The History of Gimnazija in Čačak

Saint Sava mentioned the prior of the church Virgin of Gradac in the Typicon of Studenica, which he wrote from 1207-1215. The Church of the Virgin of Gradac is a patrimony of St Sava`s uncle, Prince Stracimir. If Stacimir died before 1190, the Church of the Virgin of Gradac is therefore older than Studenica itself, and it was considered to be one of the four 'royal' monasteries. Perhaps by mentioning the Virgin of Gradac, St Sava had in mind that this 'Small town' or 'Gradac' (the name Čačak had in the Nemanjić era) lacked schools by which the state would strengthen itself. The situation was the same throughout the state of Serbia. From the age of the first Serbian teacher, St Sava, six centuries of calvary, suffering, fighting for survival, had to pass before first schools in our country and in our town could have been opened.

The name of Čačak was first mentioned in 1408, referring to a settlement near Gradac monastery. Since the fall of Serbian state in 1459, the name Gradac was never mentioned again. It was not until the 18th century that some more information about the town of Čačak could be found: that the town went to Austrian hands in 1718, and that due to constant fighting between the Austrians and the Turks, the town was devoid of inhabitants. During 1735, the church was revived, but in 1739 the town fell under the Ottoman rule, and the church was converted into a mosque once again. At the end of the 18th century, Čačak was 'a small town of 18 Christian and 35 Turkish homes'.

We can claim with great certainty that there was one school in Čačak in 1809. In February of that year, Karađorđe sent a note to the town: "You did well to have accepted the offer of your teacher to be, because the need for teachers is great, and we hope that the benefit will be the same." After the breakdown of the First Serbian Uprising, the peace was short-lived. In 1815, Miloš Obrenović called to fight for the final liberation from the Ottoman rule. The main battles were fought near Čačak and Rudnik. In those battles, heroes, Lazar Mutap, Arsenije Lomo and Tanasko Rajić especially distinguished themselves. By the twist of fate or the providence of God, the building of Gimnazija today is surrounded by the streets bearing names of these heroes symbolizing the spirit of freedom and love for our country, as these great men do.

There are no detailed data about the school in 1809, but in 1826, there was one teacher in Čačak with 30 pupils. That school was situated 'on the way from the old church to the town.' At that time, Čačak was a town of only 120 Serbian and Turkish homes.

All in all, those thirties of the 19th century appeared to be the right time for Čačak to get, beside one elementary school, another one for higher education which was supposed to be financed by the state itself. In Serbia there had already been founded the so called Grand School in 1808.

Vuk Karadzic, in his letter to Knez Miloš, dated from 12th April 1832 wrote:” ... it would be worth founding another three schools of this kind, the one in Šumadija, the second one, down there across the river Morava, and the third one – up there across the Kolubara river.” This meant that these three leading schools were supposed to be in Šabac(across the Kolubara), in Zaječar (down there across the Morava) and in Čačak (the one in Šumadija).

This idea, initiated by Vuk, was put into effect on the 22nd of August 1836 by the so called “the School Regulation Schedule”. This document was a kind of a statute book for schools and according to it the Gymnasium in Čačak was supposed to be a leading school with two classes.

The school year began in the autumn of 1837 with two teachers and two students. Those first teachers were Živojin Kerečki and Todor Živković and its first students were Luka Milovanović from Virova, a village in Dragačevo near Čačak, and  Jevtimije Jovanović from Čačak. Both of them later became teachers and used to work in their birthplaces.

There is no written evidence about where Gimnazija was situated at that time, but it could have been the building which Jovan Obrenović had previously built for school purposes, that is on the very spot where the City Hall is today.

Working conditions in the school were very poor; it was without essential furniture, equipment or text books. Text books were used more by the teachers than the students since the teachers mostly used to read and dictate while the students were to write down.

Due to its poor achievements and small number of students the school was officially closed on the 9th September 1839 and transferred to Užice. At that time Čačak used to have about 800 inhabitants but there were only eleven children who attended senior classes and sixty-nine in junior classes, which was not enough for four-grade Gymnasium. One of the reasons why the school was left without students was that parents preferred to send their children to monasteries rather than to schools. Besides, educated people were not respected at that time. The Duke himself, as well as judges, captains, all of them were illiterate and Miloš Obrenović used to treat clerks as his own valets.Yet, all the obligations towards the school, which the people themselves supported, were fulfilled, from which the teacher Dragomir Popović concluded that "people liked the school as a state need, but reluctantly sent children there."

As of 1840 bishop Nićifor Maksimović demanded the school be returned to Čačak, because the Gymnasium should not be separated from the center of the Bishopric. Owing to the perseverance of bishop Maksimović, the semi-Gymnasium of Užice was moved to Čačak in the autumn of 1842. During the school year of 1842/43 only the first grade was introduced, but by 1844/45 the school already had three grades. At that time the school had only two teachers for these three grades. Pavle Djukić worked with the first grade, and Aleksa Čvarković with the second and third grade. They were praised for their work because of their students' achievements.

However, despite the good work and success, the semi-Gymnasium was moved from Čačak to Kragujevac in 1845. The head of Čačak region was ordered to immediately inform the teachers to prepare for a trip and by the end of August 1845 the teachers, along with their students, set off on foot to Kragujevac to continue their work there. Thus Čačak was left without a gymnasium from 1845 to 1869. From 1842 to 1845 the school had worked in the same building where it had begun its work in the autumn of 1837.

Schools in Serbia have been celebrating school slava Saint Sava since 1840. Latin has been taught in our schools since 1850. Great changes in the education system of Serbia arrived along with the law on establishing gymnasiums in Serbia of 15 September 1853. This law proscribed a gymnasium with seven grades and introduced titles such as Principle of Gymnasium and Teachers' Council. It ruled out dictation as a method of work and introduced a scale of grading from 1 to 5.

The law on establishing gymnasiums of 16 September 1863 reduced gymnasiums to six grades and defined that "a gymnasium is a place where young people are taught useful knowledge and given foundation for higher and more complex sciences." This law introduced Physics and Chemistry as school subjects for the first time. Ten years after this law, the law of 1873 reintroduced the gymnasium with seven grades.

In early June 1869 the municipality board of Čačak sent an inquiry to the Ministry of Education requesting that a "real school" be opened in Čačak. The request was filed with the Ministry of Education on 9 June 1869, and on 11 June it was already presented to the State Council for their approval, and on 16 June a decree was introduced on
establishment of two grades of gymnasium in Čačak starting with 1869/70. During the school year of 1869/70 only the first grade existed, but from 1870/71 both grades were functioning. That first grade had 51 students and this may explain the aspirations of the town and the prompt reactions of the Ministry to reopen the school in Čačak. In the school year 1869/70 the school was placed in the building next to the County Court, and then in 1870/71 in Gospodar Jovanova street at number 18, and after that in the house of Ferdinand Kren, above the hotel “Kasina”. More and more students required the new school building and the Municipality of Čačak completed the construction of the building where the school was situated until 1927. That is the present building of the Municipality of Čačak.

            After the completion of the new, beautiful and comfortable building, organizing new grades was an easy task. In August 1876 the third grade was opened, and a year later the fourth one. In the course of 1878/79 the school allowed the enrollment of the first female students, four of them, and thus gained the status of a mixed class Gymnasium. The opening of the fourth grade turned the school into Lower Gymnasium.

            At the beginning of 1880 the Municipality of Čačak filed a request to the Ministry of Education to allow the fifth grade. Regardless of all the sensible reasons the Ministry remained at its decision again at the repeated request in 1881. The school filed the request again in 1890 and 1891 and the Ministry finally allowed the opening of the fifth grade. It may have happened that easily because the Minister of Education at the time was Andra Nikolić who had been the teacher of Serbian at Gymnasium in Čačak. The fifth grade was opened in August 1892, and the sixth grade was opened the following year. The seventh grade was opened in August 1894 and until 1898 the school worked organized in seven grades and had the status of Higher Gymnasium. At the beginning of August 1898 the seventh grade was closed and the school had six grades, and got the name “Gymnasium of Master Jovan Obrenović”. The school worked under this name until 1904 and then as Gimnazija in Čačak. The weekly number of lessons was between 29 in the first grade and 31 in the other grades, and it had 2 to 10 lessons fewer than at the end of the 1880s.

            The first report on the school achievements and life at school was printed in 1879/80 under the title “End of the year grades” and it was done for 1880/81 and 1883/84. Since 1897 publishing of the School Report was regular for all the school years. The Ministry of Education issued the order for it on 27th May 1897 and they even sketched the outline of the Report and its chapters.

            In the last decade of the 19th century number of students varied from 196, in 1889/1890, to 314 in 1896/97. By the end of the 19th century Čačak had the population of 4000 people and the number of students who attended Gymnasium was really high.

            Gimnazija in Čačak entered the 20th century with six grades, aiming to become complete school with eight grades and to get a new building which would be completely functional and which might be adaptable to the increased number of students. After 20 years the seventh grade was opened in 1919 and the eighth in 1920 and so the dream of many citizens of Čačak had been fulfilled – Čačak had finally got complete Gymnasium with eight grades. As for the new building, the public became fully aware of the need to construct a new building as early as in 1905. The Municipality of Čačak set up a fund for its construction but unfortunately the ongoing wars prevented the beginning of the construction. In the autumn of 1913 the preparation work started and in the spring of 1914, when the foundation was completed and the erection of building started, the war put a stop to all the activities. After the First World War had ended, the fund was helped by the state and the construction continued in the spring of 1924. The building was completed in the summer of 1927, and furnished in August. On 8th November (Mitrovdan/St Demetrius Day) the building was consecrated in the presence of the representative of his Majesty the King, the representative of the Ministry of Education, Bishop of Žiča Mr Jefrem and other guests. It is worth mentioning that the original plan of the building included only two floors, but later on it was decided that the third floor should be added. In the article published by the Politika on 1st November 1927 it was said that it was “… the most beautiful building in Čačak and the biggest, … this is the complete Gymnasium and the only one in Raška District with nearly 1000 students”

       After the construction of the new school building, the number of the pupils rapidly increased. On the eve of the Second World War Čačak had a population of 12000, and in the period of 1937-1938 there were 1335 pupils, devided into 28 classes, and there were 46 teachers as well. In autumn of 1937, on 16/17 October, the school celebrated the hundredth anniversary of its being opened.The celebration was attended by Mr Vojko Čvrkić, the Minister for the Post and Telegraph, the ban of Drina regional unit Mr Predrag Lukić, the member of the Parliament Mr Svetolik Stanković, president of Čačak municipality Mr Radojko Solujić, Colonel Božidar Topalović – emissary of His Royal Highness the King , the Minister for Education Mr Magarasevic and other eminent citizens and guests, teachers and pupils. All of them came to celebrate this unique jubilee. Having given the service and the requiem mass in the church of Čačak, Nikolaj Velimirović, the bishop of Žiča, congratulated the teachers and the pupils on this anniversary. Afterwards, the celebration was held in the school where the King Petar II Memorial was unveiled by his emissary Colonel Božidar Topalović, and the speech was given by school principal Mr Marković. The Minister for Education congratulated the teachers and the pupils on this jubilee as well as Dr Jovan Radonjić on behalf of the Serbian Academy of Science and Mr Čajkanović on behalf of Belgrade University. On behalf of the school the principal accepted St Sava First Order Medal from the Minister of Education. The two-day anniversary celebration was attended by 7000 delighted citizens. An interesting fact was that on the second day of the celebration with the attendance of eminent guests a new primary school `Vojvoda Stepa Stepanović` (today, `Milica Pavlović` school) was consecrated.

         The story about the unveiling of the memorial on the hundredth anniversary of the school is told from the memories of a teacher Boško Ćalović.

 In the period after the Second World War, the school was organized within two main courses: Science Studies and Social Studies. During the period 1977-1990 it was a part of the so- called 'stream education'. However, it entered the twenty-first century as Gimnazija Čačak.

In the school year 2004/2005 the school had 1378 students in 46 classes (21 Science Studies classes and 25 Social Studies classes).There were 86 teachers out of 108 employees. The new generations of teachers have responsibility towards all these former teachers and students to keep up the already established reputation of the school.

The history of Gimnazija Čacak has been systematically revised three times so far. The first was published in the school report for the year 1900/01. The author was one of the teachers, Mr Petar Velimirović. His study, which covers the period 1837-1900, was substantiated thoroughly with a lot of historic evidence.

The second, equally successful work about the history of the school was prepared by Mr Dragomir Popović, a former school teacher. It was published in 1939, comprising the period 1837-1937, in contribution to a '100 year anniversary' of the school. The third, very detailed work was ideologically motivated and was prepared by  Dr Andrija B.K. Stojković and Dr Branko Kovačević, in contribution to a '150 year anniversary' of the school. All these works testify to the outstanding history of our school, which must be regarded as an integral part of the history of Čačak and Serbia. Therefore, some new chapters are ahead of us waiting to be written and published. It's up to us, present and future generations of teachers and students, to get the work done.

Some facts about the school

Gimnazija has existed for over 176 years (it was founded in 1837). During this long period more than 30 000 pupils have been educated here and many of them have achieved fame in the fields of science, culture, art and sport.

The total number of pupils in this 2013/2014 school year is 1108. They attend 17 science and 22 social- study classes. Besides them there are 93 teachers, 1 psychologist, 1 educator, 3 administrative workers, 2 librarians in charge of the school library and 13 workers responsible for hygiene and technical maintenance.

The school has 21 classrooms, 9 cabinets, 1 laboratory, 4 specialized classrooms,1 spacious hall for physical education, 2 lecture halls( a big and a small one),1 workshop,1 library, 2 out-cabinet departments,1 teachers` room and 4 rooms for work preparation.

The former classroom number 19 has been converted into the solemn memorial room with a permanent exhibition of things and documents displaying not only the history of our school but also a short history of Čačak. This room is used for giving lectures, film projections, scientific presentations, functional classes and meetings.

Teaching in cabinets and labs helps pupils understand easier teaching material in Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Computer science.

The school library contains about 20 000 books comprising different branches of knowledge and interests. It is open from 9am - 6pm. And its major activity is maintaining, processing, analysis and book renting. A group of schoolchildren are the members of its workshop. Their task is to initiate different activities, giving emphasis on book reviews (thus contributing to better literature understanding) which motivates pupils to read more and understand literature better.

The halls of the school are decorated with pupils` drawings, photos, some artifacts which are part of our folk arts and crafts, some caricatures of former teachers and pupils and some commemorative plagues. They all testify to the history of our school.

The schoolyard is multifunctional: it is used for relaxation during daily breaks, giving concerts, certification delivery at the end of each school year and many other cultural and artistic events.

Translated by the teachers of the English Language Department of Gimnazija Čačak, February 2014