A tradition of pride and excellence in education started long ago in Cortland. It is believed that the first schoolhouse was erected as early as 1789 near the corner of what is now Port Watson and Main Street. In 1813, a state law was passed which provided for the establishment of common schools. Not long thereafter, a new school was built in 1816 near Court House Park. It was not very long after this that the villagers in Cortland began to think about secondary education.
In early 1828, NYS passed an act for the establishment of education of females. In response to this, the Female Seminary was formed and prepared women for “distinguished positions in married life.” Young men attended a school on Church Street that prepared them for “entering the counting room, college, or the teaching profession.” The existence of two institutions in a little village is evidence of the high level of interest that the people of Cortland felt towards education.
In 1841, the Classical School for Women and the Classical School for Young Men were merged and formed the “Cortlandville Academy.” The mission of the new Cortlandville Academy was to prepare students with practical life, knowledge, college preparatory work and teacher training. The total enrollment was 125 students.
By 1866, enrollment grew to 400 students and course offerings spanned from French, German, Latin, vocal and instrumental music, drawing, logic, geology, and history.
In April 1866, NYS passed a Legislative Act in which Normal Schools were established - this led to the closing of Cortlandville Academy and the opening of the Normal School. The Normal School consisted of three departments, Normal, Academic, Primary and Intermediate. Prior to 1880, the public schools in Cortland were organized by districts according to state legislation. By 1880, new state legislation allowed for the reorganization and the creation of the “Cortland Union Free School District No. 1.” In 1883, both the Owego Street school and the Schermerhorn Street school were opened.
Despite the existence of school buildings, the residents of Cortland felt the need for more classroom space. In 1891, a new Central School was approved. The Central School was opened in 1893 and housed the Superintendent's office, library, and academic departments. By 1903, additions were put on to add more classroom space and two bicycle rooms: one for boys and one for girls. In 1927 the official Cortland Junior Senior High School was created, and elementary level students were relocated.
In 1927, the decision was made by the residents of Cortland County to build two new schools, Randall and Parker. State aid was authorized in the amount of $75,000 for each school.
Randall and Parker Schools opened their doors to students in 1928.
Prior to 1959, the school that serviced the neighborhood was the Owego Street school. Both the Owego Street and Homer Ave schools were deemed crowded and unsafe, and plans moved forward to built two new schools. The Franklyn S. Barry School was built simultaneously with the Ferdinand E. Smith School in 1959. F.S. Barry would replace the aging Owego Street school, and F.E. Smith would replace the Homer Ave school.
Virgil operated as its own, independent school district until 1965, when the residents of Virgil voted in favor of merging with Cortland. The official date the merger took place was July 1, 1965. At that point the Virgil K-6 students would stay at the Virgil Elementary School, 125 Virgil students would join the Cortland Senior High School, and 80 would attend the Cortland Junior High School.
In 1976, Junior Senior High School students left the Central School and moved to their new building on South Hill. The old Central School had a half million dollar makeover and was reconfigured to be a County Office Building.
Smith, Barry, Parker, Randall, and Virgil all remained K-6 buildings, with the Junior High serving grades 7 and 8 and the Senior High serving grades 9-12. In the 2017-2018 school year, a District-wide facilities committee studied each buildings needs, student enrollment and the District’s fiscal situation. After several meetings and input from community members, the Board of Education and Superintendent voted in favor of closing Parker and Virgil elementary schools and creating grade centers with the three remaining schools. Barry will serve grades K-2, Smith grades 3-4, and Randall grades 5-6.