PARIS — For a century and a half, people here have been true to their schools.
The devotion is apparent in a new exhibit celebrating the 150th anniversary of Paris Independent Schools that will be up through Oct. 11 at the Hopewell Museum, 800 Pleasant Street. (More information: Hopewellmuseum.org.)
“We started reaching out to folks for memorabilia, and the community stepped up,” Superintendent Gary Wiseman said at an opening reception Sunday afternoon that attracted dozens of alumni.
“Paris High was a fantastic school,” said Hank Everman, a 1959 graduate who before retirement was a history professor at Eastern Kentucky University. “My history teacher, Helen Hunter, was better than any professor I had in college.”
Everman, whose books include a two-volume history of Bourbon County, said Paris Independent Schools have enjoyed both academic and athletic success.
Famous graduates include statesman and education advocate Edward Prichard; college and professional football coaches Blanton Collier and Bill Arnsparger; Basil Hayden, the University of Kentucky’s first All-American basketball player; and Donna Hazzard, the first Kentucky woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy.
“With an independent school district, you get much more of a family feel and community involvement,” said Jami Dailey, the principal of Paris High.
Paris’ first public school opened Sept. 11, 1865, soon after a Union Army hospital vacated the Bourbon Academy building, which had been a private school before the Civil War. The new public school began with three teachers, 130 students and a curriculum that included Greek and Latin.
Paris created a public school for black children in the 1870s, a time when many districts ignored them. By the 1890s, Paris Western was one of the few black public high schools in Kentucky. The district also was early to offer night classes for laborers, both black and white, and agriculture extension classes for farmers.
When Lee Kirkpatrick was superintendent in the 1920s, he paid top-dollar for teachers. The result was one of the best-educated high school faculties in Kentucky, Everman said. Many Paris students went on to success at Ivy League colleges, including Prichard, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law.
The greyhound was chosen as the high school’s mascot in the 1920s. The school colors of orange and black were said to have been inspired by the racing silks of Claiborne Farm when owner Arthur B. Hancock was chairman of the school board.
This professionally curated exhibit in one of Kentucky’s best local museums showcases the school system’s successes, including peaceful desegregation in 1964. There are many old photos, trophies, uniforms and other memorabilia.
Paris is one of 53 independent school districts left in Kentucky. Economics and the perceived advantages of school consolidation have prompted many other independents to merge into larger countywide school systems in recent decades.
Paris has always resisted the trend, despite a small enrollment. The elementary, middle and high schools have fewer than 700 students, including 204 in the high school. The surrounding Bourbon County school system is four-times larger.
Changes in the economy and its effect on city residents have been a challenge. Paris has more poor and minority students than the county system: 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch, 18 percent are black and 17 percent are Hispanic.
Paris schools have a new curriculum to try to boost lagging test scores, Wiseman said. Paris High students this fall were issued laptop computers for the first time.
“I think we have some things in place that will pay off,” he said. “We’re trying to help overcome a lot of the challenges our families face.”
Paris schools remain financially sound, Wiseman said, and the school board is committed to remaining independent, in part because of the system’s rich heritage.
“City schools have been good for the community,” said Kenney Roseberry, who graduated from Paris High and then was an English teacher there for 35 years before retiring in 1982. Now 92, she has two great-granddaughters in the system.
Many years ago, Roseberry said, she and other members of the League of Women Voters studied the school system and recommended that it be consolidated with Bourbon County.
“Fortunately,” she said, “nobody paid any attention to us.”