High School Education in Guilford, Then & Now

by Lisa Calderone (originally published in the Guilford Events Magazine)

“With a large enrollment our teachers and officials are now patiently and silently working under severe handicaps. Perhaps in the near future the citizens of Guilford will see their way clear to erect as strong, enduring and suitable a structure for the present and coming generations as did the Founders of the Guilford Institute eighty years ago. This would be quite in keeping with the spirit of the original donors, who, seeing the educational limitation of our town, gave generously that Guilford might have the best.” — William Collins Hainsworth Moe author of the History of Education in Guilford & Allied Educational Interests (Shore Line Times Publishing Co., 1936)

Such were the sentiments of William Collins Hainsworth Moe, written as the Town of Guilford was approaching the 300th Anniversary of its founding. Like today, school administration at the venerable Guilford Institute and High School was challenged in the 1930’s by an educational system that was not fitting the needs of the student body. Then, a steady increase in population, with the census reporting a Guilford population of 2,803 in 1920 and 3,053 a decade later, was the catalyst for change. Moe reported that 165 pupils along with six teachers “crowd the building…with no place for assembly, domestic science or agriculture.”

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The solution was clear: build anew. The result? A new Guilford High School (now E.C. Adams Middle School), at the cost of $150,000 to break ground in 1936. But 20 years later, the student population had again outgrown the facility. In 1958, the current Guilford High School (GHS) was built at the geographic center of Guilford on 30 acres of New England Road where there was room to grow alongside the educational needs of the students. In 1968, GHS added a media center, cafeteria, east classroom wing, and auxiliary gym, and in 1999 a science wing was added to the west.

Guilford High School

Today, as the Town of Guilford celebrates its 375th Anniversary nearly 160 years after the establishment of its first high school, more than 1,000 students are taught by nearly 100 teachers at GHS, a school recently recognized by U.S. News and World Report with a Silver Award for being among the top 2% of academically performing schools in the U.S. And yet again, the inevitable expansion of Guilford’s high school is in progress. This time, issues surrounding the security, safety, environmental, and operational deficiencies of the current building, and the recognition that a 21st-century flexible learning environment would best serve the programming needs of students and staff, led the decision of Guilford voters.

Ground broke on the site of the existing school on June 6, 2013 for the new $92 million Guilford High School, which will also serve as a secondary Emergency Shelter for the Town of Guilford. Set to be completed in mid-2015, the new construction is designed to accommodate the latest addition of the existing building, the science wing, which will be the only structural reminder of the past.

Back in 1935, Moe questioned the plight of the Guilford Institute:

“What shall we say regarding the future of this old institution? The ties of sentiment have grown strong with the passing years. Hearts have become entwined about the building because of deep and lasting personal association of days gone by. We are living in a new educational era undreamed of by the Founders.”

Likewise, fond memories of GHS must make way for a “new educational era.” The citizens of Guilford have yet again seen “their way clear to erect as strong, enduring and suitable a structure for the present and coming generations as did the Founders of the Guilford Institute.”  Thanks to town-wide support, we can all be assured that Guilford will continue to “have the best” in education for its capable youth – setting Guilford on a promising course toward its 400th anniversary.