Guilford County Schools: History of Laughlin School The rich history of Laughlin School, now Laughlin Professional Development Center, dates back to its opening as a Sabbath School in January, 1866, in Summerfield, North Carolina. Sabbath Schools, which utilized local churches to conduct classes, sprang up all over the south after the Civil War when slavery was formally abolished with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1866. Before that time, educational opportunities in the south were almost non-existent for people of color. After the abolishment of slavery, the strong will to be educated motivated the Freedmen to open and maintain the Sabbath Schools. Fortunately, the records of the Sabbath Schools and their students were kept by the State of North Carolina in monthly School Reports and also were sent to the Bureau of Refuges, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.
The Sabbath School at Summerfield opened with forty-three children of the Freedmen, twenty-one males and twenty-two females. It held classes in the present Peace Church on Scalesville Road. The children were taught the alphabet, spelling, reading, geography, arithmetic, and writing by two Quaker women from Pennsylvania who traveled south for the primary purpose of teaching the Freedmen’s children. Unfortunately, the two ladies returned to Pennsylvania after the Ku Klux Klan made a disturbing visit to the home in which they were boarding. After they left Summerfield, records for the Sabbath School remained scarce until the early twentieth century.
Subsequently, in the early 1900s, the former Sabbath School evolved into Summerfield School and began meeting in a two-room building with wood stoves and no electricity. The male students split the wood for the stoves, and the female students carried the wood to the front porch. The school house was located on the land that is now the parking lot for Summerfield Town Hall on the corner of Summerfield Road and Oak Ridge Road, only a short distance from the school’s present location.
Concerned about the betterment of the students, in April, 1928, a delegation from Summerfield took a petition to the Guilford County Schools Board of Education, asking for a new, improved, larger school for African-American students in Summerfield. Because Summerfield School only went through the seventh grade, the area high school students had to attend Dudley High School in Greensboro, which was fourteen miles away. In order for them to attend Dudley, their parents had to pay to board them in Greensboro while they were in school.
With a similar concern, at approximately the same time as the Summerfield petition to the School Board, delegations from Oak Ridge and Oak Springs brought their own petitions to the Board, asking for high school grades to be offered in their African American schools. After visiting both the Summerfield location and the Oak Ridge location, the Board announced that the school would be built in Summerfield. Until a projected later expansion of the Summerfield School, the high school students in Oak Ridge and Oak Springs would attend a local school.
Consequently, in 1934, Summerfield Colored School opened with five teachers and 190 students. One of the five teachers was Duella M. Laughlin who taught grades five, six, and seven. She later became the school’s principal from 1936 to 1950, and the school was renamed Laughlin School in her honor a few years after she retired.
Unfortunately, on Monday night, January 5, 1942, at approximately 8:00 p.m., Summerfield Colored School was destroyed by fire, probably from defective wiring. Because the county school system had fire insurance on the building, it was rebuilt soon afterwards. During the rebuilding, the school’s students attended classes in the Smith Brothers old factory and in Isom’s old mill. Both buildings had been graciously renovated by the owners for the students of Summerfield Colored School. The newly-built Summerfield School contained seven classrooms, a library, and a principal’s office. Today, this building houses model classrooms created and maintained by the Induction and Success Department.
A few years later, in March, 1950, an addition to the school was approved by the State Board of Education. The new addition, located to the rear of the original building, included four classrooms and a multipurpose room. Soon afterwards, in 1953, a cafeteria and four more classrooms were added. These classrooms now house the offices of Induction and Professional Development and training rooms for Guilford County Schools.
As Laughlin School facility continued to grow, a third and final classroom building was added adjacent to the cafeteria in 1955. Notably, in 2013, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department temporarily occupied the building while its new district office was being constructed.
A big change came to all area high schools in 1962, when they were consolidated into one school, Northwest Senior High School. However, Laughlin School chose not to join the consolidated school until 1965. Similarly, more change to Laughlin School came in 1968 when grades seven, eight, and nine were moved to the newly constructed Northwest Middle School. Then, at that time, Laughlin consisted only of grades one through six. Hence, in 1970, when integration fully transitioned into Guilford County Schools, Laughlin was paired with Summerfield Elementary School, and grades three, four, and five were transferred to that facility. Laughlin School was then a K-2 school with three team teachers and five self-contained classrooms.
The years 1981 and 1982 brought about a period of renovation to Laughlin School. Two classrooms were converted into offices and a Media Center. Today, the newly renovated area contains the offices of the Executive Director and Office Support of Induction and Professional Development and another training room for Guilford County Schools.
Lastly, the next change to Laughlin School was in 1987 when the second grade was moved to Summerfield Elementary School. Laughlin remained a K-1 school until it closed in 2011. The school sat empty for approximately a year and a half.
To continue its rich history, in May, 2012, after renovation had taken place, the Departments of Induction and Success and Professional Development moved into Laughlin School, changing the name to Laughlin Professional Development Center. Laughlin School which began in 1866 is still alive with activity in 2014, 148 years later, as it houses Guilford County Schools trainings, workshops, and meetings.
This essay was researched, written and edited by Linda S. Zenns, an amateur historian and Induction Support Coach with Guilford County Schools.
The Encyclopedia of African-American Education (online)
The Guilford County Schools: A History by John Batchelor
School Days in Summerfield, North Carolina by Gladys H. Scarlette
Keith Barnett, Induction and Success
Mark Brown, Summerfield Mayor from 2005-2013
Peggy B. Joyce, Principal of Laughlin School from 1971-1991
John W. Marshall(Lucky), Student at Laughlin School from 1956-1966
Franklin Miller, 1955 Graduate of Laughlin School
Linda Southard, Mother of Two Former Laughlin Students and Former Substitute Teacher at Laughlin School
Patricia Enoch Walker, 1963 Graduate of Laughlin School
Bobbie Williams, Office Support/Treasurer at Laughlin School from 1971-2003