Pierce Middle School
On September 18, 1939, Pierce Middle School opened its doors to 750 students for the first time. The school cost very little to taxpayers at $878,000, but like most schools during that time, there was controversy over the use of the property. Above all, Pierce's neighbors feared a school would create conflict, such as too much noise or not enough parking. Construction only took nine months and proved to be much less stressful than the construction of previous Grosse Pointe Public Schools.
Pierce Middle School was named after the Reverend John D. Pierce. In 1834, Reverend Pierce helped design Michigan's school system and served as the nation's first superintendent of public school from 1836 to 1841. He insisted that "free schools be established and maintained in perpetuity and there can be no such thing as aristocracy in our land." He wanted to ensure a better future for the students and generations to come.
Although the building is the same, Pierce has changed over the years. When it opened, there were grades 7, 8 and 9 and twenty-one teachers on staff. The students had six period days and were only offered three advanced classes; math, language arts and reading. Pierce was also home to the Grosse Pointe School Board before they moved their headquarters to St. Clair Ave.
Since its first year of existence, Pierce Middle School has made Grosse Pointe proud. Pierce has proved to be not only a school, but a small community where students, teachers, and parents connect. The legacy of one of Michigan's greatest educators, Reverend John D. Pierce remains at his school for everyone to learn.
Although Pierce Middle School was great, Grosse Pointe needed another school to handle the increased amount of students. In 1958, Samuel M. Brownell Middle School opened its doors. The 60 year old school was named after a man who left a significant mark on this community.
Samuel M. Brownell received a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska and a Ph. D from Yale. He worked at Yale University for a number of years and received the Wilbur Cross Medal: given to the Yale alumni with the greatest achievements in scholarship, teaching and academics. He served as the superintendent of Detroit Public Schools and was the second superintendent of Grosse Pointe Public Schools from 1927 to 1938.
Under Brownell's leadership, Grosse Pointe received the reputation as one of the best school districts in the country. He was known for his caring nature, and often times filled in for substitutes when teachers were unable to teach. During the Great Depression, Brownell took a deep interest in the well being of teachers. Many teachers in larger cities, such as New York, Chicago and Detroit continued to work without pay. School districts across the nation were bankrupt. He made sure the Grosse Pointe teachers were fed and guaranteed fruits and vegetables as part of their salaries. He also made arrangements to help pay their rent and utilities.
Brownell helped the Grosse Pointe School District remain open during the Great Depression. He managed to get credit at a bank in Northern Michigan because no cash was available in Southeastern Michigan after the local banks failed in 1933. He also insisted on education during WWII so that the country could run smoothly after the War ended.
Samuel M. Brownell realized the importance of public education throughout his entire life. The Grosse Pointe School System would not be as good as it is now, without the leadership of Samuel M. Brownell. He is gone now, but quality education in Grosse Pointe and Brownell Middle School are a testament to his dedication to students, teachers and community.