- Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District
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HISTORY OF CFISD
THE BIRTH OF A DISTRICT
The earliest inhabitants of the area now occupied by Cypress-Fairbanks ISD probably never dreamed that the picturesque landscape marked by winding creeks and fertile fields would one day give way to a maze of concrete highways meandering through master-planned subdivisions. Even as recently as 1956, Cypress-Fairbanks was still referred to as "Harris County's Little A&M," a term coined by a Houston Chronicle reporter describing the community's deep-seeded agricultural emphasis (Houston Chronicle Rotogravure Magazine, December 30, 1956). As it turned out, the history of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD has been marked by transition from rural to suburban; this phenomenon has largely occurred during the latter half of the 20th century. It is still not uncommon to hear Cypress-Fairbanks old-timers utter in disbelief, "Who would have thought that this rice paddy would ever become a four-lane highway?" However, in the words of former Superintendent Allen Labay (1977-1986), "We have had to adjust to and grow with the changes and really try to stay ahead." His prophetic words were, and still are, right on target, because through the course of the district's history the community has always placed a high premium on education.
THE FIRST INHABITANTS OF CYPRESS-FAIRBANKS
The earliest known roots of the area's agricultural appeal date back to the Orcoquisac Indians, who hunted and harvested rich resources of deer, bear, and buffalo. Archeological studies along Cypress Creek have documented the treks of these early inhabitants and revealed that their cultivation of maize and other native foods made them some of the first to take advantage of the rich Cypress-Fairbanks soil. Much later during the 1600s, German, French, and Spanish explorers charted the area and laid the foundation for future communities.
Probably the first landowner in the area was Louisiana immigrant J. H. Callihan who received the first grant of land along Cypress Creek in October 1835 as a member of Stephen F. Austin's fifth colony. His original league is roughly bounded on three sides by Grant, Spring-Cypress, and Huffmeister Roads.
After the Texas War for Independence - in which General Sam Houston camped along Cypress Creek en route to San Jacinto and a victory over Mexican forces led by Santa Anna - German settlers began arriving at the port of Galveston in search of human rights, freedom, and inexpensive land. Many of them found an alluring combination of ample rain, rich soil, and a lengthy growing season in an area called Cypress-Fairbanks.
In 1856, a post office had already been erected in the Cypress area, and the Texas and New Orleans Railroad Company connected Houston to Cypress. This was clearly a significant event considering it brought even more settlers to the area and provided farmers a way to transport their goods to market.
THE EMERGENCE OF EDUCATION
During the late 1800s, rice and dairy farming communities with one-room schoolhouses began to emerge. Two such schools of significance were located in Cypress and an area called "Gun Island" by the wagon trains because of the gumbo mud which was common during the spring season and an obstacle to travel. In 1896, C. W. Hohl founded the school in "Gum Island," later renamed Fairbanks, which includes an area where district schools Bane, Dean, and Holbrook are now located. The first class of 12 students was taught by Miss Best. The people of Cypress built Big Cypress Schoolhouse, No. 2. Dist. 6, also referred to as "the Cypress School," in 1884. The Cypress School was erected on the site where Lamkin Elementary now stands. The 20-acre site was donated to the district by Louis Telge, the grandfather of former School Board members John and Chester Telge. A church that was located on the property was moved across the street to a 1.5-acre site donated to the church by Mr. Telge. The first teacher at Big Cypress Schoolhouse, No. 2 Dist. 6 was Mr. Williford, father of District Judge Frank Williford. Children at both the Fairbanks and Cypress schools walked to school with the exception of a few who rode horses (this system of transportation continued into the 1920s).
Big Cypress Schoolhouse No. 2, Dist. 6
The small schoolhouses served the needs of the era, but growth, caused by the Gulf Coast oil boom of the early 1900s, eventually necessitated consolidation of the small school in the area. Schools incorporated into the Cypress school system during the early 1900s included the Fuchs School near Cypress; the Pitchman School near Diamond Point; the Winkler School near St. John's Lutheran Church; the Brink School on Barker-Cypress Road; the Sewell School near Cypress on House Road; the Neidorff School; and the Rosehill school close to Cypress-Rosehill Road near the Tomball area (this area was de-annexed in 1940 as a result of litigation regarding a boundary dispute between Cypress-Fairbanks CSD and Tomball ISD).
Because the Cypress and Fairbanks Schools were limited to grades one through eight, high school students in the Fairbanks area attended high school at HISD's Reagan High School, while high school students in Cypress and Spring Branch ISD attended Addicks High School (Addicks ISD no longer exists).
During the early 1900s, the Fairbanks school system was marked by instability. The original one room school was completely destroyed by the hurricane of 1900, rebuilt, and destroyed again by the storm of 1915. Classes continued in an empty house and later in the home of G. H. Tanner. Students were eventually moved to the newly finished Methodist Church. A three-room building was later erected at Hempstead Highway near the railroad tracks, and, in 1924, the entire campus was moved to the present site of Bane Elementary.
In 1925 Mr. Louis Depsloff, a German dairy farmer, offered the use of his one-room, wood frame farmhouse to the residents of Independence Garden, currently known as Carverdale. The Tanner Road farmhouse served as both a church and the first school for students who lived in the Independence Garden community of Fairbanks, Texas in northwest Houston. In 1926, the school was moved to Macedonia Baptist Church on Darcy Lane.
By 1937, the Cypress School consisted of seven rooms, a superintendent's office, and a library, and, later that year, a new wood-framed schoolhouse for high school students was constructed on the site where Lamkin Elementary now stands. The school was named Rural High School No. 5 and was very modern by the standards of the time. It included a music room and a full-sized gymnasium/auditorium, amenities most schools did not have during the time period.
A new elementary school was opened in the Fairbanks school system in 1937. Beginning in 1939, Fairbanks High School students attended Rural High School No. 5 and no longer attended Reagan High School. During that same time period, the Bane Elementary building was moved to the Clara Road site and this became the first permanent school building for what would later be known as Carverdale School.
THE CREATION OF CYPRESS-FAIRBANKS CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Early consolidations and the transfer of Fairbanks high school students set the stage for the most significant merger in Cypress-Fairbanks history - the consolidation of the Cypress and Fairbanks school systems.
The two individuals most frequently credited for the creation of Cypress-Fairbanks Consolidated School District (CSD was changed to ISD in the early 1960s) were Trustee J. F. Bane, of the Fairbanks school system, and Superintendent E. A. Millsap (1932-1942), of the Cypress school system.
Mr. Bane, who served 25 years on the Board of Education, came to Fairbanks in 1913, and, in 1924, he traded the community's outgrown one-room school on its narrow strip of land bordering the railroad tracks near Hempstead Highway (this was one of the biggest roads in the area even though it was made of dirt and shell) for the present location of Bane Elementary.
As a school board trustee, Mr. Bane worked to hire capable teachers and arrange for adequate classrooms. He often lobbied Austin legislators and sometimes donned coveralls to paint classrooms, but he was always ready to help children. Mr. Bane played a lead role in the passage of the election to consolidate the Cypress and Fairbanks school systems. Fairbanks voters approved the measure by only three votes. Many in Fairbanks preferred a consolidation with Houston ISD.
Mr. Millsap, regarded as the "father of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD," was the first superintendent of what is now Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. Mr. Millsap came to the area in 1932 as superintendent of the school in Cypress. While serving as the school system's superintendent, he also taught several courses, including woodshop and mathematics, and performed custodial duties until a full-time custodian was later hired. Over the next several years, he brought about the consolidation of several rural schools.
As a result of Mr. Bane's and Mr. Millsap's leadership, an election was held December 1939, and voters in the Cypress and Fairbanks school systems approved the creation of the Cypress-Fairbanks Consolidated School District; the measure passed by a vote of 129-66 in Cypress and 90-87 in Fairbanks.
On August 17, 1940, a bond issue in the amount of $200,000 was passed by a vote of 189-172. Superintendent Millsap and the newly-created school board - which included Cypress board members L. Z. Pledger, E. M. Neal, William Christen, and V. Hirsch; and Fairbanks board members E. S. Post, O. R. Hagler, and W. H. Ehlert - purchased 100 acres for $75 per acre from J. Lieder on September 30, 1940, and awarded a bid for the construction of a new brick high school on May 9, 1941. High school students walked as a group to their new campus, which was featured in the Houston Chronicle as "one of the most modern-equipped and largest school buildings in Harris County," in the spring of 1942, and the first commencement ceremony was held on campus that same year. The new brick building was named Cypress-Fairbanks High School and still exists today as the centerpiece of the Cy-Fair High School complex (the name was officially shortened years later). As the first principal at Cypress-Fairbanks High School, C. D. Ellison ensured a smooth transition for students attending the new facility. Following the construction of Cypress-Fairbanks High School, Rural High School No. 5 was converted into an elementary school, but burned down three weeks into the 1942-43 school year. Elementary students attended Cypress-Fairbanks High School until a new elementary school could be built. The first four rooms of Cypress Elementary School, renamed Lamkin Elementary School on May 23, 1955, were completed during the tenure of Superintendent Thomas M. Spencer (1942-1947).
front of Cy-Fair HS when new
first Cy-Fair HS assembly
students at lockers at new Cy-Fair HS
The merger of the two districts was a monumental event in the history of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, but it was not the only big news of the time. One year prior to the consolidation, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt paid a visit to the Cypress School in the interest of her National Youth Administration Project, which was responsible for the construction of teachers' cottages and an annex built to the main campus earlier in the year. Her visit created such frenzied excitement that one second grade student, upon hearing that the wife of the President of the United States had arrived, ran into his classroom and shouted, "Mrs. George Washington is here!"
SOCIAL LIFE DURING THE '30S AND '40S
Eleanor Roosevelt visit to Cypress School
During the 1930s and '40s, social life was very limited in Cypress-Fairbanks. As automobiles were much slower during those days, trips to faraway Houston were generally limited to one time per week, so social life was primarily restricted to school-related functions. In addition to sporting events, other after-class activities included wiener roasts and hayrides. Since most families needed to stay close to home to tend cattle, vacations were infrequent, and most families depended on the few local establishments for recreation.
Tin Hall was originally erected by the Cypress Gun and Rifle Club in 1878 for shooting competitions and social life. As the history goes, the men brought their guns, and the women brought their best recipes. During the '30s and '40s, Tin Hall continued to serve as a family establishment, where both children and adults could enjoy themselves on Saturday nights and one Sunday per month. Children lined the benches surrounding the dance floor, enjoying the music and watching their parents dance. Even though children were restricted to the side of Tin Hall where alcohol was not served, there were still some parents who did not allow their children to patronize Tin Hall because of moral objections to beer and dancing.
For those who frowned upon Tin Hall, there was Hot Wells, where many people spent a great deal of time during the summer. Hot Wells, since replaced by a shooting range at U.S. Highway 290 near Barker-Cypress Road, was discovered by wildcatters in 1904. While searching for oil, the men lost their drill bit and discovered a hot artesian well during a two-week search for their tool. The well was later turned into the enterprising Houston Hot Well Sanitarium, which included an Olympic-sized swimming pool, complete with high dive and several lower diving boards. In addition to the pool, many people enjoyed mineral baths in the large tubs filled with the hot artesian water. In fact, many of the individuals patronizing Hot Wells came from Houston and beyond for medical treatments by the doctor who operated the sanitarium. A hotel that included a large hall for dancing and bingo was conveniently located on-site for the many visitors.
Another favorite pastime of area residents was to spend time at the ice cream parlor operated by Clark Henry, who owned the F & M Jersey Ranch, a Jersey cattle ranch and dairy. Patrons of his shop, which was located within current boundaries of the City of Jersey Village, ate ice cream as they watched the milking of his cows. Trips to the popular dairy parlor were a tradition in the Cypress-Fairbanks community for many years. They had 5-cent ice cream cones and 10-cent malts.
Although trips to Houston for most families were not frequent, they were necessary and provided a nice diversion from the usual routine.
CYPRESS-FAIRBANKS RECEIVES AGRICULTURAL NOTORIETY
Following the creation of Cypress-Fairbanks CSD (CSD was later changed to ISD), the district's high school received its first accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1943. By that time, students had already distinguished themselves in literary competitions as well as athletic events such as basketball and volleyball.
The district continued to experience steady growth into the 1950s under the leadership of G. A. Lamkin, Jr. (superintendent from 1947-1955 and principal at Fairbanks Elementary School during the nine years prior to his appointment as superintendent), but the community's agricultural makeup remained intact. In fact, almost every student in the district was either the child of a farmer or a teacher. During this period, the district developed a premiere vocational agriculture program under the leadership of Mr. Forrest Arnold, who was hired as the principal of Rural High School #5 in 1936. In addition to his duties as principal, Mr. Arnold taught many subjects, but he will always be most remembered for his agricultural program that grew into one of the state's premiere programs. Many considered Mr. Arnold's operation second to only Texas A&M - hence the reference to "Harris County's Little A&M" in the Houston Chronicle. At the time of his death in 1974, Mr. Arnold was the district's director of vocational education.
National Future Farmer that features Chronicle "Harris County's Little A&M" quote
The area's ties to dairy and rice farming were highlighted in a survey on work habits conducted at Cypress-Fairbanks High School in the fall of 1952. It was shown that a considerable number of students awoke at 3 a.m., milked dairy cows, prepared for school and rode the bus to attend classes all day, practiced football after school, and returned home to milk the cows once more before retiring to bed.
The district's self-supporting agricultural program, along with a rodeo launched in 1944, grossed Cypress-Fairbanks ISD approximately $12,000 in 1950 and added to the district's agricultural notoriety. The rodeo, that still exists today, evolved into a Friday night institution attracting crowds of 2,000 to 5,000 and received attention from Houston Post reporter Leon Hale who wrote an article called "Rodeo's the Thing at Cypress-Fairbanks" on April 25, 1956. Cypress-Fairbanks and farming had become so intertwined that a local family was featured on the cover of The Progressive Farmer in 1956. The story, "They Milked Their Way to Success," by C. G. Scruggs noted that the "Master Farm Family" had sons who participated in the Cypress-Fairbanks High School agricultural program.
ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE HAS ALWAYS BEEN STRESSED
Throughout the history of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, a hearty serving of academic basics has always been stressed. Newly appointed Superintendent T. Sial Hancock (1955-1967) emphasized the district's commitment to educational excellence when he announced to the Board in 1955, "I believe in teaching youngsters." Under his mentorship, individualized teaching methods were introduced in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD schools, a complete testing program to measure scholastic achievement was fully implemented, and teachers were required to undergo in-service training.
As student enrollment mushroomed to 3,525 in the 1960s, Mr. Hancock again reaffirmed his commitment to academics; he stated that the agriculture and rodeo programs would remain an important part of the school system, but they would have to take a back seat to more intellectual pursuits, such as science, math, electronics, foreign languages, and journalism. He stated, "We are faced with a tremendous challenge - to adjust from a rural culture to an urban one."
Under his leadership, a bond referendum was been passed on October 24, 1959, that funded a new west wing for Cypress-Fairbanks High School to house departments related to the aforementioned subjects. In addition, Mr. Hancock ensured that ability grouping and individualization, team teaching, and a phonics-based reading program were being successfully utilized in the elementary program. During 1959, the name of Fairbanks Elementary School was officially changed to Bane Elementary School.
As a result of an extensive study authorized by the Board of Education in November 1960, the 5-3-4 plan (five elementary grades, three junior grades, and four high school grades) was implemented in March 1961. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD continued to pursue innovative teaching strategies, and, in 1966, the district received national acclaim for the construction of Matzke Elementary, one of the first open-space schools in the nation. Matzke Elementary was designed to build on the district's commitment to individualized instruction and team teaching. Prior to the construction of Matzke, suite-style open classrooms were piloted at existing campuses, including Bane and Lamkin Elementary Schools, formerly known as Fairbanks and Cypress Elementary Schools. The teaching style proved successful, and subsequent schools were built in the open classroom fashion.
SOARING ENROLLMENT MARKS EACH DECADE
The following three decades saw tremendous growth in the district; student enrollment soared from 11,758 in 1975 to 30,386 in 1985. In 1975, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD consisted of 13 schools, including Adam, Bane, Hancock, Holbrook, Lamkin, Matzke, Post and Yeager elementary schools; Arnold, Bleyl and Dean junior high schools; and Cy-Fair and Jersey Village senior high schools.
By 1985, 19 more schools had been built, including Emmott, Francone, Frazier, Holmsley, Horne, Lieder, Lowery, Millsap, Moore, Owens and Wilson elementary schools; Campbell, Labay, and Watkins junior high schools; Cypress Creek and Langham Creek senior high schools; the Adaptive Behavior Center, Alternative Learning Center and Carlton Pre-Vocational Center.
By 1995, student enrollment exceeded 51,000, and the district was adding an average of 1,500 to 2,000 students per year, making Cypress-Fairbanks ISD one of the largest and fastest-growing districts in Texas. During the time period of 1985 to 1995, 16 more schools were opened, including Ault, Bang, Copeland, Fiest, Hairgrove, Hamilton, Jowell, Metcalf, Reed, Sheridan and Willbern elementary schools; Cook, Hamilton, Thornton and Truitt middle schools; and Cypress Falls High School.
By this time, student enrollment in the district had easily exceeded 53,000, and all projections indicated that growth would steadily continue into the future, with only 40 percent of the district’s 186 square miles developed. The majority of families living within the district were no longer farmers. By far, most of the 150,000 Cypress-Fairbanks ISD residents lived in one of the 290 subdivisions within the district’s boundaries and commuted to jobs in and around the greater Houston area. The suburban composition of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD included international corporations, a number of small factories and plants, one of Houston’s largest shopping malls and many neighborhood centers.
In the 2010-2011 school year, student enrollment exceeded 106,000. From 2000 to 2011, 33 schools were opened, including Andre’, Birkes, Black, Danish, Duryea, Emery, Farney, Gleason, Hemmenway, Keith, Kirk, Lee, McFee, Postma, Rennell, Robinson, Robison, Sampson, Swenke, Tipps, Warner and Walker elementary schools; Arnold, Goodson, Hopper, Kahla, Salyards, Smith and Spillane middle schools; and Cypress Lakes, Cypress Ranch, Cypress Ridge and Cypress Woods high schools. As of today, 60 percent of the district’s 186 square miles has been developed with 732,546 Cypress-Fairbanks residents and more than 850 existing subdivisions and apartment complexes.
With 91 campuses, more than 16,000 employees and 116,500 students—and supported by a $1.2 billion 2014 bond referendum—the district continues to build schools and support facilities.
Although this once rural district has made its mark as one of the most progressive and innovative school systems in the country, the district continues to find strength in its humble beginnings and strong roots.