Tifton’s first school, the Tifton Institute, located at the corner of 4th St and Tift Ave, was constructed in 1891. Prior to its construction, children attended classes in a small pine shack downtown Tifton that was also used as a courthouse and a church. Residents formed a stock company to establish the school and charged tuition: primary students, $2; intermediate, $2.50; and high school, $3.
The city bought out the Tifton Educational Co. in 1897 and named the first school board soon after. A referendum to levy a school tax failed in 1900, but a second effort in 1906 passed. That same year, construction began on new school, Tifton Grammar School, which housed grades one through eleven, was located where the post office is now, and was built at a cost of $30,000.
By 1912, a drive for a second school began. Tifton High School, the present County Administration Building, was finished by 1917 at a cost of $100,000 and was used as a school for the next 53 years. It housed grades six through eleven, and Tifton Grammar School housed grades one through five. In 1944 this was named Annie Belle Clark for its long-time principal.
Meanwhile, children who lived outside the city limits attended county schools. Teachers normally taught for three-month terms and then moved on to another school. At one time, there were 28 separate schools in the county, but a consolidation drive spurred by World War I brought the number to 14 by 1927. This was also the year that the Tifton Junior High was built at 506 W 12th St.
The city and county schools merged completely in 1955. G. O. Bailey, the city superintendent, became principal of Tifton High School, and Henry Banks Allen, the county superintendent served as the first Tift County consolidated superintendent. By 1956, three new schools - Northside, Southside, now Charles Spencer, and Matt Wilson High School were begun. The next educational milestone came in 1962 when Tift County High school opened on 8th St, then a dirt road. This is currently Eighth Street Middle School. The football stadium was built in 1966, and a new junior high, now Northeast Campus, TCHS, followed in 1970.
Tifton Industrial School, now J. T. Reddick, housed Afro-American students in grades one through eleven from 1917-1957, and Matt Wilson High School educated Afro-American students in grades eight through eleven from 1958 until 1968. It reopened in 1917 as a seventh grade center while J. T. Reddick housed all 6th graders in Tift County.
Lake Drive, now Len Lastinger opened in 1963 and was built for a cost of $232,000. G. O Bailey, named for the long-time Tift County educator, was built in 1971.
Citizens passed a on referendum in 1995 to build the present Tift County High School. In 1997 they passed the first SPLOST, which allowed the bonds to be retired in June, 2002. This 34 million dollar complex which includes practice fields, a gymnasium that seats 1800 and a Performing Arts Center is debt free. When Tift County High School was dedicated in 1998, board of education member cut the ribbon in front of the special memento, the cornerstone from the first high school at the post office site.
In 2001, Tift County voters gave the Board of Education approval to extend the first SPLOST so that construction could begin on a new primary school and additions and improvements could be made at other schools. This new facility opened in 2003. The football stadium was named Brodie Field in 2002 in honor of Gene Brodie, Athletic Director from 1976-1994.
There are thirteen schools in the system: Annie Belle Clark Primary, Charles Spencer Elementary, Eighth Street Middle School, G. O. Bailey Primary, J. T. Reddick Elementary, Len Lastinger Primary, Matt Wilson Elementary, Northeast Campus of TCHS, Northside Primary, Omega Primary and Elementary, Pre-K Center, Sixth Street Academy and Tift County High School.
Currently additions are being made to Tift County High School enabling the school to house the 9th grade on the main campus. The other schools in the system will be realigned to include Northeast becoming a middle school along with Eighth Street Middle and all the other schools will become elementary schools housing K - 5. The Pre - K students will still be housed at the Pre--K Center on 12th St which was formally Annie Belle Clark.
Most of the information was taken directly from The Heritage of Tift County Georgia 1905-2003 that was published in 2003.
The Heritage of Tift County Georgia 1905 - 2003. Vol. 1, Walsworth Publishing Co., 2003.