The following summary includes excerpts and paraphrased segments from Rise & Shine, A Centennial Celebration: Lily B. Clayton Elementary School 1922-2022 by longtime PTA archivist and volunteer, Debra W. Nyul.  This beautiful book is available for purchase here

Laying the Foundation. After the Mistletoe Heights development was incorporated into the city of Fort Worth, the city school board on September 7, 1921 approved an initial sum of $19,650 to build a school. The four-room school was designed by Wiley G. Clarkson and A. Wright Gaines, and Harry B. Friedman served as the building contractor. The school opened January 30, 1922 as "Mistletoe Heights Elementary", with 79 students and three teachers and a principal-teacher, Lula Parker. 

Within one month of opening, the school's PTA was born on February 22, 1922. The PTA organized their first documented mission — removing 50 wagon loads of rock left over from construction and pavement of Park Place so that children could play safely.

What's In a Name? In the early 1920s, Fort Worth had a policy of not naming schools after people, and so it was called "Mistletoe Heights Elementary" based on its location. The community, however, had a different name in mind — one that would honor a beloved Fort Worth teacher, Miss Lily Ben Clayton. Following grassroots efforts and a massive newspaper campaign, the school board approved the change of the school's name to Lily B. Clayton Elementary School on November 20, 1922. 

Miss Clayton spent most of her 50-year career teaching Latin at Fort Worth High School and then Central High School. In retirement, Miss Clayton supported her namesake school by attending student activities and encouraging Principal Lula Parker. After she died in 1942, Monsignor Joseph G. O'Donohoe described his teacher's famously gentle and kind spirit:

"Those of us who were privileged to know Lily B. Clayton were so thoroughly accustomed to her goodness and sweetness that we were spoiled in taking her for granted for most of us have to be sweetened by adversity and chastened by the sorrows and burdens of many years, whereas Miss Clayton seemed to have been born that way, as none of us can ever remember her being otherwise." She was the original "Sweet Lily B."

Setting the Tone. Principal Lula Parker was 42 years old and a veteran teacher of 15 years when she was appointed as the first principal of what would soon be called Lily B. Clayton Elementary. Having a woman principal appointed to lead the state-of-the-art facility was newsworthy and attracted regular attention from the local press. Philosophically, Principal Parker embraced the newest thinking on school leadership and child psychology. "School days should be the very happiest period in a child's life and we want to make it that way," she shared in a newspaper account. Raising future citizens was as important to her as teaching the basics. Embracing this modern idea to the fullest, Principal Parker began student clubs, a new concept at the time, to promote leadership and to introduce her students to activities like music, sports, public speaking, and theatre. She also made pubic service a serious focus for all Lily B. students, with regular volunteer drives.

Principal Parker faced her first major challenge within a year of the school opening. Between 1922 and 1923, Lily B. enrollment numbers doubled from 79 students to over 150. District officials soon recommended a doubling of Lily B.'s size, and the original architect, Wiley G. Clarkson, and a new builder, A. J. Howard, were chosen for the much needed addition making the school have eight rooms.

A New Deal. The spectacular growth of Fort Worth continued into the second half of the 1920s resulting in yet another surge of school age children. By 1927, Lily B. had once again become overcrowded with 300 students squeezed into eight rooms. The crisis of overcrowding propelled the city school board in 1928 to buy more land next to the school. Then, in November 1933, a massive $3,000,000 bond package was passed by Fort Worth citizens and a PWA grant of $4,000,000 was approved on January 17, 1934. With this grant, new schools and classrooms could finally be created. Two entirely new schools were planned to include North Hi Mount and Morningside elementary schools. Lily B. Clayton, Hubbard Heights, George C. Clarke, Alice E. Carlson, and Oakhurst elementary schools would all receive additions. Missing from these improvements, however, were any new schools planned for the segregated children of color who would continue to have substandard, overcrowded buildings for decades. Only one segregated school received approval for a WPA addition.

Although Lily B. Clayton Elementary would be the first of the seven PWA projects, the process of obtaining plans and authorizing work was time consuming and lasted a full year. The bids by noted architect Preston M. Geren, Sr. and building contractor Harry B. Friedman were eventually selected, and a twilight groundbreaking was held for the new school addition on August 25, 1934. In a newspaper interview, Principal Parker joyfully described the many improvements her students would soon enjoy. Kindergartners would have a fishpond in the classroom. Rooms dedicated to science and plant life had been designed. A library, art room, cafeteria, and auditorium were included in this modern school. Every detail had been considered — from tile art featuring storybook characters to outside relief work depicting nursery rhymes. The new principal's office was designed to look homey with dark oak paneling and a fireplace.

With school construction finished in May 1935, the WPA could finally start its part — the landscaping architecture of the campus. Using designs by the famous Hare & Hare firm, construction began of beautiful stone walls and terraces, courtyards, and an outside stage for the children. As part of the initial landscaping, each of the classrooms was assigned a plot along a long row on the east side of the addition. While some classes planted flowers, the third and fourth grade classes raised vegetables as part of their "farming" unit. The school's exterior and interior worked in harmony, envisioned to be equally important to a child's experience. 

Leaving Legacies. In 1944, Principal Parker decided to retire after a 37-year career. During her 22 years at Lily B. Clayton, Miss Parker led the school from its opening day through two school expansions, the Great Depression, and many years of a country at war. Fortunately for students and staff, a highly qualified colleague, Millicent Keeble, was positioned to continue Principal Parker's work.

Principal Keeble furthered the progressive style of education started by Lula Parker. Hands-on activities were built into learning units, and Miss Keeble began involving children in evaluating their own progress. A student's self-evaluation of their good citizenship and behavior was included on their report cards. Principal Keeble was a hands-on leader willing ready to step into any role required. She reportedly worked countless unpaid hours managing and building the Lily B. library collection. Miss Keeble even handled the non-administrative role of the crossing guard on occasion. 

Expanding enrollment and new ideas of "Special Education" called for innovative leadership in the district. The new FWISD program for blind and visually impaired children was moved to Lily B. in 1955 during Principal Keeble's leadership years. The program grew and thrived.

Bold Steps Forward. In 1963, nearly a decade after the Supreme Court had ruled that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, longstanding segregation laws were still strictly enforced across the South, affecting schools across Texas. Deep inequalities existed between schools for White and Black children both in quantity and quality of facilities. Widening the gap even further, housing laws continued to prohibit owners and real estate agents from selling property in many neighborhoods to minorities. Segregation regulations of the city and school board remained ironclad. In the spring of 1963, Lily B. was just one of Fort Worth's many segregated schools, but an important step was about to be taken. 

In 1963, a court order finally required the FWISD to begin integrating the public schools. The legal order itself was limited, allowing the ISD to proceed slowly by adding only one grade level per year. Accordingly, FWISD chose to start the process with just first grade and adult evening classes.

On September 5, 1963, Mrs. Connie Blakey and her son, Kenneth Ray Blakey, climbed the steps of Lily B. Clayton on the first day of integration. A Fort Worth Star-Telegram photographer captured the moment showing mother and son together while children looked on the scene. The newspaper added that he was the only Black child to register at Lily B. that day.

Allowed to set its own integration timeline, the FWISD integrated second grade in 1964 and the remaining elementary grades in 1965. High schools and middle schools, however, remained segregated. Pressure mounted for the school board to speed transition. Not until 1967, however, would all Fort Worth public high schools and middle schools be integrated — a full 13 years after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. 

Although the numbers of Black children enrolled in first grade in Fort Worth were very small in the fall of 1963, the impact of integration was readily apparent. The movement of families and their children from public schools that had begun in the mid-1950s accelerated across city schools. Within one year of 1967's full integration, White enrollment dropped 20-30% across several Fort Worth public schools. New private schools for children were started in and out of the city. 

By the 1970s, Black students comprised 20% of Lily B. enrollment. Yet the progress of integrating schools in the city and across the country had stalled due to a variety of social, housing, and economic factors. By 1975, the FWISD school board recommended closing several schools. Lily B. Clayton's enrollment was a meager 191 students, down from 388 in 1954. All campuses under 200 students were marked for closure. 

News of FWISD's closure plans spread quickly among Lily B. Clayton's parents. In 1975, a group of parents requested the school board keep the school open, arguing that the depressed home values were attracting young families back to the city neighborhoods. The group also suggested a groundbreaking solution to raise enrollment — "before and after school childcare" for working mothers. As part of their proposal, the group asked the district to allow transfers to Lily B. Clayton for working parents needing childcare. By August start-of-school, 25 children were enrolled in the program. The grassroots effort that started Clayton Childcare (now called Clayton Youth Enrichment) helped change the course of local history. 

The volcanic struggles of integration in the 1960s and 1970s propelled changes to schools, communities, and rights of all citizens in our city and country. We owe a debt of gratitude to courageous mothers like Mrs. Connie Blakey who climbed the Lily B. steps in 1963 and to other forward-thinking parents who preserved a neighborhood school during divisive times. They serve to remind us that with continued grassroots efforts, the public schools of Fort Worth can thrive as the backbone of our community and reflect the rich diversity of our city. 

Steeped in Tradition. When Principal Susan Smith took charge of Lily B. in the fall of 1985, she had the advantage of following Principal Gloria Leach, who had been there for the previous five years. But the overall period of 1961 to 1985 had been marked by tremendous turnover in leadership. Ten principals had come and gone in 24 years. Susan Smith was keenly aware of the challenges to overcome as well as the strengths and potential of her school. She was also the right person for the job.

Susan Smith's firm belief that children are motivated by a warm, predictable environment, formed the basis of her must enduring legacy — traditions. She knew the benefits of camaraderie and the importance of school pride to a child. Because of Principal Smith, generations of Lily B. students and families have enjoyed such memorable events as Storybook Parade, Veterans Day, Singing in the Halls, and 1st Day of School. 

Shaping the Future. In 2000, after 15 years of leadership, Principal Susan Smith announced her retirement. To the district, Susan highly recommended to succeed her Ms. Sandra Garza, who had served as her Assistant Principal the previous year. Sandra became the first Hispanic principal of Lily B. Clayton. She recognized that part of her responsibility was to foster community with the steadily growing numbers of Hispanic students and their families. Principal Garza fully embraced her role as community builder and keeper of the beloved Lily B. traditions. She even created a new tradition, the Spring Bonnet Parade. 

In 2000, as Principal Garza was settling into her new position, the school enrollment had rebounded and outgrown the 1935 addition. With students overflowing in portable buildings, an addition was planned with architecture firm, Hahnfeld Hoffer Stanford. For Principal Garza, keeping continuity between the historic building and the new addition would be essential. Exterior brick colors between the old and new buildings would need to match. The team made sure that even the treasured "state" plates would still be displayed in the new cafeteria. Following a student-led petition to save an old Live Oak and Cedar Elm tree, plans were revised to preserve the majestic shade trees.

In 2003 and 2005, the PTA bought and donated playground equipment for all the Lily Bees to enjoy. A brick marquis was added in 2004 to provide families with reminders of the many school year events.

Architecturally inviting, Lily B.’s beauty is reflected in the school community itself. When you ascend the steps with your child and enter the friendly halls, you will step back to a more personal time. Teachers and staff greet children by name. Sunny classrooms buzz with activity. Students and parents commune under the canopy of trees shading the Kindergarten and library courtyards. The building is alive with the sound of children’s voices.

Through the decades, the three hallmarks of Lily B. Clayton remain. A rich history, nurturing environment, and beloved teachers committed to student achievement provide to this day an elementary school experience unmatched in Fort Worth.