as superintendent.
After retiring in June 1939, Harrington continued to live in Albion and remained active in community affairs. Already he had been a member of the library board from 1919 to 1932. He was an active member of the local Rotary Club, and in 1952 was named its man of the year. During World War II Harrington served as chief clerk of the Albion Office of Price Administration. In 1952 he was elected Justice of the Peace, and served until 1957. Harrington was also very active in the local Boy Scout movement, and went on scout hikes well into his ’70s. It was in 1957 that Harrington Elementary school was named in his honor.
Former superintendent Harrington died November 30, 1961 at the age of 87, and was buried in Riverside Cemetery. A playue on the large flower urn which was placed at the gravesite and still remains reads, “Presented by the School Children of Albion to a Loved Teacher.”
Source: Frank Passic. A History of the Albion Public Schools. Albion, Michigan: E. Weil Publishing Services. 1991.