Time to ring the bell!

Local public schools, educating students nearly 130 years

 Time to ring the bell!Bruce Auld, a former Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent, is writing the history of Burroughs High School. The articles that are being published are excerpts from his upcoming book, exclusive to The News Review.


Due to the various anecdotal sources for this article, I quote my revered colleague, the late Ron Bennett, “That which follows may be exactly wrong, yet it is approximately right!”

The first public school in what would become the United States continues to operate today. The “Boston Latin School” was founded on April 23, 1635 in Boston, Massachusetts. It was founded by Rev. John Cotton and modeled after “The Free Grammar School” in Boston, England. The school was publicly funded. Latin and Greek were taught. The first classes were held in the home of Philemon Pormort, the school’s master. (Wikipedia)

The first public school in California was opened on April 3, 1848 in the Portsmouth Square in San Francisco. The oldest operating public school in California is the “Spring Valley Science School” in San Francisco, founded in 1852. (Wikipedia)

The first public school in Kern County was the Emerson School (also known as the Railroad School), built in 1876 and was in use for 76 years. The Kern Union High School District (KUHSD), which operated Sherman E. Burroughs High School from 1945 until 1974, was established on January 12, 1893. The China Lake community’s decision in 1945 to join the Kern High School District was fortuitous, as the Kern High School District was wealthy. The KUHSD was the oldest component of what would later become the Sierra Sands Unified School District. (KUHSD Website)

The Rand School, which was established in 1897, would become a member of the Sierra Sands Unified School District (SSUSD) in 1974. The origin of the Indian Wells Valley School District, the third component of SSUSD, dates back to 1910. The fourth SSUSD component district, the China Lake Elementary School District, was established in 1944 and officially named in 1945, as Sherman E. Burroughs High School. In its beginning, Burroughs served Kindergarten through grade twelve.

Burroughs would become the fourth high school in the Kern High School District, joining Bakersfield High School, Shafter High School, East High School and Kern Valley High School. Mesquite High School was established by the Kern High School District in 1970.

Burroughs was named for the first commanding officer of China Lake, Sherman E. Burroughs. The Burroughs mascot is one mascot short of being unique. Three mascots were suggested: bobcats, bears and burros. The student body selected Burros, “symbolic of perseverance, stamina and intelligence.” The Burroughs “Burros” and the Antelope Valley “Antelopes” are the only two California high schools with mascots that match their official names.

Although there are no trees indigenous to the Indian Wells Valley, Mesquite High School was named for a tree, much like the Stanford University Cardinal.

James Monroe Middle School was not named for the fifth president of the United States. It is named for the superintendent of the Indian Wells Valley School District who died on January 14, 1951. Travelling on district business, his car was struck by a Southern Pacific Streamliner at the Monolith crossing near Tehachapi. Much like the cluster of temporary structures in 1944 at China Lake, the Ridgecrest School (later Monroe) was a group of temporary structures assembled near the location of the senior center on Warner Street.

Dr. Earl Murray was the superintendent of the China Lake Elementary School District and principal of Burroughs High School from 1947 through 1960. After he opened the current Burroughs campus, he retired and Murray Middle School was named in his honor. In 2013, the Department of Defense declared that the 1946 constructed Murray campus was too expensive to modernize, resulting in the construction of the new Murray campus on Drummond Avenue, which opened in 2015. Apparently, the original Burroughs (old Murray) campus survived the 2019 earthquakes and is still in use, but not as a school.

The elementary schools that would become members of the Sierra Sands Unified School District, were established first in the Rand Mining District. The Randsburg School was established in 1897 and the Johannesburg School was established in 1900. The two districts would consolidate in 1964 in a new modern facility in Johannesburg, yet known as the Rand School.

The Rand School would become part of the SSUSD in 1974. The Rand School closed in 2018.

In the Indian Wells Valley, there were initially five separate, one-school elementary districts: The Brown School opened in 1910. The Leiliter School opened in 1911. The Magnolia (Inyokern) School opened in 1913. The Las Flores School (located somewhere near Walmart) opened 1915. These four schools would consolidate in 1920 at the current Inyokern School campus and become the Indian Wells Valley School District, which joined the SSUSD in 1974.

The Morrison-Mt. Owen School was established in 1920 and operated independently, until it closed in 1951. “Tiny” Standard was the school’s only teacher.

The sign on the exterior of the Inyokern School cafeteria may lead one to think the building was constructed in 1913. It was actually constructed in 1934. 1913 denotes the original Magnolia (Inyokern) School. Inyokern School is the longest continuously operating school in the SSUSD.

Prior to the opening of Burroughs, the Indian Wells Valley School (Inyokern) was a Kindergarten through tenth grade school. Students electing to finish high school (12th grade) could choose to attend Trona High School, Antelope Valley High School or Kern High School (now Bakersfield High School). Such was the case of Lindsay Claire Ives. After finishing his Kindergarten through tenth grade education in Inyokern with perfect attendance, he moved to Bakersfield and attended Kern High School graduating in 1943. Lindsay was the first local student to receive a military academy nomination, graduating from the US Coast Guard Academy, a leader in his class.

In an effort to recruit qualified teachers to this remote (Inyokern) location, educators were offered housing on campus. Living on the Inyokern campus in 1950 were the James Monroe family, the Luttrell family and the Barker family. Carl Barker would retire as assistant superintendent of personnel of the China Lake district. Carl’s wife, Irma Barker (my third-grade teacher), would retire from Richmond Elementary School. Their daughter Carolyn (1958 Burroughs Homecoming Princess), married Bob Roseth (BHS 1959), who would anchor of the Burroughs History Department for decades, also serving as head football coach in the early 1990s. Carolyn would retire from Burroughs as secretary to the athletic director.

The “Teacherages” at Inyokern School were destroyed in the 1980s as a firefighting training exercise.

The photo of the Indian Wells Valley School District combined 8th grade graduating class of 1949 is courtesy of Carolyn (Barker) Roseth. Her father, Carl (dark jacket and first adult on the left), was the 8th Grade teacher at the Ridgecrest campus on Warner Street. To his right is Norman Luttrell, 8th grade teacher at the Inyokern campus. Luttrell would become superintendent upon the death of James Monroe. James Monroe is to his right in the light jacket. Last on the right is Mr. Peterson in the dark jacket, who was principal at both campuses. These graduating 8th graders became part of the Burroughs High School class of 1953. A member of 1953 class, Robert Rockwell would later be elected to the SSUSD board of education, as was his son Kurt (1979 Kelly Award recipient). Kurt currently serves on the SSUSD board.

Bev (Butler) Ewbank is the current Inyokern School principal. Her father, Dan Butler, was a member of the class of 1946, the first Burroughs graduating class. He returned to teach 5th grade at Richmond School and served several terms on the Indian Wells Valley SD board. Likely, he was the first Burroughs graduate to return to the valley as an educator. Her mother, Barbara Butler, was school secretary at several schools, partnering with this writer at Richmond School. Both Dan (in memoriam) and Barbara are dedicated Rotarians.

The China Lake Elementary School District facilities construction program was orchestrated by Grant Pinney (father of Sergeant John Pinney, for whom Pinney Pool is named). First a teacher turned federal funding expert, Grant was one of five founders of the federal impact aid program.

Groves Elementary School construction, however, was not a part of that program. Completed in the summer of 1948 and opened in time for the 1948-1949 school year, this twelve classroom K-6 school was named for Lt. General Leslie Groves on March 14, 1949. Groves oversaw the construction of the Pentagon. He also directed the Manhattan (Atomic Bomb) Project, including China Lake’s “Project Camel.” Under the leadership of the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), China Lake developed the explosive lenses, detonators and contact fuzes, but not the nuclear components of the “Fat Man” atomic bomb (named for Sir Winston Churchill). CalTech at China Lake also conducted the static tests of the bomb. The “Fat Man” was deployed on August 9, 1945 over Nagasaki, Japan. Both the Project Camel and the Groves School construction, which was uniquely funded by the Atomic Energy Commission, were top-secret. This top-secret school construction project created great frustration among the California school facilities authorities, who were not on the “need to know” list and were denied inspection of the facility. Groves School closed 1996.

A “Fat Man” is on display at the China Lake Museum, clearly visible from Las Flores Avenue. For detailed information on this CalTech/China Lake partnership, “Proceed With Great Urgency, Project Camel” by Jack Latimer is available at the museum’s gift shop.

As the workforce at China Lake grew, demand for additional schools on station grew. The nearly identical “twin” schools, first called “north and “south” were completed just months apart. The” north” school would become Richmond School. It is named for Commander John Richmond, the Station’s first Executive Officer, hand picked out of retirement by Captain Burroughs. He would later, as a civilian, serve as the civilian administrative officer to the China Lake Community Council. Richmond Road is also named for John Richmond. However, Richmond School was not located on Richmond Road, but a “dog leg” away on Wasp Road and Kearsarge. Wasp Road had ten duplex housing units in one short block, but only on the west side of the road, as the school was on the east side.

In the 1960s, 100 students resided in those twenty residences, the highest concentration of students anywhere on station. Richmond School was severely damaged by the 2019 earthquakes and was closed. Its student body and faculty were transferred to Vieweg School, its twin.

Vieweg School, the “south” school, is named for China Lake Commander, Walter V. R. “Bowser” Vieweg. Vieweg School was closed in 1999, yet saw continuous service as administrative offices and later as temporary classrooms for schools undergoing modernization.

Richmond School now resides on the former Vieweg campus. Richmond School moving to the Vieweg School, marked the first time since 1944 that there is no public school on the China Lake “mainsite.” A new Richmond School is in the design phase.

Pierce School was first named Desert Park School in 1959. It is now named for Harold Pierce, Burrough’s first football coach and ultimately superintendent of the China Lake Elementary School District.

Just miles northwest of its predecessor 1915 location (near Walmart), Las Flores School was opened in 1960 on Las Flores Avenue.

Opened in 1966 with just four classrooms, Ridgecrest Heights School was renamed Lt. Cdr. Theodore Faller School in honor of the US Naval aviator who piloted his disabled F-86 Super Sabre away from residential neighborhoods, crashing and dying on vacant land near the school campus.

Gateway School opened in 1992. It is located on the corner of Gateway and Upjohn, thus its name.

In sum, the SSUSD schools are named for five military officers, four denote their physical location, three for school superintendents and a tree (with due respect). Although officially recognized as the Sierra Sands Unified School District in 1974, the district has been educating local students for nearly 130 years.

Pictured: El Burro mascot, sketched by 1947 BHS graduate Phillip Lilly in 1946.

Story First Published: 2021-08-06