History of Portage Public Schools

The Portage Public School District began in 1922 as the Portage Agricultural School in the building now serving as the District's Administration Building. Located in Portage Township, the newly consolidated district was affiliated with Western State Normal School, the forerunner of Western Michigan University.

Portage Agricultural School opened with five teachers and 183 students. Student teachers from Western were transported by bus from their classes on Prospect Hill (East Campus) all the way out to rural Portage.

The first graduation was June 18, 1924 with five students: Bertha Dustin, Gerrit Fletcher, Dorothea Huizinga, Mason Kintner and Charles Matteson, who graduated in memoriam. Members of the first Board of Education were C.H. Fletcher, president; A.L. Snow, secretary; Harm Schuring, treasurer; and trustees H.B. Sweetland and George Chipman.

The class of 1926, consisting of nine women and two men, was unique since they were the first class to have spent all four of their high school years at the school. "Education is Our Aim" was the school motto. Student clubs included the Watoha yearbook, Glee Club, Art, Club, Civic League, Girl Reserves sponsored by the YWCA, and Hi-Y sponsored by the YMCA.

The first parent-teacher association was formed after 200 people held an organizational meeting in the school gym (now the Personalized Enrichment Program center and a dance studio). A total of 64 charter members launched the PTA with dues of 25 cents and meetings scheduled once a month.

Further consolidation transformed Portage Agricultural School into the Portage Township Schools in 1946. This unification brought together the eight original district schools in addition to schools from the townships of Texas and Pavillion. A separate high school was built in 1949 called Portage Township High School which later became Portage High School and serves today as Portage Central High School. 

New schools were added to the District throughout the years as the student population continued to increase, including a Junior High School for grades 7-9 built in 1957 and finally, a second high school built in 1964, Portage Northern High School. Today we have eight elementary, three middle schools, two high schools, a Community High School, and a community education center in a district with more than 8,700 students, 1,000 faculty and staff and thousands of alumni around the world.

For more information, see our history of Portage Public Schools, "75 Years of Shaping the Future: 1922-1997," a 64-page booklet by Penny Hames Briscoe and published by PPS as a part of our 75th anniversary.

Also visit the Heritage Room of the Portage District Library. The Portage Schools Collection "Finding Aid" will help you relevant documents and photos about Portage Schools (and local and state education pre-dating PPS). Mr. Steve Rossio is the PDL's local historian.

More History

View the PPS Collection "Finding Aid" for documents and photographs archived at the Portage District Library Heritage Room. Also, read about our history through the PPS Timeline.

"This Place Called Portage: Its Past & Present," by Larry B. Massie (2006) features many pages on the history of our school district.

For further information about studying the history of local schools, see "Local Schools: Exploring Their Past" by Ronald E. Butchart (The Nearby History Series), 1986.

Historic Documents

See selected pages from the 1926 Watoha Yearbook, including the cover, dedication to Cleora Skinner, photo of the Board of Education, and photos of the faculty.


Cleora Skinner, 1922-1939
Hugh Archer, 1939-1943
Lewis D. Crawford, 1943-1947
Varl Wilkinson, 1947-1970
Dr. George Conti, 1970-1986
James H. Rikkers, 1986-2002
Dr. Pete McFarlane, 2002-2007
Marsha A. Wells, 2007-2011
Dr. Richard Perry, 2011-2013

Portraits of our past superintendents are on display in the main lobby of the Administration Building.


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Oral History Interviews

Transcripts of recent interviews (2004-2008) with former board presidents and superintendents from the Portage Schools Collection housed at the Heritage Room, Portage District Library.


Varl Wilkinson

James Rikkers

Pete McFarlane, Ed.D.

Board Presidents

Robert VanderRoest, DDS

Bill Boyer, DVM

James Ellinger

Patricia Dolan

Phil Sheldon

Kevin Flynn

John White

Kevin Hollenbeck, PhD

Tom Eddy

The Portage Schools Collection files also includes a short interview with Sup. Cleora Skinner from 1963. Cleora Skinner

Northern's First Principal

Read about Arland Martin