The Malvern Family's Parkway Legacy

Beginning of Parkway School District

Submitted by Gail Malvern

The story of the Parkway School District in St. Louis starts with a little background into the originator of the District, a father who wanted a better education for his children.

Joseph Henry Malvern was reared in Maplewood, Missouri and attended school there until the third grade.  While he was in the third grade his teacher marked one of his math problems as wrong.  He showed her how he got the answer, but she would not change his grade.  His answer did not agree with the answer at the back of her book.  He went over her head to the school district where he proved he was right, and the book answer was wrong - he made her change his answer to correct.  At this point he decided that since he could do math better than the teacher and had read all the books in the school he wanted to, he no longer needed the school.  His embarrassing his teacher may have played a role, regardless of why, this was the end of his formal education. 

Later in life he married Erna Kathrine Meier who went to the eighth grade but became ill and did not finish the exams at the end of the year.  She was not given her eighth grade diploma.  She always regretted this and wished that she could have gone to high school, instead she went to work.. 

These were my, Gail Malvern, and my brothers, Richard Malvern, parents.  Despite not having the formal education our parents both had a strong desire for their children to have a greater education than they had.  They became active in the school by becoming members of the Parents Teachers Association.  At that time there were several small individual schools of either one or two rooms.  The one that we attended was Moore School.  When my brother attended, and I started it was a one room school with one teacher for all eight grades.  The teacher, Mrs. Thompson taught the upper grades, and the upper classes taught the lower grades with her supervision. Mrs. Thompson was a kind motherly woman who took her position seriously.  There were several children at the school who came from poorer families were food was scarce. While Mrs. Thompson was there the PTA started a free lunch program where all the children had the same meal.  Mrs. Wirth was very active in this and developed healthy menus that children would like.  The seventh and eighth graders made and served the meal.  The school lunch program was a big hit. 

When Mrs. Thompson retired a petition was added down the middle of the classroom and it became a two-room school with two teaches. My first teacher there was non-personal and seemed to teach by rote.  She was stricter and cold.  I also don’t recall the name of my next teacher, what I recall is that she taught in the morning only.  Mostly she taught reading and math.  If you did not get the math right, you were left in the room at noon to work on what you got wrong without further instructions.  She spent the afternoons reading Zane Grey novels out loud to the class, most of them were inappropriate for children. 

It was sometime during those years that my father, Joe Malvern (Pop to me) was the president of the Parent Teachers Association and Irene Wirth was the secretary/treasurer. As children we enjoyed going to PTA meetings.  The children got to play outside or in the basement unsupervised.  When the meeting was over, we could go in and have refreshments with the adults.   Once I recall Pop going to talk with Irene during the day when there was to be a meeting that night.  Irene’s kitchen was wall to wall donuts, some still proofing and some fried.  That night we had freshly made donuts as a treat after the meeting. 

Pop and Irene became increasingly dissatisfied with the school.  Irene invited our family to come to dinner at her house to discuss the situation.  I was always glad to go to the Wirth’s for dinner, that night Irene made her famous fried chicken and hot rolls.  During the meal as the problems of Moore School were discussed the idea was brought up of getting several of the smaller schools to join to make a larger school. I’m not sure who brought it up but the conversation for the rest of the meal was planning the details of how to go about contacting the other schools and how to get the ball rolling.  Mom gave much encouragement and put in her ideas.   Pop was chosen and contacted other schools to see if they were interested.  After much discussion with the other schools, the idea was brought to a vote at an election and passed by a small margin. This was the inception of the Parkway School District in St. Louis. 

As the schools had consolidated, there was the need for an elected board.  Pop was elected to the first school board. The board began the process of building new schools by joining several smaller ones.  Pop continued to be reelected while the Parkway School District continued to grow.  My father’s role was to work with the architects while planning a new school and then to inspect each school as it was being built to make sure it was being built to specifications.  He had no formal education in these areas but had worked for a few years in construction with his father prior to becoming a florist.   

When I graduated eighth grade Pop decided he would not run for the board anymore and was not on the ballet for the next election.  There was someone running to take his place, despite this, he won on a write in vote and served another term.  The other members of the board had put the word out that he was much needed in his position on the board.  After this one last term  Pop told the board that he would not be on the board again. 

Although my father was the one who was on the board Mrs. Wirth continued to be active in the district.  Although she did not have the formal education, she became the head of the school lunch program. I was told Pop had a role in getting her accepted in this position.   As a child I recall eating her fried chicken and other of her recipes in the lunchroom.  Later I was a teacher at the Manchester School and was again pleased with her menu and especially fried chicken and yeast roll days.  Until her retirement she managed to serve meals with both an eye on nutrition and taste that both the students and the teachers enjoyed.

The consolidated school I attended was Mason Ridge where I graduated from the eighth grade.  At the time I graduated there was no high school in the district, so the district contracted with Maplewood High School, however there was talk of building a high school in the future.  Many of the schools contracted with other existing high schools.   

By the time my brother’s children, Keith, Patti, Linda, and Glenn Malvern were ready to go to high school the district had a high school. Joe’s grandchildren all graduated from the district he helped develop. 

Today the Parkway School District is the largest in St. Louis with 25 schools with 4 being high schools.  The student enrollment for the district was 17,613 prior to Covid.  This all started when a few concerned parents wanted a better education for their children.