About Clinton Elementary

Clinton Elementary School is a warm and inviting neighborhood school with a committed faculty and staff and a spirited and active parent population. A truly international school, Clinton, as host to the Maplewood/South Orange school district’s English as a Second Language population, boasts a diverse and culturally rich student body, representing countries across the globe.

Clinton Elementary School

Have you ever wondered how Clinton got its name? Have you ever wondered if the students played 4-square in the courtyard since Clinton opened? The following is an excerpt from a 1991 4th grade student research project with a few updates from more recent years.

History of Our Schools: Clinton

The 1920s brought business expansion and improved transportation to northern New Jersey. The population of Maplewood rose from 6000 in 1920 to 21,000 in 1930. A large number of new homes were built to accommodate this growth. With the addition of more families to the community, more schools were needed. To avoid the necessity of small children walking great distances, the Maplewood-South Orange School District planned new school construction so that no child would walk more than one-half mile to school.

rendering-circa-1928

rendering circa 1928
Steve Weintraub
James Betelle historian

In 1927, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education purchased land from the Berkshire Development Corporation for the purpose of building a new school in the area southeast of Underhill Field. The new school was designed by Grant A.C. Behee, an associate of Guilbert & Betelle, Architects, who designed at least 500 school buildings across the country, including Tuscan School and Columbia High School. Construction began in 1928 and the new school opened in September 1929. It was called Clinton School.

cornerstone

Although frequently thought to be named after DeWitt Clinton, Governor of the State of NY from 1817-1823, and then again from 1825 until his death in 1828, Clinton school derived its name from him only indirectly. William B. Sayer, a Maplewood historian and member of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, recorded the following statement sometime before his death in 1946:

Clinton School has a history attached to it in obtaining its name. It was named for the DeWitt Clinton family that had a large farm in the school’s vicinity, known as Clinton Hills.

In 1981, Beatrice Herman, another Maplewood historian, took the investigation of the naming of Clinton School one step further. Her research at the Essex County Hall of Records showed that the large farm to which Mr. Sayer referred was, no doubt, the Mary Clinton estate, although the relationship of Mary Clinton to DeWitt Clinton is unknown. The farmland consisted of 20 7/10 acres lying on a hill or hills on the northeast side of Irvington Avenue, just two blocks from the school. Moreover, Ms. Herman pointed out in her 1981 news article that most of Maplewood and South Orange was within an area known as Clinton Township. The Township, established in 1834, is generally believed to have been named after Governor Clinton.

Maplewood’s [former] mayor, Robert H. Grasmere, also noted that prior to its settlement, the Clinton Hills area was the home of the Leni-Lenape Indians who were very peaceful people and, as a result, disappeared very rapidly. Perhaps the feather weather vane atop Clinton School was the architect’s homage to the original residents.

weathervane

In 1929, Clinton school opened with grades K-6. There were two classes for each grade with the exception of 5th grade which had one. Ms. Anne B. Stockwell, who had been the principal of First Street School in South Orange, became the first principal of Clinton School. Ms. Stockwell shared an apartment on South Orange Avenue with Ms. Lucinda Carter, the principal of South Mountain School and Ms. Amy Barnettson, the principal of South Orange Junior High. Ms. Stockwell was said to be exceptionally proud of the school.

circa-1929

circa 1929
Steve Weintraub
James Betelle historian

The first faculty of Clinton School was:
Anne Stockwell – principal
Ruth Bench – 6th grade
Viola Anderson – 6th grade
Ruth Jefferson – 5th grade
Elsie Sommerfield – 4th grade
Lucretia Collins – 4th grade
May Mercer – 3rd grade
Mary Jane Dengnan – 3rd grade
Frances Martin – 2nd grade
Dorothy Jensen – 2nd grade
June McCarthy – 1st grade
Marjorie Cummings – 1st grade
Helen Gehrie – Kindergarten
Irma Fensel – Kindergarten assistant
Mary Grierson – Teacher clerk

In its early days, the children attending Clinton studied reading, writing, arithmetic, social studies, science, art, music, and gym. Each of the classes had about 25 pupils. There was neither an art room nor lunch program. There were no computers. Discipline was strict, and the children were well-behaved. Children would participate in afterschool activities according to their interest such as athletics or music.

Most of the teachers were single women who had moved to the area in order to teach school in South Orange-Maplewood. Many of them lived at The Teachers’ Club, located in an older home on Academy Street or in private homes. According to Rosemary Iantosca, a graduate of Clinton, since most teachers lived far from their families, it was frequently the practice for their students’ parents to invite them to dinner.

Mrs. Margaret Fenwick, who taught 3rd, 5th, and 6th grade at Clinton School from 1936-1943, remembers that all of the children went home for lunch. However, she would often bring her class to her South Orange home for lunch in her yard.

In the 1930s, “Back to School Night” was called “Go to School Night.” About this same time, the Clinton Parent/Teacher’s Association (PTA) often held card parties and dances in the gymnasium. The Clinton Capers Minstrel was annually sponsored by the PTA. (In the late 1950s, the Clinton PTA separated from the National Association but it was not until the 1970s that it formalized its disassociation by changing their title to the Parent/Teacher’s Organization. Some years after that the PTO became a PTA again, affiliated with the national PTA organization.) These were well-publicized and well-attended events.

Clinton School won many athletic trophies in the 1930s. Athletes from Clinton were outstanding in the girls 30-yard dash and the boys running broad jump. In 1936, Clinton won the American Legion Cup and the American Legion Plaque. Throughout this time, the population of the area continued to grow. Additions were made to Clinton School in 1932 and 1937.

In the 1940s and 1950s, overcrowded conditions developed as a result of the increased birth rate in South Orange-Maplewood, as in the rest of the nation. At this time, Mr. McDavitt took over as principal. He later became the Superintendent of Schools.

In 1952, Clinton School had 537 pupils as compared to the 403 it had enrolled in 1991 and the 488 it had in 2008. At one time, a whole wing along the parking lot, which is now known as classrooms 1, 2, and 3 housed the Board of Education. A safe that was a part of these offices remains imbedded in a wall in the school. In 1953, these offices were moved out of Clinton due to overcrowding and the need for more classroom space. Two portable classrooms were set up sometime in the mid-60s due to the need for additional space.

In 1962, Austin Byrne became principal of Clinton School, following Principal John Mattis. Mr. Byrne remained in this position for 25 years until 1988 when Ms. Hazel Davis took over the reins. In 1968, the enrollment at Clinton was 515 students. Classes for those who had special needs were held at Clinton at this time. Space was so limited that storage closets were used for supplemental teaching.

In the 1970s, enrollment continued to be high. The school population was about 491 students. The school was still two floors built on 3.8 acres. It had, as it does now, a hard surface play area, a ball field and a teachers’ parking lot. Classrooms included 16 regular classrooms, two special education rooms and two kindergarten rooms. An auditorium, gymnasium, library, principal’s office, medical room, teachers’ room, two boys’ rooms, two girls’ rooms and an activity room completed the school. During this time, the PTO gave dancing lessons to the students on Friday afternoon. The children were also allowed to roller skate in the gym.

In 1981, Fielding School was closed, and many of the students were sent to Clinton School. It was at this time that a third portable classroom was added to Clinton. Around 1986, an elevator was installed at Clinton, making it the only barrier-free school in the district. Clinton School became the one school in the district to be attend by children who were mobility impaired.

Art and music have always been a large part of the education at Clinton School. In 1985, an annual Art and Music Festival was established. This event displays the artwork of all the children in the school and demonstrates the accomplishment of those studying instruments and voice. The Clinton community is enormously talented and new cultural and artistic projects are created every year. In 2008-2009 the PTA founded the Clinton Student Theater and produced our first ever all school musical revue, which has continued in the years since, with themes ranging from Classic TV Shows to Broadway to Cross-Country Road Trip to Iconic Musicians and more. The Clinton PTA also spends more than $8,000 every year for cultural arts assemblies, and several thousand on art and music educational enhancement annually.

The first set of playground equipment was installed by parents in the early 1980s in front of the kindergarten classroom. Approximately six years later, additional playground equipment was installed professionally. In 2006, additional playground equipment was installed, and in 2016 the kindergarten playground was replaced with all new equipment. Funds for these playgrounds were provided through the efforts of the Clinton PTA.

The Clinton PTA has also purchased a climbing wall for the Clinton gymnasium as well as new curtains and a complete audio/visual renovation of the auditorium.

The school newspaper, The Clinton Courier, continues to be published every month. Two annual Book Fairs are organized by the PTA. For many decades, an annual school fair has been an important finale to a busy school year. In late May or early June, the fair, complete with rides, games, food, clowns, balloons and prizes is sponsored and operated by the Clinton PTA.

About this same time, the annual school yearbook is distributed. It records for history the pictures of all the children attending Clinton School during the year. The yearbook has been a part of Clinton off and on since its early days.