Special to Valley News
My husband and I moved to Temecula in 1979, when we were both hired to teach at Temecula Middle School. I was hired as teacher No. 50 in the district, and he was No. 51. He was hired to keep class sizes to 21 students.
In those days, there was only one elementary school, Vail Elementary and one middle school. Though Linfield Christian School, a private Christian school was in existence, Temecula had no public high school. Once graduated from middle school, students were bussed to Elsinore High School. My husband taught sixth grade. Because of the shortage of teachers and the necessity of providing a varied curriculum, I taught art, reading, newspaper, yearbook and the ASB student government class. What turned out to be the massive growth of the eighties and nineties was just beginning.
We had stop signs, but no stoplights in town. There was one grocery store where the 88 Ranch Market resides on Ynez Road. Everyone went to Fallbrook, Hemet or Escondido for major shopping. At first, we had no library in town. Riverside County sent a bookmobile to the parking lot near the grocery store, and we walked students across the wash, looking out for snakes and other wildlife along the way such as red tail hawks, coyotes and bobcats. Eventually Rosie Vanderhaak started a one-room library.
As part of a fundraising activity, students ran races along a quiet Margarita Road. They were fun events but not always the most pleasant of circumstances, as dairies and horse ranches were still prevalent. It was unusual, but there were a few students who rode horses to school, and one middle schooler, I remember, drove to school.
The Kaiser Corporation in the 1960s established a community called Rancho California, and though it didn’t quite work out as planned, the growth of residential communities had begun. Still, there were no high-rise buildings in Old Town, and as I walked down Front or Main streets in the 1970s and 1980s, it truly was like walking into history. The Merc was still an antique store, the old Escallier house, which is now moved to Pujol Street and provides homeless services, stood where City Hall is now and an early school building sat across from the Temecula or Welty Hotel.
When Temecula’s first public school started is not known; but in 1873, there was a school in Temecula, and average daily attendance was seven students. The teacher’s salary was $80 a month. There would eventually be eight Temecula schools in the early days, each named for the areas where they were located. One of the earliest public schools was held at the Pauba Ranch or later the Vail Ranch headquarters, though it was not registered among the eight. At one time, classes were also held in the Welty Hotel.
In 1914, the Temecula Union School was built near where the Temecula Museum stands now. Forty years later, the graduating class was still only eight students. Pechanga had three schools, and Temecula had five schools in the town’s early days. According to an article by Malcolm Barnett, a member of an early Temecula pioneer family, a summary of early Temecula Schools was as follows: Pechanga Reservation, three schools, one destroyed, two burned; Santa Gertrudis, one school, torn down; Little Temecula, two schools, one torn down, one burned; Pujol, one school, still standing, now on Santiago Street; Temecula, one school, burned down.
Today there are 32 schools in Temecula and more in the planning stage. There are 27,700 students and 3,016 employees of which 1,382 are teachers.
For more information about the Temecula Valley Historical Society, visit the website at www.temeculavalleyhistoricalsociety.com.