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A History of Kellom School

What do Fred Astaire, Roger and Gale Sayers, Bob Gibson, Bob Boozer, Michael Anania, Brenda Council, and former Omaha mayor Johnny Rosenblatt all have in common? Born in the Near North Side, each attended the same school. That same building is a neighborhood institution with deep roots going back at least 140 years in Omaha’s past. This is a history of North Omaha’s Kellom School.

What do Fred Astaire, Roger and Gale Sayers, Bob Gibson, Bob Boozer, Michael Anania, Brenda Council, and former Omaha mayor Johnny Rosenblatt all have in common? Born in the Near North Side, each attended the same school. That same building is a neighborhood institution with deep roots going back at least 140 years in Omaha’s past. This is a history of North Omaha’s Kellom School.

1914 Kellom Elementary School, North Omaha, Nebraska
This 1914 pic shows the student population at Kellom School in the Near North Side neighborhood at N. 24th and Paul Street. The main building was constructed in 1892, and the building on the left was built in 1912.

John H. Kellom (1817-1891) was one of the first teachers in Omaha City, arriving in 1857 and helped open the first school in Jefferson Square. He was named the first superintendent of the district that year, even though the school system failed to work. Joining the first Omaha School Board in 1859, he served the new education system for more than 20 years. However, the first name for the school wasn’t Kellom.

Instead, it was originally called the Paul Street School when it was opened in the late 1870s in a small wooden building. It was originally located at North 22nd and Paul Street, and was well-known for its diverse student population. African Americans attended the school, as well as Scandinavians, eastern European Jews, Italians and many other non-English speaking students.

1926 Kellom School, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is a 1926 pic of a class standing outside Kellom School.

By 1888, the school was too small for its population and the school district wanted to rebuild it. The two original wood frame buildings were moved further north to become the first Lothrop School.

According to the March 24, 1891 edition of the Evening World-Herald, the Omaha school board contracted with the Omaha-based architectural firm of Bell & Berlinghof to design a two story brick building with eighteen rooms. After being renamed for Kellom and opened in 1892, the building was expanded continuously throughout the years, and in 1908, the Omaha Bee declared that Kellom School was “the largest school in the city, having an enrollment of 1,000 children.”

Kellom School, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is the entrance to the 1912 addition to Kellom Elementary School. It was demolished along with the rest of the school in 1952.

Starting in 1940, Omaha Public Schools began discussing the possibility of building a mixed-purpose facility to replace the second Kellom School.

In 1952, Omaha Public Schools finished constructing a new Kellom School along with a Kellom Pool and the Kellom Community Center at North 24th and Paul Street. Serving the neighboring Logan Fontenelle Housing Project, as well as the surrounding Near North Side neighborhood.

Kellom School, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is a colorized 1960 photo of a classroom at Kellom School celebrating President’s Day.

The school was affected deeply by white flight from the 1920s through the 1970s. During that 50 year period, the student population and surrounding neighborhoods went from being predominantly white to becoming predominantly African American. Funding for the building was greatly diminished by institutional racism in Omaha Public Schools, and efforts for improvement were greatly overrated through the 2000s.

Kellom became the site of the first free breakfast program in Nebraska in 1967, and was also targeted by a number of school desegregation plans from the 1970s through the 2000s. It is one of Omaha’s historic Black Schools, and continues to be predominantly African American today.

Kellom School, 1311 North 24th Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
This June 1910 article from the Omaha Daily News celebrates “The Boy Gardeners of Omaha,” including the gardening plot at North Omaha’s Kellom School.

After the Kellom Community Center was converted into offices for the Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects in the late 1970s, Kellom acquired the facility in 2000. Located in the same structure as the school, the offices were converted into classrooms and offices. Since 1999, Omaha Public Schools has included the school in a special program that ensures small class sizes at both the primary and intermediate grades.

Today, Kellom Elementary School has about 400 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The vast majority of the school population today is African American, with large populations of Hispanic/Latino students, as well as Sudanese, Asian, Native American and Somalian.

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Bonus Pics!

1908 Kellom School, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is a 1908 spread from the Omaha World-Herald featuring Kellom School. Students in these pictures are sewing, crocheting and participating in storytime.
1930s Kellom School pic, North Omaha, Nebraska
This 1930s era pic shows a graduating class at Kellom School.
Kellom Community Library, North Omaha, Nebraska
This group of kids are gathered at the official ribbon cutting for the Kellom Community Library in 1967. Notice the Logan Fontenelle Projects in the background.
Bob Gibson, North Omaha, Nebraska
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson, who went to Kellom School, wears his alma mater’s hat in 1965 parade honoring him.
1914 Kellom School phonograph, North Omaha, Nebraska
This teacher is standing by Kellom School’s prized phonograph in this 1914 pic.

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