Let’s Talk Clovis: History of Jefferson Elementary School

The 1884 Jefferson Elementary School. Photo taken in 1892. (Clovis Museum)

Education is the foundation of our democracy. Pioneer Clovis families championed that belief. They wanted schools established as they purchased land within colonies. Development of colonies was promoted when a section of land (640 acres = 1 square mile) was divided into 20-acre parcels. Large families were the norm and schools began to appear.

Jefferson School (1884) was named after President Thomas Jefferson. Classes were held at the washhouse at the Charles H. Boucher home while the one room (24 x 32 feet) was being built. The school remains at its original location on the northwest corner of Shaw & Fowler.

Seven boys and eleven girls enrolled. The students had been attending Garfield, Red Banks, Temperance or Scandinavian schools that were on the average five miles distance from their homes. The students were from the Vincent, Owen, Boucher, Cole, Billips and Reyburn families.

Glenn Reyburn (his brothers Charles and Leslie were in the first class) described the amenities of the school: large cast-iron stove in center of the room, four kerosene lamps, six inch water well fifty feet east of building, a bucket and dipper provided drinking water for all students and lavatories were two earthen pit toilets at the north end of the school.

In 1888, the average daily attendance count was dangerously low. Alvin R. Cole (cousin of Clovis Cole) protected daily requirements of the district by bringing his two sisters and brother to live with him until after the census was taken.

Jefferson School became a community center. In 1887, a circuit riding preacher from the King’s River Congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church preached once a month and in 1893, the Jefferson Concert Band and the Literary and Debating Society was formed.

In 1925, bus service (1920? Model T Ford bus painted green) was provided. The bus was fondly called ”green grasshopper”. It operated into the 1930s.

Principal Albert D. Smith wrote a poem “An Old Bell Speaks” during their centennial celebration in 1984. The poem speaks of the bell residing in the tower of the 1907 school building and how Principal Mrs. Hazel Reyburn would award a student as “bell ringer for the day”.

In 1953, the third school was built. The tower was demolished and the bell was stored in a garage until the classes of 1962 and 1963 relocated the historic bell (graced with a bronze plaque) at the front of the school.  The bronze plaque (other plaques also) was stolen in 2007.

Goodness triumphs over evil again. Stone plaques replaced the bronze to deter future bad guys.

The bell was dedicated to A.D. “Jake” Smith who served for 28 years (1958-1986) as principal. The “ritual” of the bell greets students each new school year. The bell tones reaffirm the historic significance of their school. Their motto has become: “Try hard and never quit”.

The 1993 motto evolved when Principal Mike Young learned the life history of new custodian Sing Houngviengkham. Sing’s home country Laos had become a communist country in 1975. After several failed attempts to leave, he finally brought his family to America in 1981.

Sing was denied his first request to work for CUSD since he lacked required work permits. He became an American citizen and was hired as custodian at Jefferson.

A banner displaying the motto, “Try hard and never quit.” hangs in the cafeteria. The motto is printed in English, Spanish and Hmong. 

The school bears the name of our third President Thomas Jefferson who founded the University of Virginia in 1819.  He was a powerful advocate for the pursuit of liberty and education. Both goals continue to be nurtured at Jefferson Elementary School.

Jefferson elementary continues to provide us a rich heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.