Douglas School District – The Beginning
Douglas School District No. 3 was organized on April 21, 1891. Five of the original six school children (Cora, Lulu, Stella, Margaret, and Cassie) belonged to Thomas Baird Douglass and his wife, Matilda, hence Douglas was the logical namesake for the school.
Originally the Douglas School area was part of the Lone Tree School District No. 25, which was organized in 1885. In 1887, the Lone Tree District was divided into four parts – Lone Tree No. 25, Lone Tree No. 27, Douglas and Engdal.
For the next 60 years the district was like hundreds of other common school districts in South Dakota with 10 to 20 youngsters attending grades one through eight in a one-room, one-teacher school. Enrollment in the school remained fairly constant and in 1949-50 only 19 pupils attended classes in the school near
Suddenly things changed. In 1948 the nearby World War II Army Air Force Base was reactivated by the Air Force and the district was held responsible for the education of military dependents. With the expansion of the base, named Ellsworth Air Force Base in 1953 and its supporting defense installations, such as the four Nike Missle sites added in 1959, the Douglas School System also expanded to support the military families stationed here.
The increase of base activities and housing led to an increased burden on the district and in 1951, in an effort to keep pace, a building program was begun. In 1952 the first stage of the Vandenberg Building was started utilizing federal funds by Public Law 815.
From 1952-1955 the Rapid City Independent School district contracted and operated the Vandenberg School for the district. This operation was declared illegal by the South Dakota Attorney General in 1955.
In 1955, the Douglas District began independent operations under leadership of a three-member school board and Superintendent Robert Spelts with 626 pupils. During the following eight years there was nearly a 400 percent increase in enrollment.
In 1962, Douglas Common School No. 3 became Douglas Independent School District No. 3 and initiated a high school program in addition to maintaining an expanded elementary program.
In the fall of 1963 the Carrousel Building, which won national recognition for its unique design, was opened for students. Named for the late senator, the Francis Case Building began housing students in 1964.
Through school district reorganization the following rural schools became part of the Douglas School District: Fairview Common School District No. 15, July 1, 1961; Lone Tree Common School District No. 25, July 1, 1965; Pleasant Hill Common School District no. 84, July 1, 1968; Prairie View Common School District No. 14, July 1, 1968; Bend Common School District no. 82, July 1, 1968; White Eagle Common School District No. 18, July 1, 1968; and Heavlin Common School District No. 27, July 1, 1968.
In 1998 the South Dakota State Legislature inacted statewide open enrollment. This allows parents to apply for enrolling their children in any public school they choose, regardless of the actual district of residency. The Douglas School district has seen an increase in enrollment from students outside the district, such as from Rapid City, Meade County, and New Underwood.
Today the district encompasses 156.35 square miles in Pennington and Meade counties with a current enrollment of 2553 students for the 2002-03 school year.