Part III, Memories of the 1960s and 1970s

90 Years of Jefferson School, 1906 to 1996 : Part III: Memories of the 1960s and 1970s

by Jean Brooks

with Pam Ormsby and Mary Ann Furuichi

Jean Brooks was a Jefferson School parent in 1955. She joined the faculty in 1963, and retired 32 years later in 1995.

In the early 1960s, families feeding into Jefferson School lived in the only truly racially and economically integrated area in Berkeley. Throughout the state, students could enter a grade level either in September or at the end of January. Each grade had an A and B level each semester. Classes were large, usually 27 to 32 students. Children in kindergarten through 2nd grade were in the 1922 building at the corner of Sacramento and Rose Streets. Older students were in the 1952 building situated along Ada Street.

The children looked forward to starting school in a charming home-like atmosphere, in the old building at Sacramento and Rose Streets. There were two large Kindergarten rooms. One had a fireplace and the other a decorative fountain. There were two, 3-hour kindergarten sessions in each room, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Kindergarten children had their own play yard, with redwood trees and an enormous weeping willow.

Each year, the kindergarten classes delivered a Holiday Performance for the whole school in the wood-paneled auditorium, which opened on to Rose Street. The program featured dances and songs from around the world and parent-made costumes (which were kept and reused year after year). The other large school-wide celebration was the June promotion for the sixth graders to Junior High School.

In 1969 or 1970, the State changed grade entrance to September only. Parent and teachers had to decide whether mid-year students would go ahead half a grade or not. This wasn’t always an easy decision.

School Life

Most children walked or rode their bikes to and from school, and many went home for their half hour lunch. Our cafeteria had a kitchen staff devoted solely to our school, and served delicious hot lunches that were similar to small dinners. Many children and teachers loved their cafeteria lunch, especially Sloppy Joes.

Fifth and sixth grade girls were Student Leaders. They helped the kindergartners, escorted classes to lunch, supervised organized games at recess and lunch and worked in the office. Fifth and sixth grade boys were crossing guards. They had a police officer mentor who organized them and who was their friend.

Curriculum centered around the Three R’s: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Jefferson observed “Split Reading.” Some students came to school from 9:00 to 2:00 and had reading first thing each morning, while others came from 10:00 to 3:00 and had reading during the last hour. This schedule enabled teachers to read with each student in small groups every day, which was very successful. There were many stereotypes in the textbooks, however.With Russia’s success with Sputnik, the nation reexamined its science curriculum. The District held science training for all elementary teachers and purchased new materials. Students were encouraged to experiment and do science projects.

The school had a full-time vice principal and also a registered nurse who stayed each morning through lunch time, and a full-time teaching librarian. Students in Grades 4 through 6 could learn to play a musical instrument. Jefferson’s instrumental music teacher taught at two schools. We also had a special reading teacher, Amy Snodgrass, who worked with small groups, striving to bring students to their grade level. She emphasized phonics, decoding skills, comprehension and reading assessment, and typically taught sixty students. The Spanish teacher, Marcelina Smith, worked with all students in Grades 1 – 6.

Jefferson also had a facility for a maximum of twelve legally blind students, who were taught at different times by special education instructors Eleanor Breed, Tom Kelly and Dick Holm. Students came to Jefferson from all over the East Bay, and were taught Braille and other skills in a portable room where the vegetable garden is now. They also participated in non-Braille classrooms with the rest of the children.

We also had speech teachers, Sylvia Gott and Jack Anderson, who concentrated on helping children perfect their speech. The “Release Time” teacher, Doris Taper, a pianist and musician, gave half-hour lessons twice a week to each class.


Chinese Bicultural Program Begun

Toward the latter half of the sixties, the Ford Foundation funded the beginning of the bilingual program. Many of Jefferson’s children spoke Spanish or Chinese as their first language, and we launched bilingual programs for both. The desire was to help students speak English comfortably, at the same time sharing bicultural experiences with the other students. One first grade had two full-time teachers, one who taught English and the other Spanish. All children had reading, writing and science in English, but in Math and all other subjects, they were taught in both English and Spanish. A great amount of time was spent on self-concept. The Chinese bilingual program was started by Esther Lee in a second grade class with two teachers. The annual school-wide Chinese New Year Pageant also was started then, and continues to this day.

Parent Involvement

Parent volunteers often came into the classroom to help with special events like cooking or preparing for programs, sharing customs from other countries, or demonstrating areas of expertise such as science or art.

The Jefferson PTA was very strong. The PTA started the Library Collection in the fifties. They took on responsibility for updating selections, repairing and cataloging materials and keeping things in order. Parents worked with the Principal to welcome other parents to the school, help with crossing guards and student leaders, and raise money for Jefferson.

They also prepared for the Spring Carnival each year, by making items to sell, and scheduling the pony ride and an appearance by Berkeley’s oldest fire engine, among other things. The Principal, Frank Wylde, gave fire engine rides around the blacktop where our grass is now. Children looked forward to the carnival all year long.

1968: Desegregation, Busing, and the Transition to a K – 3 School

By the late 1960s, our school population ballooned, and we added three portable classrooms, one at each of the North corners of the block, and the third adjacent to what is now the child care facility on Rose Street [now Crowden school]. The portables were brought to the site in halves, then connected, roofed and finished on site. Our children watched the huge cranes in fascination.

Desegregation was also an important issue at that time, and after much deliberation by parents and staff as to how best to desegregate Berkeley’s schools, Jefferson became a Primary School, K – 3. We had more than 800 students on campus, and seven first grade classrooms. The auditorium in the old building was made into two classrooms with bathrooms. Everyone worked hard, wanting desegregation to be a fine experience for children and parents.

The program was enlarged to provide two science labs, one taught by Louise Brown for K – 1 and the other taught by Dorothy Gaines for Grades 2 and 3. These were well equipped, and were always busy with ongoing experiments and the latest science curriculum. While children were in the labs, regular teachers had release time to work on curriculum. At one point, a classroom became a gym, fully stocked with all types of equipment. Each class went there once a week for concentrated instruction in tumbling, exercise and partner learning.

At the same time, BART was being built underground, taking homes across our school zone and uprooting many of Jefferson’s students. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Berkeley Schools immediately intensified the Afro-American Studies Program. Dr. King’s death was directly responsible for the Conflict Resolution and Peace curriculums. Even the dress code changed. Parents and teachers helped children make traditional African shirts, and people began proudly wearing afro, cornrow and beaded hairstyles. Teachers decided to wear pants on Fridays instead of suits and dresses, and the girls were allowed to wear pants to school. Bell-bottoms came into style.

1970s: “Model School” Years

The city went through many intense changes triggered by the war in Vietnam, and there was a strong desire for social and economic justice. Families and children were involved; indeed, the entire community was involved. The schools went through a necessary period of change right along with the whole community. We also had a change of Superintendent and a change of Principal at Jefferson.

Jefferson became a Model School with three main thrusts: Traditional, IPL (Individualized, Personalized Learning where students made choices about learning centers), and Multicultural, which included the Bilingual Program. Parents and teachers were asked to request one of these models. At that time, Jefferson was the only parent choice school in the nation. Grant money provided three consultants, one for each model, and the school introduced many innovative methods of teaching, including multi-grade classes.

Teachers Pam Ormsby and Carolyn Leftridge shared fifty students in a K – 3 class. Children made their own cubbies out of large cylindrical ice cream boxes, and they made furniture, bookshelves and study carrels out of wood. Some rooms were painted bright colors. During the Model School period, the Jefferson staff increased to over 80 people.

Teachers devoted much more reading instruction to phonics and decoding, and on centering content on the children and their various talents, heritages and interests. Among other things, the Multicultural Model had Native Americans come down from the Sears Point area to show parents and students how to make watertight baskets with willow roots. Others came from the Hoopa Reservation to demonstrate a salmon bake on the beach at Lake Anza in Tilden Park. After a few years, the Model School Grant ended.

Around this time, Title I was signed by Lyndon Johnson. This program gave money to all schools in which students needed remedial help in reading, mathematics or both. Assistance was determined by test scores. Jefferson’s reading teacher and two instructional assistants were funded under Title I. The program also funded Jefferson’s Math Lab taught by Linda Mengel and Reading Lab taught by Carolyn Leftridge. The Lab teachers worked with the students who were in the Title I program, while the classroom teacher worked with other students. The labs gave students a distinctly different perspective on reading and math, and were a positive experience for them.

Proposition 13

Then State Proposition 13 passed. It took some of the responsibility for school funding off of property owners, but nothing was set up ahead of time to replace lost money for the school. At Jefferson, there was rapid change. Class sizes went up, the labs and gym room were eliminated, supplies, study trips, the registered nurse, librarian, instructional assistants, and vice-principal were also cut. Bang! The Berkeley teaching staff and many parents were incensed because they saw their rich programs disappear.

This was too much! In September 1975, Berkeley teachers went on strike for children, but not for pay. They wanted their programs for Berkeley students restored. The strike lasted six weeks, and Jefferson lost many children to Albany, El Cerrito and Orinda schools. The strike was not successful because money simply was not available. In spite of teacher, program and money loss, students continued to score high in reading and math.

That year, the old Jefferson building was deemed unsafe, and all classes were moved to the “New Jefferson” building. This building had been planned for older students, and there was no facility for kindergarten or first grade. As usual, the teachers made the best of it, and worked hard to include all children in one building.

Next Section >

Jump to Another Section of this Book

Part I: The History of Jefferson School
by Mary O’Bannon, Principal 1907-1943

Part II: The History of Jefferson School
by Carrol B. Johnson, Principal 1944-1959

Part III: Jefferson School: Memories of the 1960’s and the 1970’s
by Jean Brooks, with Pam Ormsbyand Mary Ann Furuichi

Part IV: Jefferson Memories
by Marion Altman, Prinicpal 1983-1995

Part V: Jefferson Reflections
by Jan Goodman