The St. Joseph Board of Public Schools was incorporated by an act of the Missouri Legislature in January 1860. Three schools were soon built and opened in April 1860. In February 1861, George H. Hall was elected superintendent by the school board.
Hall's tenure as superintendent would prove brief as the district ceased operation in May 1861 due to the outbreak of the Civil War. Teachers were paid off and buildings were rented as private schools. Following the war, the district's first superintendent would serve the city as Postmaster from 1866-67 and Mayor from 1868-70.
In August 1864, Edward B. Neely was elected superintendent by the board of public schools and directed efforts to repair and refurnish buildings. Schools resumed operation under Neely's leadership in October 1864. Mr. Neely oversaw the development and operations of the school district for 40 years until his passing on March 29, 1904. By contrast, nine individuals would serve the district as superintendent over the next four decades.
Over the next century, the district would expand through annexation and multiple building projects. The district also played a prominent role in the development of higher education in Northwest Missouri. In 1915, the district opened St. Joseph Junior College, which in 1965 became an independent four-year college known as Missouri Western State College.
Today, St. Joseph Public Schools operates 13 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 3 high schools, and 4 specialized learning centers across 135.2 square miles in Buchanan County. Although times have changed since the district's founding, the commitment to providing a quality education and equipping students for post-secondary success has remained.