LONGTIME MEMBER PROFILE: Prairie Lea Independent School District


Patsy Kimball performed in this Prairie Lea school auditorium, built in 1931, when she was a student. She went on to teach, including drama, there for 50 years. (Photo by Jay Godwin) 

By Ed Crowell

The four-acre site for a Prairie Lea school was deeded in 1851 because settlers of the community on the prairie land between Luling and San Marcos wanted their children to be educated. 
Today, that site — and another 10 acres added to it — is home to the entire Prairie Lea Independent School District. In several buildings, about 200 students attend classes from kindergarten through 12th grade. The school buildings started getting electricity from the cooperative that eventually became Bluebonnet many decades ago. 
Education remains a treasured value for residents of the rural area named in honor of Margaret Lea, then-U.S. Sen. Sam Houston’s wife. Patsy Kimball, 79, saw that commitment protected and nurtured through 50 years of teaching at Prairie Lea School, where the size of the graduating classes ranged from 8 to 22 seniors during her tenure. 
“The unity you see in a small faculty, where people see each other every day and the principal and superintendent are visible and supporting each teacher, helps tremendously. That sort of thing is promoted and contributes to success,” she said. 
Although Kimball retired a few years ago, she keeps up with the school and its bragging rights. When she taught drama (in addition to English, music and journalism), her 1975 class won the UIL state championship in one-act plays for Class A schools. 
In athletics, Prairie Lea won the state Class B basketball championship in 1944 and 1945. The success in recent years of Prairie Lea’s vocational education program under teacher Shelly Hardaway was noted by Kimball and school principal Darren Kesselus. The principal said the program competes and places well each year in the state Skills USA competition with projects including building trades, welding, technology and photography. 
In 1991, Jesse Vega and Nicole Grubbs won Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative’s Oratorical Contest and the award of a trip to Washington, D.C.
Kimball, a graduate of the school along with her two sisters and two children, said there is “a lot of encouragement from the staff and parents for our graduates to go to college. Having Texas State University so close in San Marcos makes that much easier. We’ve had lawyers, doctors, veterinarians and many who have become teachers.” 

(Photo courtesy Patsy Kimball )Kimball wasn’t stage shy: She and the Melody Maids (students, graduates and their kids) at a Christmas performance in the early 1960s (that’s her in the dark coat and top hat, at right).
She remembers that her father, who was a rancher and carpenter, wired their house near Prairie Lea for electricity when it became available. “My sister and I were about 10 and at home when the hanging light bulbs first came on. Then my parents came in and were so excited to see the lights. Before long we got a G.E. refrigerator and a radio that didn’t need batteries.” 
The school district serves the three communities of Prairie Lea, Fentress and Stairtown, with an average class size of 14 students and a 100 percent senior class graduation rate nearly every year. 
Principal Kesselus said, “Our small communities support the school in ways that larger districts can’t. We can give one-on-one attention to our students. Any problems that might arise definitely are jumped on right away.”  
Every month in 2014, we featured one of Bluebonnet’s earliest commercial accounts — businesses that still get their power from the co-op.

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