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Santa Barbara City Schools Celebrate 150 Years

As luck would have it, the founding of the Santa Barbara public school system was delayed by drought. The year was 1866, according to historian Robert Nelson Christian, when gangs ran around the backcountry. Newspapers cried out for public schools while taxpayers cried foul, and disputes raged about what language—English or Spanish— would be taught. But it was a severe two-year drought that almost destroyed the local economy. One report even called Santa Barbara “a fossil town covered in tiles.” And though the city had hosted what is now the state of California’s second public school in 1795, education got little attention until the rains finally came. Soon school bells rang out and 243 kids enrolled in the new public school district. Today, there more than 15,500 students. The 150-year anniversary takes place on June 6 and Barbara Keyani, coordinator of administrative services and communication for Santa Barbara City Schools, is planning a number of events to celebrate. Keyani’s office is already heaped with memorabilia such as old yearbooks and faded photos, offering a trove of riches: Babe Ruth playing baseball at Santa Barbara High in the 1920s, S.B. High’s girls basketball team featuring alum Martha Graham (yes, that Martha Graham), and in the oldest shot—an 1899 photograph—a boy related to Buffalo Bill Cody standing alongside Santa Barbara cultural entrepreneur Rod Lathim’s grandfather.

WASHINGTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL in 1900.

Keyani enjoys enumerating the luminaries schooled here. “Martha Graham, Pearl Chase, John Northrop, Randall Cunningham, and Charles Schwab,” she names. “And those are just from Santa Barbara High.” Others include athlete Karch Kiraly and cultural icons like Edie Sedgwick and Katy Perry. To celebrate the anniversary, the Martha Graham Dancers are coming to town on April 30; plus Keyani has invited the first Latino astronaut José Hernández, who attended UCSB, to speak at La Cumbre Junior High on May 20. “But it’s not just the superstars that we are proud of,” says Keyani. “Our grads include people out in our community and all walks of life. Education has always been a high priority for the community.” Superintendent Dr. David Cash—who is retiring this year after five years at the helm—wholeheartedly shares Keyani’s anniversary enthusiasms, come drought or rain. “It gives us occasion to reflect on the last 150 years and then to reflect on the next 150 years as well,” he says. D . J . P A L L A D I N O

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