Jonathan Fairbanks was Mr. Public Schools
Jonathan Fairbanks' contribution to Springfield is perhaps best summed up by Peggy Stepp in her graduate paper entitled "Jonathan Fairbanks: Mr. Springfield Public Schools."
She recaps the physical changes that Fairbanks inspired; the growth in facilities, from two to 17, including the construction of a high school whose program was second to none.
Fairbanks also inspired confidence in the community, Mrs. Stepp says, through his honesty, hard work and dedication to the betterment of the school based on a strong and dynamic educational philosophy.
The purpose of education, Fairbanks felt, was to prepare the youth of the day for the responsibilities of citizenship and so he emphasized social studies. He said that progress in civilization could only be achieved by education...a practical education.
Although stern, Fairbanks observed the fine distinction between dignity and genial friendliness in working with students, says Mrs. Stepp. He respected them, she said, and they he. In the classroom, fewer incidents of corporal punishment occurred after he became Superintendent.
Under the direction of Jonathan Fairbanks, teachers were urged to further their formal training. In her paper, Mrs. Stepp notes that in 1875 most of the teachers carried a county certificate available after a grammar school education. By 1917 nearly all of the grade school principals were graduates of the state normal school, and many of the other teachers had attended these professional schools.
Fairbanks had a good relationship with the Board of Education, as well as students and teachers, during his term in office, with no public record of any Board censure.
This son of a Massachusetts wool manufacturer was also known outside of Springfield, contributing frequently to educational publications and attending outside meetings.
In summing up the life of Jonathan Fairbanks, Mrs. Stepp concludes her report with this comment:
"Whenever a person holds a position as long as Jonathan Fairbanks did, his imprint on the system shows, whether for better or worse. Jonathan Fairbanks was no ordinary man beset by financial difficulties who blundered into teaching. His training, his philosophy, and his experience prepared him for the job he was to assume. Before 1875, the school lacked full time attention by its administrators and the purpose of the schools was not formulated. At this point, Jonathan Fairbanks assumed the duties as Superintendent. The schools were to be free public schools on a democratic model where learning, and not coercion, was to take place. These principles, coupled with his personality, philosophy, and habits, served as the focal point for the Springfield public schools for almost forty years, making them some of the best in the state."