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What to Know About... The history of Penn Hills education

Patrick Varine
| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 3:24 p.m.
The original Hebron School, near the intersection of what is today Frankstown and Coal Hollow roads. The school was built in 1883.
File photo
The original Hebron School, near the intersection of what is today Frankstown and Coal Hollow roads. The school was built in 1883.

As Penn Hills elementary students prepare for a new year in a brand-new building, we take a brief look back at some of the changes in Penn Hills education over the years.

The first school?

The oldest recorded school building in Penn Hills was the original Washington School, built in 1845 in the Universal neighborhood on land donated by local farmer Charles Cunliff.

A replacement building opened in 1904.

However, 2014 marks the 180th anniversary of the passage of the Pennsylvania Education Act, which resulted in the construction of several one-room log-built schoolhouses in the Penn Hills area with names such as Quincey, Mt. Hope, Hebron, Jefferson and Monroe.

‘Report card'

According to local historian Gary Rogers, whose “The Changing Hills” books document Penn Hills history, the first record regarding local education was an 1856 report on “Penn Township Schools,” prepared by the superintendent of Allegheny County schools.

The “district” had nine schools and nine teachers (all male) who made an average of $30 per month, and taught a total of 406 children during a four-month school year.

‘Dirty' ball

The Universal School was built with cement donated by the Universal Portland Cement Company, with the motto “A Cement School for a Cement Town.”

According to Rogers, even the gymnasium floor was cement and no matter how often it was cleaned, the basketball teams would leave a game with dirty hands.

Imagine Penn Hills charter school officials have shown interest in the property as a possible second location, but are awaiting the results of an eastern Pennsylvania court case involving charters before proceeding.

Changing with the times

Penn Hebron Elementary once was Penn Junior High.

Built in 1947, the school was a hub of activity, according to former student and current music teacher Barb Spiri.

“We had one-way staircases,” she said. “We had study halls in the auditorium and set up tables in the lobby of the cafeteria because there were just so many kids.”

The school became an elementary in the early 1980s, Spiri said.

Over the years, other schools such as Linton have served as home to a variety of age groupings.

By the numbers

In 1900, according to Rogers, the Penn Hills area had 15 schools, although many still were one-room schoolhouses.

By 1908, the one-room schools began to close as students were consolidated.

By the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, the Penn Hills School District will have only three schools.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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