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District Chalks Up 130 Years

Education: A lot has changed as Pleasant Valley has grown from six to more than 7,000 students. But parental concern has been a constant.


CAMARILLO — Consider the mid-1800s plight of the three Mahan children of Camarillo: They would hop on their horses, plod through cactus and chaparral, dart around the occasional rattlesnake and ford the Santa Clara at its narrowest point just to get to school in Ventura. That is, unless it rained and the swollen river blocked passage altogether.

To give his offspring schooling less dependent on the seasons, Camarillo rancher John Mahan trekked up to Santa Barbara in 1868 to request a permit to form a school district. After the permit was signed on Nov. 10, Mahan opened a six-pupil school--and the Pleasant Valley School District became Ventura County's first to begin operating.

Today, the Pleasant Valley district will mark its 130th anniversary.

Over the years, the district has grown from six children learning in an old ranch granary to 7,116 taught at 14 schools on 13 sites. Hand-held slates have been replaced with "white boards." Whereas students once were expected to supply their own writing materials, today they cruise the Internet, gratis, on school computers.

Val Rains, who has been a Pleasant Valley school board member for nearly 22 years, said the district's continued existence and growth is attributable to dedicated parents.

"What first prompted the formation of the district was the concern of parents that their children couldn't get an education during the rainy season," said Rains, who helped write a history of the district five years ago. Mahan "felt his children were being robbed of their opportunity to have an education. . . . One-hundred-thirty years later, our parents are still involved in, and concerned about, their children's education."

As Camarillo's population grew, so did the school system, which serves children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

In the 19th century, ranchers' barefoot children in tattered overalls moved from one granary to another. The first permanent schools were bare-bones wood-frame structures later declared seismically unsound. By 1922, a Spanish-style school was built on Ventura Boulevard, where Los Primeros school now sits.

Camarillo City Councilman Stan Daily, 63, attended that campus--Pleasant Valley Grammar School--between 1941 and 1949. He recalls it as a place where fundamentals were paramount, principals knew how to wield a paddle and teachers could hush rambunctious pupils with one stern stare.

"We were eight grades all in one school," Daily said. "At the time, my father was general manager for Arneill Ranch, and Arneill Road came right up to the 101. We would walk up the road, look both ways and run. . . . The 101 was only two lanes then. Can you imagine trying to cross it now?"

By the 1960s, the temperate beauty of Camarillo was luring more and more residents; from 1958 to 1968, student population grew from less than 1,000 to almost 6,000. The district built an average of one school a year throughout the 1960s.

Current Los Nogales Elementary School Principal Paige Fisher joined the school district in 1969 as a fourth-grade teacher fresh out of college. Now 52, he is the district's most senior administrator.

In his 30 years in Pleasant Valley, Fisher said he has found the changes in family structure more striking than educational trends.

"We have a different clientele now--children with more needs, from broken families," Fisher said. "Many more things are expected of educators now; it's like we're surrogate parents. . . . When I first started at El Descanso [elementary], Mom was at home, Dad went to work and the kids went to school. The demographics have changed so much now that both parents both work."

Not only families have changed. The district now has many students whose first language is not English. To make up for ever-shrinking funding, the district tried five times before a $49-million school bond was approved last year.

New mandates about everything from math instruction to bilingual education have been handed down from voters and regulators. Some recently elected trustees have floated a plan to bring Camarillo High School under Pleasant Valley's purview.

Through it all, the district has maintained its course.

"I don't know what it's going to look like, but I do think the school district will be around another 130 years," said former Supt. Shirley Carpenter, now chairwoman of the education department at The Masters College in Santa Clarita. "It would only be a phenomenon of nature that could stop it."

' We were eight grades all in one school.'

Stan Daily, 63,

Camarillo City Councilman

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