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Santa Clara Schools Over the Years

Lorraine Stegemiller, 88, was a former student in the area that the Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) now encompasses.

“I was a student at Fremont School,” said Stegemiller, born and raised in Santa Clara. “I remember the teachers I had—Ms. Andrews, Ms. Cline, Ms. Lamb, Ms. Newton and Ms. Dorothy Buchser. I enjoyed school. People then didn’t move around like they do now. When people got a home, they stayed there. So they didn’t have the enrollment to keep the school going.”

The former site for Fremont Elementary School is where the Santa Clara Senior Center currently stands. Nowadays, Stegemiller stays fit taking water exercise classes at the Senior Center. She pointed out that the Senior Center’s parking lot is where the school’s playground used to be.

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According to a Santa Clara Journal article, dated Oct. 9, 1968, Fremont Elementary School was built in 1913. The school closed in November 1966 and was demolished in 1968, much to the somber reaction of some community members at the time.

“That location was the site of the first school in the City of Santa Clara,” said Larry Adams, Bond Projects Director for SCUSD.  “It was called the Santa Clara Grammar School first. Later it was called the Fremont Elementary School. Then the City bought the property from the school district and built the Senior Center.”

Adams shared another historical tidbit: the original Santa Clara High School used to stand where Buchser Middle School is.

“Back in 1889, the district purchased this land that the Buchser buildings are on,” Adams said. “They completed Santa Clara High School in 1905. Santa Clara High School was on Bellomy Street from 1905 to 1981. In 1981, Santa Clara High School and Buchser High School merged into the current Santa Clara High School campus on Benton. The site on Benton Street that is now Santa Clara High School, back in 1957, that site was Buchser High School. And then in 1981, the former site of Santa Clara High School became Buchser Middle School, now on Bellomy Street.”

Buchser High School isn’t the only high school in SCUSD that is no more. Once upon a time, there existed Peterson High School.

“What is now Peterson Middle School was Peterson High School,” said Cathy VanPernis, a former employee of the school district. “When enrollment went down, they had to consolidate all the schools. In 1981, all the kids from Peterson High School went to Wilcox High School and so they combined those two high schools.  They transferred the school colors of Peterson, black and gold, over to Wilcox High School. Then they turned Peterson High School into Peterson Middle School.”

Another example of a school community transferring to a new location is the story of how the parent participation program that was once Westwood Open became known today as Washington Open Elementary School.

“Westwood Open was a program located in Westwood Elementary School; it was a school within a school,” said Lisa Cesario, Superintendent of the Las Lomitas Elementary School District and former Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services at SCUSD. “Westwood Open started in 1973. I was a teacher there. We operated as a school and we had the parent participation part and the open philosophy. (Washington Open’s web site says ‘Washington Open has a philosophy of parents, teachers and students all working together in an open, supportive atmosphere.’)”

“In the early 1990s, Westwood Open really started to grow,” continued Cesario. “The waiting list got quite large.  Janine Barraclough was the first teacher who came when the decision was made to add an additional class to each grade level to shorten the waiting list at Westwood Open. Janine Barraclough was the second kindergarten teacher and Bob Johnston was the first. The school board made a decision around 1995 to move us over to what is the Washington Open site.”

Cesario explained that the Westwood Open community moved to Washington Elementary School, formerly another elementary school.

“In June 1996, we moved over and in Fall 1996, we opened the school as Washington Open,” Cesario said. “The direction we got was to keep Washington in the name but we could add the word ‘Open’ to Washington so the school would be called Washington Open. When we opened the school, I was in a fifth grade class two days a week and I was 60 percent principal. In December, I became a full-time principal.”

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