The History of RTSD26

The Beginnings

In 1882, the Archbishop of Chicago, Patrick Feehan, purchased the River Road Knott farm of 440 acres for the amount of $30,000. The farm was located approximately three miles north of the city of Des Plaines and was to be a home for dependent boys, St. Mary’s Training School, which today is known as the Maryville Academy. St. Mary’s was opened in the fall of 1883.

The first public school in the area was built on the east side of River Road near the intersection of Kensington and River Road. Later the site became a part of the forest preserve and a new school was built on land donated by the Drewes family. This school was named after Archbishop Feehan and was called Feehanville. In 1895, the school district was legally organized and the first school board elected. Its members were Mr. Henry Schroeder, Mr. Burmeister, and Mr. John Piepenbrink.

The frame school house stood until 1924 when it was replaced with an all brick building at a cost of approximately $1,500. The school was a one-room schoolhouse typical of rural Illinois. During the 1930s, the building was divided into two rooms and a second teacher was hired. In 1948 inside toilets were installed along with running water. However, this modernization caused a great deal of anger among the local residents because the new plumbing had delayed the opening of the school. Until the mid 1950s upper grade students from the District were sent to neighboring school districts on a tuition basis for their education.

Feehanville School District was a rural school district for the first 70 years of its existence. Nothing more clearly illustrates this fact than what was recorded in the Board minutes of the August 4, 1954 meeting. The Board minutes reported that the major item of business was the relocation of the school’s outhouse.

Spectacular Growth in the 1960s

The fall enrollment for 1959 was 238 students. In 1971, School District 26’s fall enrollment was 3,180 students, a growth of over 1300%. In one brief decade, what once was a one-room schoolhouse rural district, was transformed into a modern public school district consisting of seven buildings. The District even changed its name from Feehanville to River Trails. School buildings and subsequent additions were built in rapid succession.                                                                                              

The State Capital Development Board provided funds for some of the new buildings. However, the majority of the buildings were built with revenue from bond issues approved by the voters. Below is a list of the buildings and the year they were built, along with their additions:

School Building Original Additions Closed Reopened
Feehanville 1924 1955,1959, 1968 1981  
Euclid 1961 1962, 1991, 2002    
Indian Grove 1964 1965, 1970, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2012    
River Trails Middle School 1965 1968, 1971, 1991, 2000    
Prairie Trails (Formerly Park View) 1966 2021 (Renovated) 1976 2017 
Bond 1968   1980  
Nipper 1974   1982  

While much of the farmland was being developed into single family homes, the District would have a significant commercial development that resulted in an increase in the District’s Equalized Assessed Valuation. This was Randhurst Shopping Center. Another development was the sale of the Northern Illinois Gas storage field to the Opus Corporation, a commercial developer. Unlike many suburban school districts that experienced the phenomenal growth in the 1960s solely in the area of residential properties, School District 26 enjoyed the benefits of having significant commercial development at the same time homes were being built. As a result, School District 26 enjoyed a favorable tax base during its period of rapid growth.

Population Decline and Reorganization in the 1970s and 1980s

The decade of the 60s represented a period of unparalleled growth. The decade of the 70s was just the opposite. Student enrollment fell by 60% from a high of 3,180 in 1971 to 1,258 in 1985. Three of the District’s school buildings were closed; Park View in 1977, Bond in 1980 and Feehanville in 1981.

School District 26 experienced all of the negative aspects of a public school system with a sharp decline in enrollment. The District lost significant state aid revenue. From the mid 1970s to 1984 state aid dropped by 77% from a high of $1.1 million to $247,000. The loss of state aid revenue was made even worse because the country was experiencing double digit inflation during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Because of the overall status of the economy, five attempts to pass a tax rate increase for the educational levy failed.

In 1981, a change of direction occurred. The Board of Education reorganized the District into two K-5 elementary schools and a 6th, 7th, and 8th grade junior high school. The Board issued $1.7 million in Fire Prevention and Safety Bonds to bring its buildings up to code. In 1984, the residents approved a 50-cent tax rate increase in the educational levy. This was the first tax rate increase in almost 13 years. With its passage, the Board was back on solid financial footing.

Coupled with the passage of the tax rate increase was the sale of two school buildings. In 1983, Bond School was sold for $925,000. Under the terms of the sales agreement, the Board of Education held the title for the building for 10 years. When the final payment was made, the Board of Education had received $1.6 million from the sale of Bond School which included the interest payment. Feehanville School was put up for sale at a public auction at a price of $700,000. Through competitive bidding, the final sale price was $1.1 million. Finally, in the spring of 1986, the Board of Education sold $2.4 million in working cash bonds.

During the 1970s, District 26 was faced with another serious problem. In 1971, the teaching order in charge of the educational program at the Maryville Orphanage informed the Archbishop of Chicago that they would no longer teach the children at Maryville. Since the Maryville campus was within School District 26’s boundaries, the Board of Education was now responsible for all of the elementary age children residing at Maryville. The most immediate problem facing the Board was to hire staff and to find a suitable school building for the students. Originally, the students were taught at the old River Road School which was destroyed by fire in 1973. Thanks to the efforts of State Representative Eugene Schlickman, a bill was passed calling for the construction of a school on District 26 property, directly adjacent to Maryville. This building, constructed with state funds, was dedicated in 1974 and was named after District 26’s leading citizen, Miss Thelda Idyl Nipper. The Nipper School was an all-electric facility, which was quite an innovation for the time. Under the guidance of the Maryville director, Father John Smyth, the Maryville program was developed into the state’s number one program for serving troubled youngsters. The change in the thrust of the Maryville program posed a new challenge to the Board of Education of River Trails School District 26. Working cooperatively with the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization (NSSEO), the Board of Education developed a recognized model program delivering special education services to the neediest youngsters. Recent changes to the Maryville program has shifted the majority of students requiring educational services to high school age teens and District 214 has assumed most of the responsibility for student programming costs.

In 1985, the Illinois General Assembly passed a comprehensive education reform bill. The Board of Education of School District 26 had a most positive attitude toward these reform measures and incorporated many of them into its educational program. In 1987, the Board reorganized the District into two K-4 elementary schools and a 5-8 middle school. In doing so, the Board of Education was able to offer a five hour extended kindergarten day program. Including the fifth grade as part of the middle school program provided for greater flexibility in scheduling and in course offerings. River Trails Middle School became a 6-8 school again in 1996. The school maintains many of the middle school concepts and continues to demonstrate high achievement as measured by the Illinois standardized tests.

Renovations and Enhancements in the 1990s and 2000s

There were two significant events in 1990. In March, the voters of the community approved a $5.5 million building bond referendum. The success of this referendum underscored the community’s commitment to quality education. The residents approved the bond issue by a vote of 1,380 to 1,172. The bonds were used to build new classrooms and remodel existing facilities.

The second event that occurred in 1990 was the District’s quadrennial reassessment. Actually, it had been five years since the District had been reassessed. The District’s equalized assessed valuation (EAV) increased by more than $71 million. Significant commercial and residential developments finally were placed on the tax rolls. This large increase in the District’s equalized assessed valuation bode well for the District’s economic future.

In 1990, the Board of Education also embarked on a comprehensive, district-wide technology program. The Board created a Task Force Committee composed of representatives from all of its employee groups. The 1991 Task Force Report called for expenditures in excess of $2.5 million in both hardware and software to introduce technology in all of the schools. Funds for this technology came from the final Bond School payment and the Education Fund.

In January 1995, the District sold $5.3 million in Tort Bonds to help fund the District’s Tort Management Plan and provide funding for District liabilities. Although the monies raised through bonds have been used for facilities and building operations, the increased enrollment felt by the District again caused concerns about available facilities. The Board conducted a Facilities Study, including a Life/Safety Plan, to determine how to provide for the increasing enrollment.

In November 1998, local residents approved a referendum to increase the local limitation on the Education Fund from $2.10 to $2.60 per $100 assessed valuation by a 2 to 1 margin. This tax rate increase provided the Board of Education with the necessary funds to maintain the desired educational program. At the same time, the Board of Education reduced the Bond tax rate by moving $6,166,850 of cash from the Education Fund into the Bond and Interest Fund in order to offset the Education Fund rate increase.

In 1998, all schools in the District were rewired, both for electricity and for Internet connections, and a new telephone system was installed providing telephone access for all classrooms. The District has continued to improve the technology infrastructure and purchase new technology in the form of hardware for teachers and students that includes laptop computers, Chromebooks, tablet PCs, iPads and iPod Touches, interactive whiteboards, and document cameras. The District owns and operates a wide-area network, local-area network, a wireless network and maintains a system of over 2000 computers [LS1] throughout the buildings. In 2009, a fiber optic internet connection, network management, and a Voice over IP phone system were implemented.

In 1999, following passage of the referendum, the Board of Education undertook upgrading all of the buildings. This included the replacement of the heating systems, the installation of air conditioning systems, new doors and windows, the implementation of a security plan throughout the District, and the addition of new science laboratories at River Trails Middle School.

With the issuance of long-term debt, renovations to the facilities continued during the summers of 2006 through 2018. Projects included Life Safety and infrastructure improvements; tile floors in all schools; renovations to the Family and Consumer Science room, the Learning Center and the gymnasium locker room, a new fitness room and a new STEM lab at the middle school; renovations to the Administrative Center; District-wide washroom renovations, upgraded security system, energy efficient lighting with occupancy sensors, and improved HVAC energy efficiencies; a new HVAC and roof at Nipper school (leased to Joseph Academy); and secure front entrances at all schools. In the fall of 2017, the newly renovated east wing of Park View School was reopened as the River Trails Early Learning Center to house the District’s five preschool classrooms.

In 2004, the River Trails School District, in partnership with parents and community members, accepted the responsibility to begin creating a challenging, yet attainable, future for the students. A 26-member Strategic Planning Team met over a period of three days to envision a future for the School District. After reviewing the District’s strengths and weaknesses and the impact of external factors, such as social and economic trends, technological needs, and political dynamics, they arrived at consensus in identifying common beliefs, creating a mission for the school system, setting parameters, and developing objectives and far-reaching strategies for accomplishing this mission.

As part of the implementation of the strategic plan and in order to more effectively use resources, the administrative position of curriculum director was reinstated and, as a result, the process of implementing new and creative ways to restore its effort for high academic achievement began. The District also outsourced transportation and food service management in 2008 and network management in 2009.

Today

The Strategic Plan continues to serve as the blueprint used to guide the District. Community members, staff, students and school board members came together to help develop the new 2019-2024 Strategic Plan. The team reaffirmed the existing Mission Statement and redefined Belief Statements and set two Strategic Goals:

  1. Head Ready students grow academically, problem solve creatively and learn how to learn.
  2. Heart Ready students are respectful, resourceful and resilient citizens.

The District continues to evaluate its instructional program and to make necessary adjustments. Assessments are integrated into the District with the use of AIMSWEB+ literacy and math assessments and NWEA MAP. All academic subjects are aligned with Illinois Learning Standards in order to better prepare students for college and career readiness. The language arts program is designed to expose students to multiple genres in order to engage students in high quality reading, writing, and technological literacy learning experiences. There is also a major emphasis on excellence in writing at all grade levels with a focus on providing students with skills and knowledge on how to produce written work of the highest quality regardless of writing genre. A bilingual (Spanish/English) preschool develops school readiness and language skills. Science takes a 3-dimensional approach to instruction integrating grade level disciplinary core content, science and engineering principles and cross-cutting concepts. The middle school continues to refine STEM programming, Earth, Life and Physical Science. Students experience hands-on learning in Design and Modeling, Coding, and Energy and the Environment.

Technology is embedded in all areas of instruction. Students and teachers are fluent users of technology to help enhance learning while providing access to engaging, interactive resources. During Spring of 2020, COVID-19 pushed schools into a Remote Learning environment. Technology became even more important to instruction than before. We expanded the use of our learning management systems, purchased wireless hotspots, entered new technology agreements, and expanded the use of technology resources to our students and staff. Over the summer months, we purchased additional technology to support a remote environment for Fall 2020.

2021 continues to be a year of unprecedented change. The school year resumed in a remote format. Teachers returned to school, yet students learned from home. Professional development was viewed through a new lens as teachers continued to grow their skills as distance educators.

The community of School District 26 is a desirable area in which to live and raise a family. In 2008, Mount Prospect was chosen by Business Week out of thousands of other communities around the U.S. as the best, most affordable place to raise kids. The homes are well maintained. There is much open space. The park district’s program is one of the best in the area. Its facilities include a swimming pool, miniature golf, driving range, nature trail, and a 9-hole golf course. The residents of the community have easy access to major transportation via O’Hare International Airport, Chicago Executive Airport, and the Northwestern Rail and Metra lines. Outstanding medical facilities, AMITA Health, Northwest Community Hospital, and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, are nearby. The community also has Randhurst Village and Kensington Business Center in its tax base.

District 26 has a well-trained and dedicated staff. The average faculty member has thirteen years of experience. 69% percent of teachers have a minimum of a Master’s degree. Student achievement continues to rank among the highest in the northwest suburban area.

Excellence remains a standard in River Trails School District 26. River Trails Middle School has been designated as a 2007 No Child Left Behind – Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Secretary of Education. The school was chosen for this award because of a significant increase in State test scores in reading and mathematics over multiple years. River Trails was one of only 31 middle schools nation-wide to receive the award. In 2015, River Trails Middle School was named a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. The award recognizes schools that strive for 21st century excellence by 1) reducing environmental impact, 2) improving health and wellness, and 3) providing environmental education. Additionally, the staff has and continues to ensure that the educational needs of all children are addressed with great success. It is a national model of excellence from which others can learn.

The Pandemic

The Mount Prospect Historical Society is organizing a project that allows local organizations to reflect on their experiences throughout the pandemic. Visit their website to read about what it has been like for River Trails.