History of San Lorenzo, California

History of San Lorenzo Schools

By Doris Marciel

The San Lorenzo School District is one of the oldest continuously operating school systems in the State of California. From a humble beginning in 1850 with only six students and a tiny portable schoolhouse that it shared with Hayward, the District reached its peak size in 1970 with 18,000 students enrolled in 28 schools.

After several years of declining enrollment, the District has once more begun to grow. Today (2001) more than 11,200 students attend its nine elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools, while hundreds of adults attend classes at the Adult Education Center.

San Lorenzo's first permanent school was built in 1859 on a site behind the present School District Office on Usher Street, across from the cemetery. On November 8, 1859 the San Lorenzo Elementary School District was established -- reputed to be the first school district in California. The members of the first School Board, organized in 1864, were William Meek, John Lewelling, and A. E. Crane.

In 1902 the original school building was replaced by a two-story wood structure, which in 1928 was destroyed by an arsonist. Its replacement, a two-story brick building, was quickly built in 1929 but was declared unsafe for students in 1952 because it was not earthquake-proof and had no fire escape. The District administration then occupied the building until the new District Office was built in 1972.

The District's second school, Ashland, was built in 1923 on East 14th Street in the Ashland area of San Lorenzo. In 1926 Sunset School was built in unincorporated Hayward. Clyde Lawson, teacher and principal, became Superintendent in 1914 and served until 1948. As more homes replaced the agricultural land, more schools were built.

Superintendent Paul Ehret led the District through a period of phenomenal growth from six elementary schools, 3,783 students, and 92 employees in 1948 to 28 schools (four high schools, four junior high schools, 20 elementary schools), 14,000 students, and 1,070 employees in 1975 when he retired. During that time enrollment peaked at 18,000 students in 1970. San Lorenzo High and Arroyo High were part of the Hayward Union High School District until 1963, when San Lorenzo became a Unified School District. (Marina High School was built in 1964.)

Many changes have occurred in the District since that time. Superintendents William Dolph (1976-1978) and Alden Badal (1978-1992) made the difficult decisions to close schools and reorganize grade levels because of dwindling financial resources when enrollment declined to about 7,400.

Beginning in 1996, however, the District reopened two schools because of increases in the number of pupils, and reinstituted the middle schools as an intermediary step between elementary school and high school. Since then the District has invested heavily in upgrading school facilities.