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McLeod's One-Room School House


In 1986, People magazine did a story titled, “Lowest Paid Teacher in America.” Janice Herbranson taught kindergarten through sixth grade at the one-room school in McLeod, North Dakota. Her salary was only $6,800 a year.

At the time, there were 14 one-room schoolhouses still operating in the state, and McLeod’s was closing its doors. Of the three students still attending, two would be moving on to 7th grade, and there was no way to keep the school running for the remaining child.

The People story was 10 pages long. It was the first time the magazine’s lead story was told only through photographs and captions. Photographer Barry Staver considered the assignment one of his most personally rewarding. He recalled visiting the classroom in February – it was 18 below when the kids went outside for recess.

In addition to teaching, Herbranson also prepared two hot meals a day. Arriving early, she cooked a hot breakfast, and throughout the morning, she would periodically check the lunch simmering on the stove. After school was out for the day, she also cleaned, swept and had often worked on paperwork for grants to keep the school open. The only thing that allowed her to work at such a low salary was her income from co-owning of the Sand Dune Saloon in McLeod.

On this date in 1986, the school let out for the last time. In an article for the Fargo Forum, Kevin Murphy wrote, “As each student left Friday, clutching paper bags to protect just-made scrapbooks from a light spring rain, Herbranson handed them their report cards and an ice cream bar.”

Herbranson was quoted in the paper saying, “In a way, it was a blessing to have the media here. If we were all alone, we’d have to dwell on this being the last day. This is a day the kids will remember. I don’t want them to remember it with tears.” Two preschoolers who attended the school two afternoons a week joined the three students for a picture in front of their desks.

Herbranson took college courses the following year, then spent a year teaching kindergarten in Texas. In 1988, the McLeod school board elected to reopen the school and gave Herbranson a call. She came back to McLeod to pick up where she left off – and yes, she did get a raise, but in 2002 the school closed again, this time for good. The Ransom County Historical Society now owns it.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm