The spirit of Helen M. Haskell and a look-alike will be the guests of honor at Sunday's opening of the yearlong centennial celebration of the La Canada school system.
The highlight of Sunday's "Centennial Evening on the Green" at Descanso Gardens is expected to be the crowning of a Centennial May Queen, who will be dressed in an 1880s-style, schoolmarm outfit--a floor-length dress, with a bustle in the back and ruffle on the bottom--similar to that worn by Haskell, the first La Canada school-teacher.
The May Queen's identity is being kept a secret, but Marjorie Dryer, chairwoman of the Centennial Committee, said that the queen, like the late Haskell, is a longtime teacher in the system who is well-known and loved by her students.
Began With 18 Students
The school system began under Haskell's tutelage with only 18 students who met in a room at the Haskell ranch on what is now Angeles Crest Highway. The first schoolhouse, a one-room wooden structure, was built in 1886. A fire destroyed that building in 1892 but the bronze bell that hung in its belfry has been preserved and now is on display in front of La Canada Elementary School.
The school system grew over the years. In 1963, La Canada High School was opened; before that, high school students attended classes in Glendale and Pasadena schools. The district reached a peak enrollment in 1970 with 4,917 students at seven schools.
But, in the past decade, the district has closed three schools in the face of dwindling enrollment. Its current enrollment of 3,200 students is expected to drop by another 200 next year.
In March, the district lost its bid for additional revenue when voters defeated a property tax measure. As a result, 19 teachers are expected to be laid off at the end of the school year and school programs will be cut back further.
Celebration Is Deserved
Nevertheless, the schools and the community deserve a celebration, in Dryer's opinion: "We've had some very devastating things that happened to us because of cuts and closings of our schools. Now we want to enjoy those wonderful things that have happened to us, discovering the history of our school system and taking a look at who we were then and who we are now."
The theme for the yearlong centennial celebration will be: "1885 to 1985: La Canada Schools, a Century of Excellence."
The centennial year doesn't begin officially until July, so Sunday's gathering will be more of a "pre-event," she said. A springtime evening on the green at Descanso Gardens has been an annual event for several years, but this year is special, Dryer said, because the community will be honoring students.
The evening on the green will feature arts and crafts exhibits and entertainment by students representing all of the schools in the La Canada Unified School District. It will run from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for students.
Variety of Performers
Scheduled to perform are: a third-grade chorus and fourth-grade folk-dancing group from Paradise Canyon School; fourth-grade dancers and a fifth-grade chorus from La Canada Elementary School; and the high school jazz band and Spartan Singers Choir. Students from Oak Grove School for the handicapped will distribute programs; the refreshments will be furnished by students in the district's home economics classes.
The event is being cosponsored by the Descanso Gardens Guild and the La Canada Flintridge Educational Foundation, a nonprofit, grass-roots group that has raised more than $1 million for the school district since 1978.
The theme of the city's annual Fiesta Days parade on Memorial Day will be in keeping with the centennial year. The event, to be called Fiesta de las Escuelas, will have two grand marshals: Donald Ziehl, superintendent of the school district, and Jeanne Mauss, a retired school principal from Oak Grove and Paradise Canyon schools.
Other events scheduled for the centennial year include: memorabilia displays in the public library, publication of a coloring book depicting the history of the school system, slide presentations by the La Canada Historical Society, a day of recognition for former teachers and school supporters, historical pageants, essay and poetry contests and a reunion luncheon for former students.