School History



McKinley was a part of the $1.5 million bond issue passed in 1920 to fund four junior high schools. McKinley’s vibrant history dates back to 1922. Under the leadership of Miss Frances Prescott, McKinley was one of the first junior high school built west of the Mississippi River.

During construction, rumors that McKinley was being built on quick sand spread, ceasing construction until the rumors could be disproved. When school started in September, the building was generic and uninviting. Grant Wood, the art teacher at the time, quickly changed the school’s appearance with an ad in the newspaper. He said McKinley teachers and students would be willing to care for house plants during the winter time and return them to the rightful owners in the spring. 


Plants began to arrive, adding positive change to the classrooms. During his four years as art teacher, Grant Wood had students share their artistic abilities by painting murals and decorating classrooms on the once white walls. To this day, there is a classroom dedicated to Grant Wood’s legacy. Some of his remaining art pieces include “The Mourner’s Bench” and the Percy Heavythinker mask.

The character of the building is traced with history. The original design included a pool. After discovering the cost of a pool filtration system would be too expensive, the idea was scrapped and the cafeteria was instead built on top of the pool foundation. The old boiler room has remains from the coal shoot that was carried to the coal room.  In the basement of McKinley, there is an old firing range where students once held shooting competitions. But with the red scare of the 1950s, the firing range was converted into a bomb shelter.

In 1933, the students outgrew the current building space. The school added a new, larger gym and more classrooms. During the Great Depression, both Washington and Grant Senior High Schools closed. As a result, McKinley served as a junior and senior high school until the new Washington High School reopened the doors in 1957.

Throughout the mid-20th Century, McKinley offered advanced learning opportunities to students. For example, there was a radio club where the students became licensed broadcasters for the station, W9ZRL. McKinley also published its own newspaper, The Clarion. The band was in need of new uniforms in the spring of 1952, so the annual tradition of magazine sales emerged. They raised a total of $3,000 to cover the costs of uniforms, and the fundraising tradition continues.


In 1987, the school removed the 9th grade, and became a 6th - 8th grade place of instruction. The name also changed from McKinley Junior High School to McKinley Middle School, where students and staff will strive to develop lifelong learners and leaders by focusing on collaboration and respect for our diverse learning community.