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September 4, 2007 > History


Pioneer School Districts

Alameda County was formed from portions of Santa Clara and Contra Costa Counties in 1853 and divided into six townships. William Wallace Brier, one of the few recognized teachers in the county was elected Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. The Tri-City area (the present Fremont, Newark and Union City) was named Washington Township. At first, the township was just one large school district, but the Alameda County Board of Supervisors divided it into three districts in 1855. District 1 was the Alvarado area, "2" the Centerville area and "3" the Mission San Jose area. At first the districts were just numbers until names were adopted.

The first public school in Alvarado was held in the old home of Captain Marston. Centerville's first public school building was near the lagoon by the present BART station and later moved to the Overacker ranch near town. The first public Mission San Jose School was built above the present junction of Highway 680 and Mission Boulevard.

All Washington Township districts were carved out of these three original ones. Whenever another school was requested by residents, a new district was created, rather than having a district operate two schools. When parents and landowners petitioned for their own school, they were required to raise the necessary funds, locate a schoolroom and operate a school to prove their need and ability. Alviso and Mowry's Landing districts were formed in 1856 from Alvarado and Centerville districts. Now there were five school districts in Washington Township.

Boundaries presented problems because they were marked by such fragile things as barns that burned, roads that moved or vanished and trees that died. In mountain areas boundaries changed many times to take in new families or secure enough students to keep a school operating. Mission San Jose boundaries changed at least eight times.

The story of Alviso School is typical of these pioneer districts. Land for a school was donated by John L. Beard and Manuel Ferreira and a small building was constructed. A large bell in the loft was rung by pulling on a rope that hung down. Property maintenance continued to be a challenge for trustees. They voted to "fix the privy of the school house" in 1883. Two years later they authorized repairs "not to exceed $25.00," and in 1890 they spent $1.00 to fix the clock. The next year they repaired the seats.

The county superintendent's report for 1854 showed that there were 577 children ages five to 18 in the county but only 214 attended schools. Total expended for school purposes in the county was $4,765. By 1856 there were 14 districts employing 19 teachers at an average monthly salary of $76.70. Total yearly expenses had increased to $7,499 which was $20.83 per pupil.

Washington School District was formed in 1862 in Irvington and the Horner School was moved from Centerville. A new two-story building that could accommodate four rooms was erected in 1875.
Warm Springs acquired its own school when the Higuera District was formed in 1863. The name was changed to Warm Spring School District, and the s was added later.

People living between the Alviso and Mowry's Landing districts organized the Lincoln School District in 1865. Lincoln, the last one-room school in the township, had only five students in 1943 and was closed in 1945.

Cosmopolitan District was formed in 1868 for students in the present Decoto area who were attending Alviso, Alvarado or Centerville. J. G. Clark donated land, and money was raised by subscription for buildings and furnishings.

The first Niles School was built in 1875 on old Vallejo Street. A larger two-story structure was built nearby in 1889 and then replaced in 1912 by a new building in "the new town" across the tracks at Second and School streets.

The original Newark public school was built as part of the railroad real estate project. A Christmas dance was held in the new building in 1879.

These independent districts continued to operate as separate organizations until they merged with another district. Mowry's Landing joined Irvington in 1939, Lincoln became part of Newark and Mission San Jose joined Irvington. Then all districts became part of three huge unified districts.

A Union High School Law provided for high schools in rural areas and the people voted to form Union High School District No. 2, later Washington Union High School. This was the high school district for all of Washington Township. The high school united the elementary districts in many ways and formed a common community for all residents.

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