The origins of Newport’s public schools began with the Newport Academy. In 1797 the Kentucky legislature passed a law offering an endowment of 6,000 acres to any county desiring an academy. On February 12, 1798, James Taylor convinced the Campbell County Court to apply for the grant to finance a school in Newport. The legislature chartered the Newport Academy in 1799 and created a twelve-man board of trustees to manage its affairs.
A landmark endeavor, the Newport Academy was one of the earliest schools chartered west of Pittsburgh. In fact, the Academy preceded the use of any public funds for education in Cincinnati by sixteen years.
The Academy, was “public” in that it utilized public funds in its building, and was open to all (free white) residents. However, the Newport Academy did charge a tuition, which certainly limited its access.
The trustees recruited students with this advertisement in the Kentucky Gazette of April 10, 1800:
“Newport Academy – The Academy of Newport will commence on the first of April, in which will be taught reading, writing and arithmetic, at eight dollars per annum; also the English grammar, the dead Languages, the following branches of mathematics, viz. geometry, astronomy, measuration of superficies and solids; also logic, rhetoric, book keeping & at four pounds per annum.
Board can be had at Newport and its vicinity on reasonable terms, and the greater part received in produce. The following gentlemen are trustees to the above mentioned Academy, viz. Washington Berry, Charles Morgan, John Grant, Thomas Kennedy, Thomas Sanford, Thomas Carneal, Richard Southgate, Daniel Mayo, Robert Stubbs, James Taylor, Bernard Stuart.”
The Act incorporating the Academies obligated the donation of six lots comprising a public square for the academies location. Taylor donated four lots on “Belle Vue Square” and the town of Newport gave over the two adjoining lots. On September 21, 1800 trustees initiated a subscription drive to fund construction of a one-story stone building, measuring 32 by 20 feet.
Newport Academy, also known as the Newport Seminary, operated until 1850 when the Kentucky Legislature officially transferred all of the Academy property and assets to the Newport Public Schools. A new school was then built and named Newport High School. The building was used until 1873 when it was replaced. Currently, Newport Intermediate School (previously known as Fourth Street Elementary), is located on the site.
Subscription Schools: Education for Newport’s Poor
The first record of a “Free School” comes in 1805 with the creation of a subscription school by Thomas Linsey, Ira Root, Charles Thornton and Professor Blinn. Subscription schools utilized donations or “subscriptions” by wealthy individuals to fund rudimentary instruction to the poor in reading, writing and arithmetic. This first recorded Newport subscription school was held in the Methodist Episcopal Church that was rented-out during the week. The subscription school operated for 2 months a year and on its first year was attended by twenty-five students.
By 1815 a brick building, financed by subscriptions, was erected “on the seminary lot in the town of Newport on the Lancaster plat” to provide for the education of Newport’s poorer children.
The First Public School in Newport: The Cabot School
Responding to the need to better provide for the education of all of Newport’s children, the City of Newport in September 1836 provided for a lot on Cabot Street (now Central Avenue) to be used for a free school.
At the time, Kentucky provided for no general system of common schools, and thus it became the role of the City to provide for the funding and structure for the new common (public) school.
A committee of three citizens was appointed to investigate the process for proceeding. On the recommendation of the committee a one room log cabin was purchased for $200. In its first year, 1836, the Cabot School boasted an enrollment of twenty-five students, ages six to thirteen. By its second year enrollment more than doubled to fifty-four students.
Prior to 1842, funding for the public education by the Newport City Council was purely discretional and apparently inadequate, resulting in an April 1842 committee of interested citizens appearing before the City Council. The committed called for better funding, separate male, female instruction and additional staff hiring.
By 1844, the Newport City Council provided for an ongoing mechanism to provide city funding based on school population and needs.
1847: The origin of the modern public school system
Up until 1847, there was little support for the state’s common schools – during the period from the establishment of the Newport Academy in 1799 to the establishment of the Cabot Free School in 1836 the citizens of Newport and the Newport City Council were largely responsible for all efforts in providing public education to the children of Newport.
Finally, in 1847, through the efforts of the Rev. Robert Breckinridge, then Kentucky Superintendent of Public Instruction, an act was passed by the state and ratified by public vote to provide for revenues for common schools through a tax of two cents on every one hundred dollar property valuation.
The state of Kentucky took control of all common schools through a State Superintendent, a Board of Education, County Courts and County Commissioners.
So while the City and citizens of Newport worked to provide for public education as early as 1799, it was not until 1847 that the modern public school system was provided. Through tradition, 1847 has become the official date for the establishment of Newport Independent Schools, while the district’s origin precedes the date by nearly a half a century.
Newport Independent: A history of leadership and progressiveness
Over the 200 years in which Newport Independent has evolved, one constant has remained: A spirit of leadership and progressiveness in education. From the first financing of education in the region, to the development of extended-day preschool programs – Newport Independent Schools takes pride in its willingness to move first to offer the services that benefit our students and the community.
As we move forward into this second century of public education in our community, we at Newport Independent take great pride in our tradition and past accomplishments. We also look to the efforts of those who came before us to help guide and define our vision for the future of Newport Independent Schools.
Sources: Campbell County Historical Society, and History of The Public Schools in Newport Kentucky, Graduate Dissertation University of Cincinnati, James L. Cobb, 1939)