The independent governmental body known as the Kenosha Unified School District was created in 1967 but was built on a foundation of educational excellence established by area schools as early as 1835, a full 13 years before Wisconsin even became a state.
The first schoolhouse was built in 1837 as the second structure on Main Street (now 56th Street and Sixth Avenue in Kenosha). In 1838, William Bullen built a frame structure located on the site of the former Weiskopf School (50th Street and Sheridan Road) that became the first regular academy in 1839.
That same year, the community designated land for use as a “common school,” forerunner of the public schools. A wooden structure was built on the site and was used until 1845. In 1849, a new building was completed and opened its doors to 400 students.
Also in 1845, Col. Michael Frank moved to Southport (as Kenosha was known) and became editor of its newspaper. As early as 1840, Frank advocated “free schools,” another forerunner of the public school system. In 1843, he introduced the first bill in the Wisconsin territorial legislature to establish schools. While it didn’t pass at the territorial level, a law authorizing the establishment of free schools within the limits of Southport did pass in 1845, paving the way for the establishment of public schools in what would soon be called Kenosha.
In 1890, the foundation was laid for a secondary school where the present Reuther Central High School stands.
“It is impossible to measure the influence of Kenosha in shaping the educational policy of other cities and villages as they opened their secondary schools,” one historian said.
Another educator having a profound effect on the development of the Kenosha public school system, and public schools throughout the nation, was Mary D. Bradford, who served the Kenosha schools as a teacher an then superintendent from 1878 to 1894, and again from 1910 through 1921, in the interim helping Wisconsin establish its outstanding higher education public school system.
Kenosha Unified School District, after being operated as a part of city government, became a fiscally independent governmental unit in 1967 and continues to serve residents of the city of Kenosha, village of Pleasant Prairie, and town and village of Somers in southeastern Wisconsin, specifically eastern Kenosha County. It is bound by the Illinois border to the south, Racine County to the north, Lake Michigan to the east and Interstate 94 to the west. This includes approximately 168,000 residents (2016 U.S. Census estimate). The 4K through 12 public school system serves more than 22,000 students annually. Today, Kenosha Unified consists of three high schools (grades 9-12), five middle schools (grades 6-8), 22 elementary schools (4K-5), five charter schools, five choice schools, one specialty school, one head start facility and one district office.