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September 18, 2007 > History


Pioneer School People

The original Act to create the County of Alameda called for an election of officers that did not mention a County Superintendent of Schools, but at the first election held in May 1853, Rev. William W. Brier was elected to that office. County officials divided the county into six townships that included Washington and made each township a school district.

Rev. Brier visited communities throughout the county helping residents start schools, acquire buildings and promote the cause of a regular school attendance. He worked with county officials to secure money for school buildings and teachers' salaries. Historian William Halley reported in 1856, when the county was three years old, that "Education was making headway under the efficient management of Mr. Brier."

A board of trustees was required to operate each district in spite of obstacles that included unstable finances, teacher shortages, widespread ignorance and parental complaints. They were empowered to maintain a classroom, hire a teacher, purchase supplies, keep records of meetings and file reports with the county. Trustees sometimes ran unopposed for reelection and voter turnout depended on how pleased the parents were with the teachers' perceived performance.

Information about these pioneer school trustees is sketchy. The first trustees at Irvington were William Y. Horner, George M. Walters and William Hopkins. All were nearby prominent landowners.

Our most complete early day records appear to be those for Lincoln School District because trustee records have been preserved. The first trustees were Emory Munyan, Abijah Baker, and George W. Tait. Munyan served as clerk of the board and recorded the minutes by hand. He was a faithful trustee until his death in 1899 for a total of 29 years. Munyan treated the students and teachers as family, even delivering fruit in season from his nearby orchard to the students. Abijah Baker owned a large farm near the school and "gave generously to good causes." George W. Tait, who had been Superintendent of Schools in San Francisco, came to Washington Township for his health and was credited with naming Lincoln School.

The most important person in any school was (and still is) the teacher. At first there were no special credentials for teachers. Erastus Johnson reported that he came to Centerville to visit and ended up opening a school there in 1853. Other pioneer teachers at Centerville included Mrs. Jonathan Mayhew, Judge Stephen Nye, Julia Rappleye and W. H. Yates.

The first public school teacher at Alvarado was Mrs. Warren. As in many pioneer communities, she "boarded around" among the families. Rev. W. W. Brier taught here and later served as a trustee. Several teachers at Lincoln School including Mollie Reeder, Emma Reeder, Louise Cearley, Flora Brown, Cora Simpson and Addie Ross grew up in Washington Township. Irvington teachers included many local residents and J. C. Gilson and W.F.B. Lynch who later became Alameda County Superintendent of Schools.

The average monthly salary for pioneer teachers in Alameda County was about $75 per month, but sometimes, as at Lincoln School, it was $50 plus board. By 1904 the average for men was about $99 and $72 for women. The Alviso principal was paid $110 per month and the other teachers $90 in 1919. A Niles teacher was paid $115 in 1929 with $5 raises until the depression forced the monthly total back to $115.

Many pioneer teachers were men who went on to other occupations. The county had 13 male and 14 female teachers in 1859, but by 1878 there were three times as many women as men. Teachers were challenged to provide lessons for pupils with varying age and achievement levels. A primary teacher at Centerville summarized the problem when she wrote, "I cannot give to the separate classes as much time as I would like." Teachers in pioneer schools had no time to themselves as they had to supervise students during lunch and recess breaks. They ate with the children and often played with them at recess. There were times when text books and materials were not available, and teachers were forced to improvise and make do with what they had.

Local history books don't give much information about janitors, but all schools became dirty and needed attention. At first the teachers were the janitors, with occasional assistance from students. Alviso trustees allocated $1 for washing windows in 1890 but later paid $20 per month for a janitor. Sometimes custodians were also the gardeners. Guido Laneri was a favorite gardener at Niles School.

Teachers and parents sometimes provided warm meals for students. Centerville School began limited cafeteria service in 1925 and cafeteria workers became a regular part of the staff. Alviso School started cafeteria service in 1947 and also began bussing students to school. Bus drivers were often custodians or teachers who did double duty.

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