La Jolla Elementary School looks back on 125 years while forging a modernized future
At 125 years old, La Jolla Elementary School is celebrating its lengthy history in The Village while looking to the future.
Two celebrations in the past month honored the anniversary, and the school held still another ceremony May 13 as a project progresses to expand and update the campus.
La Jolla Elementary, part of the San Diego Unified School District, started in a livery stable at the corner of Wall Street and Herschel Avenue as the sixth elementary school in San Diego, according to LJES.
Its first and, at the time, only teacher, Mary Cogswell, taught 12 students on the stable’s second floor.
In 1899, LJES moved to a one-room school built on a lot purchased by early La Jolla developer Frank Botsford on Herschel south of Wall Street, and moved south again in 1906 to a larger building on Herschel between Kline Street and Torrey Pines Road.
It reached its current location at 1111 Marine St. in 1916 and expanded rapidly until it served its highest number of students — 925 — in 1950.
Bird Rock and Torrey Pines elementary schools opened in La Jolla in 1951 and 1963, respectively, to help ease the strain on LJES.
Now, La Jolla Elementary serves 441 students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade and in 2021 was ranked the No. 2 elementary school in California by U.S. News & World Report.
The school also received a National Blue Ribbon School Award in 2016 and was recognized in 2018 as a California Distinguished School.
Ulka Pandya, co-president of the LJES Parent-Teacher Organization, said the campus has “an amazing community of teachers and parents that work to make this school incredible.”
Nancy Rice, a first-grade teacher who has taught at LJES the past 17 of her 32 years in education and whose children attended the school, said it’s “such a sweet neighborhood school,” with involvement from parents who volunteer and from the larger community through the La Jolla Open Aire Market, which operates Sunday mornings on the campus and donates proceeds to the school.
To celebrate the 125th anniversary, the entire student body received special shirts for Spirit Day on April 29, and classes undertook special 125-themed art and math projects.
Spirit Day was “really great,” Rice said. She showed her students photos of the school from the early 1900s.
“It’s important for them to know that it’s been here 125 years,” she said. “It gives them good pride in their school, it being here for a long time.”
On May 1, the Open Aire Market commemorated the anniversary with face painting and other activities.
As it looks ahead to its next 125 years, the school hosted a construction ceremony May 13, during which the last beam of a new building was hoisted into place at the top of the structure.
Crews have been working since January 2021 on the new two-story building to house administrative offices and classrooms, among other spaces. It is part of a $48 million whole-site modernization that will include a new kindergarten building, lunch structure, upper-field restroom and upgrades and renovations to the existing buildings.
Construction on the new building is expected to be finished in 2023, with the entire project completed in 2024.
Ahead of the ceremony, all LJES students signed the bright white beam in permanent marker, followed by community members such as San Diego Unified board President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne and district Chief Facilities Planning & Construction Officer Lee Dulgeroff.
As students watched, cheered and chanted “Lift it,” workers attached cables to the beam and hoisted it to the top of the new building. When the structure is finished, it will reorient the school’s main entrance from Marine Street to Girard Avenue.
Addressing the students, LJES Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink said she hopes “this beam with all of your names and drawings on it lives inside our new building for maybe another 125 years.”
“We are thrilled that we’re going to finally have a beautiful facility and campus that is worthy of our incredible students and families,” she said.
“We’re excited about giving you the kind of teaching and learning spaces that you deserve,” Dulgeroff said. “This building is just the first part.” ◆
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