District’s Deep Roots in the Community Trace Back to 1902

  • It began quite modestly in the fall of 1902 on the outskirts of what was then a sleepy, unassuming downtown San Mateo, a dusty hamlet more rural than suburban in those innocent days.

    An embryonic schoolhouse, located in a converted, two-story single-familyhome, dubbed the Dixon Cottage, at 54 North Ellsworth Street, became the first iteration of San Mateo High School; this would be the original secondary institution of the infant San Mateo Union High School District. Fourteen students enrolled for that inaugural semester of study.

    From that inauspicious beginning, the District’s sprawling operations have grown dramatically to embrace six comprehensive high schools, an alternative school, a specialized program at the College of San Mateo and a thriving Adult School, one of the largest such efforts in the Bay Area. Design Tech, a charter school, is also within the District’s purview.

    Over the decades, the District and its outstanding academic enterprises have become integral parts of six neighboring communities from San Bruno in the north to San Mateo and Foster City in the south, with Millbrae, Burlingame and Hillsborough in between; in all, the District serves about 245,000 residents, or roughly one-third of San Mateo County.

    A generation after the founding of San Mateo High, a second District, campus located in Burlingame was opened. The friendly rivalry between those two schools has persisted for 90 years; interest in their hoary annual football contest, the Little Big Game, begun in 1927 before 9,000 customers in Burlingame, is a testament to that.

    The deep cultural and historical impact of the District’s schools is considerable. During World War 2, students at Burlingame High raised so much money for the U.S. war effort it was more than enough to finance an Army Air Force plane.

    In the early 1950s, three Japanese-American boys, who were interned with their families in World War 2 re-location camps on the West Coast in the wake of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan in 1941, were members of San Mateo High’s football program.

    In 1960, the District’s third-oldest school, Capuchino, sent its heralded marching band to Washington, D.C., to participate in the inauguration of
    President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. San Mateo High’s yearly holiday canned food drive to benefit needy local families has become an institution unto itself and is now copied by any number of other schools, both public and private, in the area. Along with San Mateo County itself, the District grew substantially after World War 2, adding five schools in relatively quick succession: Capuchino, Hillsdale, Mills, Aragon and Crestmoor.

    The District’s peak enrollment occurred in 1977 when nearly 14,000 young people were crammed into classrooms. A stunning and steep enrollment decline, which was felt throughout the Peninsula, then ensued. Within three years, the shocking and rapid plunge in student numbers left the District with 4,000 fewer pupils. It was an unprecedented demographic phenomenon.

    As a result, Crestmoor was closed in 1980. But those days appear to be gone. Today, the District’s enrollment is over 8,500 students and it is growing again.

    In the new millennium, the District’s generous taxpayers have approved a series of construction bond measures that total well over $600 million. That much-appreciated money has been used to modernize, improve and increase the capacity of the District’s award-winning campuses.

    This considerable investment in valued public education continues to pay dividends for the District’s Silicon Valley citizenry. The District’s unsurpassed faculty nurtures and challenges a diverse student body that
    annually graduates National Merit Scholarship winners and a host of other high-achieving and productive young adults.

    The District’s range of extra-curricular offerings in music, drama, athletics, journalism, leadership skills and other options is varied, impressive and far-reaching.

    Since its creation in 1902, it is estimated that more than 135,000 students have graduated from District schools.