History of the Orange Unified School District

The following was written in 1988 by Ruth C. Evans, Orange Unified School District Board of Education Trustee from July 1969 – December 1989.


The Constitution of the State of California charges the Legislature with the obligation of providing a program of free public education. In 1852 the State Legislature set forth the conditions by which local schools could be established: "Whenever any town, city, or corporated village shall contain over 60 children between the ages of 5 and 18 years, the legal voters of such town, city, or village may divide (establish) said district..." From that time forward, school districts have been established throughout the state.

The early settlers of the Santa Ana Valley valued and understood the importance of public schools. The community of Orange (originally Richland) was established in 1871 and the following year the Richland School District began operation.

As the area surrounding Orange grew, the various communities began establishing their own school districts. Olive School District was created June 6, 1876. Mountain View (Villa Park) began in 1880. Silverado schools began operation about 1881, and El Modena by 1887.

The surrounding communities eventually joined together, first to establish the Orange Union High School District, and later to form the Orange Unified School District. A brief review of the establishment of the five elementary districts--Orange, Olive, Villa Park, Silverado, and El Modena--follows.



The Orange (originally Richland) School District was created February 5, 1872. Until a school could be built, the children were taught in a home. Mr. Alfred Chapman, one of the founders of the town, gave 2½ acres of land located on the southeast corner of Lemon and Sycamore streets to the town for a school. The first school in Orange was typical of the school buildings of the day. It was a one-room white wood building, about 24 feet wide and 26 feet long. The school was finished in June 1872. Seventy students came to the school the first day it opened. Stephen McPherson was the first teacher. By the end of the school year there were over 100 students at the school and another room was added to the building. Other schools were built in the next few years.

By 1885 the District had 232 census children, 178 pupils were enrolled, and the average daily attendance was 123.

The Orange Public School burned in April 1886. A new brick building with eight classrooms was built to replace the first.

An early Los Angeles City and County Directory contained the following statement about the community of Orange. "The education and culture of the people of this favored locality is sufficient assurance that the interest of education will never be allowed to suffer in their midst."



The children who lived at Burruel Point (Olive) traveled to Orange to attend schools, but the people wanted their own school. The Olive School District was organized June 6, 1876. A one-room schoolhouse was built on the flat land nearby. It was about one-half mile from the main part of town, near Heim Street. A few years later, developers planned to build the town of St. James. The Olive School was on land that would be part of that town. Although the town of St. James was never built, the people decided to move their school­ house. In 1893 the school was moved to Olive.

In 1895 a white two-story schoolhouse was built. It loomed up on the side of the hill overlooking the valley. Some people thought the building was extravagant, as "the district did not need a big schoolhouse, the rooms of which were not all needed." A new mission-style schoolhouse was built in 1919. Additional classrooms were added to the school in 1964, after it became part of the Orange Unified School District.



The area known as Villa Park had no name until 1881 when the Mountain View School District was established. The first school classes in the Villa Park area were held in a shed on the James M. Smith ranch. A two-room school, which opened in 1883, was built. It was located on land at the corner of Lincoln and Center streets.

In 1887 Mountain View's application for a post office was denied because there was already another town with this name in the state. The following spring an application for a post office with the name Villa Park was granted. In 1910 the people changed the name of their school district to correspond with the name of their community. By that time there were 75 students, a 660-volume library, and a total property value of $4,425.



It is not clear when the first schools began in the canyons. At first, the children met in homes. By the 1881-82 school year, the Silverado School District was formed. Records show that by 1907 the school district had lapsed--later it began operating again.

The first school building in the canyons was a small one-room structure which could be moved. Children from the various canyons came to the school. The school building was moved to the canyon that had the most children. Some years the building was in Silverado Canyon, other years it was in Modjeska Canyon.

During the 1930s the school was made bigger, and the outside was plastered with stucco. In 1957, after joining the Orange Unified School District, a new school was built.



The El Modena School District began in 1887. During the 1888-89 school year, the people built a new schoolhouse, the cost of which was included in the school budget of $7,969.63. That year the District showed an enrollment of 41 students. The library consisted of 258 volumes.

A neighboring school district, Santiago (established 1879), was later included in the El Modena School District. According to Don Meadows, a local historian, the Santiago District was located by the Santiago Creek with its school near the present location of the Rehabilitation Center at La Veta and Tustin avenues.

At one time the El Modena School District operated segregated schools.



No public high schools were in operation within the Santa Ana Valley until after Orange County was created in 1889. The first secondary school in what is now Orange County was a private school, the Santa Ana Academy, which opened August 7, 1876.

In 1891 the California Legislature passed the County High School Bill. The bill allowed local counties to decide whether to have a county high school or union high schools serving two or more adjacent elementary districts. Shortly after the bill was passed the County Board of Supervisors set an election, to be held August 29, 1891, to determine the desires of the people. The Orange County Board of Education favored the county high school. However, the measure calling for a county high school was defeated 1,026 to 749, and the way was opened far union high school districts throughout the county. Four high school districts were established shortly thereafter. They were: Santa Ana High School, August 1891; Fullerton Union High School, June 1893; Anaheim Union High School, 1898; and Orange Union High School, June 1903.

The Orange Union High School District included the Orange, El Modena, Villa Park, and Olive elementary districts. Silverado joined later. A five-acre tract on the northeast corner of Glassell and Palm was purchased. The first building of the high school campus was started in 1904 and occupied the following year. Prior to that time the high school classes were held in a store building on south Glassell Street.

Each step of development of the high school required elections, first to establish the high school district and select the trustees, then several bond issues to purchase property and build buildings. Commercial and science buildings were built in 1913, an administration/auditorium unit in 1921, and a cafeteria building in 1928. The gymnasium and stadium were built in 1925 and 1928, respectively.

After the earthquake in 1933, although there was no visual damage to the buildings, their safety was questioned. A representative of the State Division of Architecture inspected the buildings. He found that only the cafeteria and gymnasium were structurally sound, and on December 19, 1947, his office declared the Orange Union High School campus "unsafe." The State Fire Marshall's Office also inspect d the buildings and found them to be unsafe.

The Board took appropriate steps to determine the cost and advisability of bringing the buildings up to code. Ultimately, it was decided that an entirely new campus should be built.

In 1950 a bond election for $1,250,000 was successful and plans were made to construct a completely new school. The chosen site was located on approxi­mately 30 acres at the northeast corner of Walnut and Shaffer. Over the next few years, a new campus was built by Allison Honer Company of Santa Ana and was ready to be occupied by mid-May 1953.



During this same time another important change was taking place. Certain elements of the District were urging a unification of the five elementary districts and the high school into one unified district. A special election was called for October 19, 1948, to determine the will of the people. The unification measure failed by a vote of 539 for unification, 753 against.

The issue of unification surfaced again a few years later. A Citizens' Advisory Committee was established; a series of meetings were held in the community and eventually an election was set for September 30, 1952, to decide on the question of unification. The unification measure passed 1,884 to 319. At the same time, the voters approved a measure taking over the debts of the old elementary school districts. The Orange Unified School District was born! The unified school district became official July 1, 1953--just a few months after the high school had moved to its new location. (Chapman College of Los Angeles bought the original high school campus and moved there in 1954.)

Seven trustees were elected to govern the new District, including representatives from each of the five elementary districts--Orange, El Modena, Villa Park, Olive, and Silverado. Harold Kibby, Superintendent of the Orange Union High School District, was selected as Superintendent of the new unified district.

Orange was the third unified district to be formed in Orange County. At the time of unification, it had an average daily attendance of 2,476 students. It has grown to be the 21st largest district in the State of California. Since its inception the Orange Unified School District has been recognized as an institution offering quality education for students of all levels and abilities.

The Orange Unified School District was created from five elementary school districts and a high school district.  It became operational July 1, 1953. The data shown below gives information about each of these districts and the assignment of each district's superintendent ar superintendent/principal after unification.

School District Schools in Operation Superintendent or Supt./Principal Assignment After Unification
Orange Union High School District
  • Orange Union High School
Harold Kibby Superintendent - Orange Unified School DIstrict
Orange Elementary School District
  • Cambridge
  • Palmyra
  • West Orange Intermediate School (370 N. Glassell)
Don Danner Asst. Supt. - Business - Orange Unified School District
Olive Elementary School District
  • Olive
Paul Jungkeit

Principal - Olive Elementary, 1953-54; Olive/Villa Park, 1954-55

Villa Park Elementary School District
  • Villa Park
William Noble

Principal - Villa Park Elementary, 1953-54

O.C. Dept. of Education, 1954

El Modena Elementary School District
  • Lincoln
  • Roosevelt (Chapman @ Hewes)
Richard Cook Principal - El Modena Schools
Silverado Elementary School District
  • Silverado
William R. Roode Teacher - Intermediate School, 1953-55