History of the Kenton County School District

Last Updated: 7/30/2021 12:00 PM
Are you interested in the history of the Kenton County School District?  Do you have access to old photographs of the schools?  We are working on compiling information from various sources. 


“A developing district struggles for funding”

By an act approved May 12, 1884, the office of county superintendent of schools was created.  He was to be elected by the people in August 1884, to serve for a term of two years.  Before he was eligible he had to be examined before the judge of the circuit court by an examiner appointed by the court.  By an act approved May 17, 1886, the law was changed to provide for a four- year term and he must hold a first class certificate from the state board of education.  He was to be elected in August 1886.  His salary, to be paid out of the county levy, was to be not less than ten and not more than twenty cents per pupil.
Neander Stephens, who was commissioner at the time the law was changed, began to sign as county superintendent on April 1, 1884.  HP Stephens was the first superintendent elected by the people.  He qualified by taking the oath and giving bond on August 16, 1886.

In 1884, Superintendent Neander Stephens, in making his report, said that a good school was taught in every district with most school buildings in good repair.  He reported that the new school laws were handled without gloves and public interest was on the increase.  The greatest drawbacks were irregular attendance and insufficient funds.  “A little more grape, Captain Bragg”.  Again in 1886, Superintendent Stephens reporting, said, “It is almost impossible to get trustees to keep a record of incidental expenses such as brooms, window glass or soap or to take an interest in making out reports.  Teaches Institute was held in Independence and was well attended by teachers and by the public better than usual.  District taxes have been voted in many districts heretofore opposed to taxes.  The superintendent intends to condemn all the “old shells” used as schoolhouses and replace them with larger and better buildings.”

Superintendent HP Stephens was not so optimistic in his report of 1887.  He had this to say about the schools, “Little can be said to the credit of the schools of Kenton County.  There are few excellent teachers but the majority are lacking in scholarship and teaching ability, but perhaps they are as good as salaries will permit.  They are wretchedly poor and after school is out engage in farming or some other labor to make a living.  They have neither the time nor the money for books or magazines.  Some stoves seemed to be a hundred years old and are all tied around with wired to keep them together.  The worse schools are in the wealthier districts where the “rich old man” answered an appeal for help with the statement – “My children have been educated elsewhere”.

Neander Stephens was elected superintendent in 1890, and served until 1897.  IN his report to the state superintendent in 1891, he said, “the superintendent finds improvement both as to attendance of pupils and methods used by the teachers.  Greatest drawbacks to improvement are inexperienced teachers, lack of uniformity of teaching methods and indifference on the part of the masses of the people”. 


December's Entry:

In the interest of holiday fun, we thought we would share some images of students from our high schools.


holiday fun photo

Can anyone identify these Dixie Heights students?   And where were they when this picture was taken?   


This is a vintage photograph of a Dixie jumper.  Can any of you identify him? 

November's Entry:

Commissioner WG Carlisle, in making his report to the state department in 1864, said he had made no visits to the schools, but that his predecessor, Dr. J Chambers, had visited four schools and reported them in good condition but that some trustees were spending some of the schools money for coal and repairs instead of paying teachers.  

This practice, he said, was strictly against the law.  In 1865, Mr. Carlisle said he made no visits but expected to the next year.  However, he said, all schools were well taught and public interest was increasing.

In 1864, the law was changed requiring commissioners to visit schools at least one each year and they were allowed traveling expenses.  Commissioners could not be a teacher.  The school term was set at three months and the school month was 22 days.  Districts could levy a five cent tax by majority vote. 

In 1863, the first schools were established in what is now Bromely, Erlanger and Elsmere.  The school in district 16, which later became the Beechwood School, was established in 1857, with one teacher and eleven pupils.  The first school for Negroes and mulattoes was established in Covington in 1867.

In 1871, Dr. JC Bland, School Commissioner, reported to the state superintendent as follows:  Nearly all schools have increased in number and are greatly improved in character.  Our school houses are not what they should be but are improving.  Most of the old wooden backless seats have been replaced with modern seats with backs.  There is a class of persons in the county who will send only to select schools in preference to common though the select school may be miles remote. 

Commissioner WG Carlisle, reporting in 1874 said, nearly all schools gave general satisfaction for we do not have enough money to employ first – class teachers and the people are not disposed to vote a district tax.  Tax levies failed in every district but two.  I suggest that school terms be shortened to three or four months in order to get better teachers and pay them more money.  The institute was help at Independence the last three days in July with rain every day.  Professor Henry Newton was the instructor.

In 1880, the report showed six log school houses still in use, six brick and thirty frame buildings valued at $22,950.  The county tax for schools was $4,326, subscriptions - $294.65, and the state per capita amounted to $5,145.  The total amount to operate 42 schools was $9,865.65.  The salary for teachers was $35.58.  IN 1889, the last log school house was sold.





Previous Entries:

Did you know that Sandfordtown was the site of the first school in Kenton County and now houses our Board of Education?  Here is an excerpt from J.A Caywood's Masters thesis on Kenton County schools.



The first common schools commissioners for Kenton County were appointed in 1841, by the State Board of Education as follows:  John B. Casey, Foster Fleming and Robert M. Carlisle.

There is no record of any action of these commissioners.  However, the first school in the county was taught in 1843.  This was at Sandfordtown with 37 Children enrolled.  There were 90 children in the district and the school term was 3 months.  We can find no record of the name of the teacher.  We do find an order signed by the commissioners, J.G Ellis, James Cubertson, Benjamin Northcutt on the Second Auditor dated April 15, 1844.  It reads as follows:

The second auditor will pay L. Hathaway on order twenty-two dollars and eighty cents, the amount due Kenton County on account of common schools for the year 1843.

This would amount to a per capita payment by the state of 26 cents.  In making the report to the state superintendent for the year 1843, JG Ellis wrote “We have just commenced”.



Continuing the history of Kenton County, schools started really taking shape in 1843 with a new commissioner named, the county divided up for the schools, and the first textbook law was adopted. See below for an excerpt from J. A. Caywoods master thesis on the Kenton County Schools and pictures of some of the first books.


In 1843, the following commissioners were named: WG Ellis, James Culbertson and J Ellis. The first record found in the office of the County Superintendent was of date December 28, 1843. The commissioners met with County officials for the purpose of districting the county into common schools districts. Joseph P. Winston, Esquire, presided with William G Ellis as secretary. They divided all the county, except the Corporation of Coving ton, in to 23 common school districts. 

The record show that in 1844, four schools were in operation with a total enrollment of 209 children. $105.0 was received from the state. In 1845, there were 4 schools in operation. $85.20 was received from the state. There is no record of any local taxes being levied. One school had a term of 3 months, two for 6 months and one for 9 months.


As the Commissioners strived to get schools up and running they had to decide how many students a district made and assign cost.  Taxpayers were assigned a “3 cent tax levy” to support the newly forming schools districts as long as they met the 15 student minimum to begin! My how Kenton County has grown…..

In 1850, a new state constitution went in to effect.  The legislature meeting in the winter of 1851-52, enacted legislation in conformity with provisions of the new constitution.  Under this law every schools was made a free school-all tuition fees being abolished.  The state Board of Education was to select textbooks instead of parents.  County school commissioners were 3 in number and were to be appointed by the county court of a term of two years.  They were to be paid $2 per day for each day spent in school business.  Three trustees were to be elected in each schools district.  No provision was made for a local tax for schools.  A census was to be taken of the children in each district annually in order to receive the state school only on a per capita basis. 

On May 19, 1853, commissioners William G. Ellis, John Ellis and N B Stephens met in the clerk’s office and proceeded to lay out the county into districts.  The only record except census records, now in our possession down to 1898, is a record of new districts being formed, changes made in districts already formed until 54 districts had been formed by April 19, 1875.  In this record are to be found where trustees had been appointed in certain districts by the commissioners to fill vacancies, and the appointment of examiners by the commissioners.  Kenton County Order Books 1-10 and records of annual settlement of the commissioners with the court are to be found in the court house at Independence.

By an act approved March 10, 1856, the county court of each county was empowered to appoint one school commissioner for each county for a period of two years.  He was to be paid $2 per day for each day devoted to schools, not to exceed 50 days per year.  He was empowered to appoint trusties where there was a vacancy and districts could be formed with as few as 15 pupils.  John Ellis was appointed commissioner in June 1856. 

Also by this act a 3 cent tax levy could be made of there were as many as 20 pupils in the district.

By an act approved December 23, 1861, county schools commissioners were to be appointed by the county judge and the magistrates of the county.  In 1874, the law was changed providing for one trustee for each district.  In 1878, this was changed back to a 3 trustee system.  IN this same year, cities were given the right to establish a graded school system.  It was under this law that Ludlow established it independent school district. 

An act of May 4, 1888, provided that upon a written petition of 10 voters a vote could be taken upon the proposition of establishing a graded school in any district, parts of district or districts each graded school district to have 6 trustees.

Ten graded school districts were formed in the county as follows:

Ludlow – District #51 – became a city in 1864 – set up school system in 1872, but continued to report to the county commissioner until 1880.

West Covington – District #43 – incorporated as city in 1858 – annexed to Coving ton March 31, 1917. 

Bromley – District #33 – became graded district in 1889 – came back into county system March 30, 1936, by order of state superintendent Peters because other number of pupils in the census did not justify continuing the district as a separate unit. 

Milldale or Latonia – District #12 – became graded school may 28, 1898 – annexed to Covington July 28, 1909.

Erlanger – District #32 – graded school April 15, 1895

Elsmere – District #34 – graded school July 1899.

Central Coving ton – District #31 – annexed to Covington November 17, 1906.

Whites – District #3 and parts f 28 and 35 – May 17, 1909 – came back into County System in January 19, 1924, through consolidation with Independence.

Independence – District #11 – May 28, 1910 – Election held January 19, 1927 – carried –election ordered December 4, 1926, to form consolidated district.

Beechwood – District #33 – was district #4 in Division 1 – March 5, 1912

In 1920, the law permitting the establishment of graded schools was repealed.

William G. Ellis was the first commissioner to die in office.  This was in 1858.  He was succeeded by James Ellis, who also died the same year.  These were the only commissioners or superintendents to die in office. 


Percent Change in Population

Kenton County, Kentucky

Year Population % Increase

2000 151,464 6.6

1990 142,031 3.6

1980 137,058 5.9

1970 129,440 7.2

1960 120,700 15.8

1950 104,254 11.9

1940 93,139 -0.4

1930 93,534 27.3

1920 73,453 4.4

1910 70,355 10.6

1900 63,591 17.4

1890 54,161 23.1

1880 43,983 21.9

1870 36,096 41.7

1860 25,467 49.5

1850 17,038