Buchanan Elementary School
Who is Frank buchanan?
In summer of 1935 Frank Buchanan replaced Melville Scott as Calgary’s superintendent of Schools. The Board had given Buchanan increasing responsibilities since his appointment as assistant superintendent six years earlier. Throughout the early years of the 1930’s he had promoted elementary school reform and the introduction of junior high school, often with little enthusiasm from Scott.
Buchanan’s first contact with Calgary schools came as early as 1894, when, as an eight-year-old, he enrolled at the old Central School. After family moves to Edmonton and Regina and teaching experience in rural Alberta, he returned to Calgary in 1908 as principal of Victoria. Following studies at the University of Toronto he was back again at Central Collegiate for the fall term in 1913. Recognizing a bright young man, the provincial Department of Education lured him away from the city as a rural school inspector for the next sixteen years.
In 1935 Buchanan swept in with a progressive philosophy of education. “All subjects are being revised in accord with tendencies observable in these times,” he wrote in his first annual report. He also noted, with approval, “the growing spirit of reality in education, the reaction against the purely academic side of culture, and the increasing sense that our curriculum is becoming over-specialized.”
And the new superintendent let no-one stand in the way of change. Gone was the old regime under which high school principals had been laws unto themselves. In came the sudden amalgamation of the Technical and Western Canada High Schools, and a wholesale shifting of principals and vice-principals. promotions were made on merit as well as seniority, and more women were appointed principals of larger elementary schools. Hugh Bryan was boosted from the classroom teaching ranks to become supervisor of elementary curriculum, with responsibility for promoting the new Enterprise program. Buchanan always regarded himself as a teacher, not a corporation manager. For sixteen years of his administration he spent the morning of every school day visiting junior and senior high classrooms. He boasted that he knew every high school teacher, and enjoyed nothing more than taking over an English or Latin class.
Despite the fact that he was never in his office till after lunch, Buchanan managed to put through an impressive number of reforms. Kindergartens popped up in vacant rooms as the elementary school population declined. “We told the Department of Education that they were Grade One classes so we could get the grant money,” he later confessed. There was streaming and acceleration in the primary grades, more audio-visual aids and travelling libraries. “My car was the first book-mobile,” remembers High Bryan. Most important of all to Buchanan there were the new junior high schools and composite high schools.
All this was done in the trying years between 1935 and 1951. At the time of his appointment, Buchanan faced declining pupil enrolment and the financial hardships of the Depression. Just as the economy began to improve, the emergency of the Second World War directed public money to military needs. Conditions improved in the late 1940’s but retirement prevented him from overseeing the vast expansion of the next two decades. In terms of far-reaching innovations, the early years of the Buchanan administration proved to be one of the most significant periods in the history of the Calgary Board of Education.
Teachers Remember Buchanan
Margaret Watson Dobson:
Buchanan never told you when he was coming to visit your class. He would sneak into the cloakroom through the back door. He would be listening to your lesson but you wouldn’t know he was there. Then the kids would start looking around towards the cloakroom door, not paying any attention to what you were saying. That’s how you knew he was there.
O. S. Geiger:
You knew where you stood with Buchanan. At first it bothered me that he would come into your classroom, say nothing, get up, nod his head to you, and walk out. However I soon found out that things were satisfactory if he did that. But if there was something he wanted to talk to you about, he did.
He was quiet, shy, not outgoing at all; it was not easy for him to meet people. He was a very poor public speaker — he didn’t have the stage presence that Melville Scott had had.
Buchanan generally ran a ‘one-man show’. This was possible at the time because the system was so much smaller. He knew every teacher, knew them in an intimately professional way.
He had more to do with the expansion of the system - getting it out of the straight-jacket it was in. Nobody I saw on the horizon had his interest in new things, his vision, his willingness to take new ideas and go ahead. I consider Buchanan one of the real ground-breakers in a province where education had been pretty traditional.