Dakota Datebook

Mcleod’s One-Room Schoolhouse

Monday, May 24, 2004

When school let out on this date in 1986, People magazine had already been to McLeod, in Ransom County, to cover the story. There were only 14 one-room schoolhouses still operating in the state, and McLeod’s was closing its doors. Of the three students still attending in 1986, two would be moving up to 7th grade, and there was no way to keep the school running for the youngest remaining child.

The story of the Salund School was used as the lead “Up Front” story in People and was 10 pages long. It was the first time the magazine led an issue with a feature story told only through photographs and captions. That was probably due to extra care taken by photographer, Barry Staver, who considered the assignment one of his most personally rewarding. He recalled visiting the classroom in February – it was 18 below when the kids went outside for recess.

The title of the People article was Lowest Paid Teacher in America. Janice Herbranson had taught kindergarten through sixth grade at the school since the death of her husband in a plane crash in 1970. At the time of the school’s closing, her salary was only $6,800 a year, the lowest of any teacher in the country.

In addition to teaching, Herbranson also prepared two hot meals a day for her students. Arriving early each morning, she cooked a hot breakfast, and throughout the morning, she would periodically check the lunch simmering on the stove. After school was out for the day, she also cleaned, swept the floor and worked on the paperwork needed to obtain grants to keep the school open. The only thing that allowed her to work at such a low salary was her income from co-owning of the Sand Dune Saloon in McLeod.

In an article for the Fargo Forum, Kevin Murphy wrote, “As each student left Friday, clutching paper bags to protect just-made scrapbooks from a light spring rain, Herbranson handed them their report cards and an ice cream bar.”

“In a way, it was a blessing to have the media here,” she said. “If we were all alone, we’d have to dwell on this being the last day. This is a day the kids will remember. I don’t want them to remember it with tears.”

Two preschoolers who attended the school two afternoons a week joined the three students for a picture in front of their desks. Then she let each of them pick out a book to call their own. As they walked out the door, she leaned over each one and said, “I love you.”

When the door closed, she retreated to a corner of the room and cried. “You spend so many hours of so many days of so many years in one building. It becomes part of you.”

Herbranson planned to move to Alaska to teach after the school closed. Since then, we’ve learned that she took college courses the following year, then spent a year teaching kindergarten in Texas. The McLeod school board had two years to either reopen the school or disband; in 1988 they elected to reopen. They gave Herbranson a call, and she came back to McLeod to pick up where she left off. Two years ago, there were four students when the school closed again – this time for good. The Ransom County Historical Society now owns it.

Oh, and yes… the answer you’ve all been waiting for: Herbranson did get a raise when she came back.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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