History of U-46
A Foundation of Education
In 1836, James T. Gifford established Elgin's first school in his cabin. Gifford’s sister, Harriet, became the first teacher, instructing 10 children that year. Because legislation for school funding did not exist, Miss Gifford charged five cents per day, based on student attendance and billed the families for tuition payments. As the population of Elgin grew, so did school enrollment and the need for a larger building. By 1844, the first official school was erected on Division Street.
Historic legislation passed in 1851 approved the use of local taxes to fund free public schools, and Elgin became the first city in the state to take advantage of the opportunities this funding could provide for the growing school system. Initially, the city of Elgin was responsible for managing the public schools, but governing laws shifted in 1873, allowing schools to operate independently from the city.
As school enrollment quickly increased, it became obvious that another building was needed. Elgin High School was built at Center and Kimball Streets in 1857. As one of the oldest public high schools in Illinois, Elgin High School has undergone several relocations and reconstructions to accommodate increasing student enrollments.
Change and Consolidation
As a relative of the first settlers of western Elgin, Charles F. Kimball showed an investment in the school system and served as the first professional educator for Elgin Public Schools in 1868. Initially, Kimball was principal of the high school but later became the superintendent of schools. Under his direction, the school system was re-graded, organizing Elgin High School as a four-year program with the goal of preparing students for graduation. The grammar school became a three-year course while the primary and intermediate departments provided a two-year course of study. Ultimately, Kimball advocated for the improvement of curricular standards, recruitment and training of new teaching staff, and the improvement and addition of new educational facilities to house the growing enrollment in Elgin Public Schools. By 1887, six additional schools – Lincoln, Garfield, Lowrie, Grant, McKinley, and Sheridan – were built. In 1927, kindergarten was integrated into the elementary school program.
In 1946, a major change in education occurred throughout Illinois: a consolidation to limit the over-establishment of school systems in the state. As a result, Elgin Public Schools had expanded from 9 square miles to more than 85 square miles, housing 17 former districts into one system by 1956. By the late 1960s, more than 21,000 students attended 30 schools throughout the district.
Past to Present
When schools separated from city control in 1873, Elgin Public Schools was officially identified as Union School District No. 1. When the numbering system was changed in 1902, it became Union School District 46. Today, U-46 covers 90 square miles throughout Cook, DuPage, and Kane Counties. The District serves the families of Bartlett, Carol Stream, Elgin, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, South Elgin, Schaumburg, St. Charles, Streamwood, Wayne, and West Chicago. As the second-largest school district in the state of Illinois, U-46 now serves more than 35,000 students at 40 elementary schools, eight middle schools, and five high schools. From its geographical expansion to its diverse demographics to its comprehensive academic programming, U-46 has experienced tremendous growth since its start in 1836. Students, staff and families work each day to realize the goal of “Academic Success for All.”
U-46 Historical Milestones
1869: Promotion by grades established; high schools offer a curriculum leading to a diploma
1872: First class of three female students graduate from Elgin High School
1879: Maggie Oates, a former slave, graduates from Elgin High School, disproving the fallacy of race superiority
1898: Accreditation by the North Central Association
1903: The first time a school in U-46 has electricity
1949: Elgin Community College is established in Old Elgin High School as part of U-46 (until 1966)
1950: WEPS begins broadcasting
1958: Woodland Heights opens, the first school built outside the city of Elgin
1971: Bilingual classes begin
1982: Junior high schools are renamed middle schools; high schools serve grades 9-12
1993: First African American superintendent
2001: First female superintendent
2007: First Hispanic superintendent
2015: First curriculum and career expo
2016: Full-Day Kindergarten expands to all elementary schools
2018: Dual Language program rolls up to high school.