A Brief History: 1940-Present

  • 1940s

    At the onset of the 1940s, 1,297 students were housed in the three buildings that surround Memorial Field, as well as the small College Heights School. The State College Area School district had come a long way since 1896. Jo Hays, who had taken position as supervising principal (now called superintendent) in 1927, remained. World War II had a profound effect on State College schools as teachers and students enlisted in the service. In 1942, an accelerated program was implemented for high school seniors that wished to obtain early diplomas. In 1943, because of a depleted teaching staff due to the draft, the Board of Education necessarily asked permission to employ teachers with emergency wartime certificates. Housewives that had married and left the field came back to school to teach for the duration of the war. In 1946, “the hollow” where high school students played football, was dedicated to State High graduates who had given their lives to World Wars I and II as Memorial Field. At the end of World War II, a proposal for a laboratory school was rediscovered. Such a facility would allow the School of Education to train teachers while helping the district acquire needed facilities and solve budget problems.


    Thanks in large part to postwar growth of Penn State’s student body; the school district’s enrollment was increasing. Because of this, a need for new schools became imperative. One of the first projects of the new State College Joint School Authority was the construction of the Matternville School in 1953. The new State College High School was built in 1957 on Westerly Parkway, and was used for grades 10,11, and 12. Once secondary students left the Frazier Street School, it was closed down due to safety hazards, and the property was sold to the U.S. Post Office. Jo Hays, who had served as supervising principal, resigned in 1957 after being elected to the state senate. Roy S. Jamison would serve as supervising principal until resigning in 1964.


    The Vietnam War of the 1960s forced board members to devise a plan of action for schools and children to follow regarding nuclear attacks. In 1962, it was decided that students would be sent home because none of the current buildings were equipped with fallout shelters. In 1963, students would no longer be required to recite the Lord’s Prayer or listen to Bible readings to start the school day due to a new Supreme Court ruling. Morning exercises would consist of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, attendance checks, and announcements. The State College Area school district breached a new age in technology when the IBM 1130 mainframe computer was installed at the high school in 1964. Furthermore, individual townships would stand to give up their individual boards as the State College Area School District Board of Education was formed; the joint district would own all school buildings. In an effort to improve curriculum development, the district established the position of curriculum coordinator in 1965, with responsibilities of improving curriculum and instruction.


    Teachers began breaking off from administrators to form the new State College Area Education Association in preparation for state Act 195, which allowed collective bargaining for teachers. In March of 1972, the board approved a position statement recommending use of school facilities by those organizations “which do not discriminate against people because of race, religious creed, sex, or color,” forcing students to attend classes on Good Friday, and renaming “Christmas vacation” as “winter vacation.”

    In 1974, The Alternative Program was founded for secondary students as an educational option. Students who were responsible for their own learning tended to be the best members of this new program. The name would later be changed in 1993 to Delta Program because students thought that “alternative” was a word that negatively portrayed the students within the program. Girls’ sports teams began to gain ground in the 1970s, as the federal government passed Title IX, which mandated that girls have the same access to sports as boys. Both girls and boys sports teams would exceed district expectations.


    A change in leadership occurred for the district when William E. Babcock retired after 17 years as superintendent. Dr. Seldon V. Whitaker would succeed him. Another long time school advocate left in 1983 when Fred Hoffman retired after serving 34 years on the school board. He had served a total of 82 years on the boards of the school district.

    In 1988, corporal punishment would be banned from State College schools. Some schools had already discontinued its use. Over the course of the decade, the district experienced a drop in enrollment and an impressive increase. Initially, the drop was favored, as space was freed up for libraries, art and music rooms. It was soon realized, however, that there would not be enough room for a sudden rush of new students. In 1985, the school district adopted a logo, with the motto “We are the future!” and in 1987, the Horizon publication was launched to convey district news to the community. The district experienced its first teacher strike in the fall of 1988 as teachers requested a pay raise, causing classes to be delayed for two weeks. Also during the fall of 1988, Learning Enrichment Programs were put into practice to accommodate the large number of gifted children in State College schools. While the United States’ percentage of gifted students was 3%, 10% of State College students were considered gifted.


    Leadership of the district would change twice in the 1990s. After 10 years as Superintendent, Seldon Whitaker turned the post over to William Opdenhoff in 1994. Patricia Best would take over the superintendent’s position in 1999. Due to several school shootings in the 1990s, communication among students, parents, staff, administrators and law enforcement officials was greatly improved. Strategies for preventing violence were also discussed and implemented. Middle schools began to grow in popularity nationwide as a means of easing the transition from elementary school to high school. In response, the Park Forest and Mount Nittany Middle schools were founded. They would house approximately 900 students each. More and more, special education and regular education were becoming integrated as one curriculum. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) strived to provide the least restrictive environment for each student. In 1999, the district adopted a program of 75 “technology competencies” which educators thought students should master in order to be “technologically competent”. The use of computers for instructional purposes had become a standard practice.


    In 1896, State College’s population of 337 was clustered mainly around College Avenue. By the year 2000, the borough itself contained 38,000 residents, with the school district serving a population of over 79,000. In the fall of 2000, the Gray’s Woods community was approved as the site for a new elementary school. Pennsylvania started requiring that graduating high school students complete a graduation project. State College Area High School students were permitted to complete this requirement during their junior or senior years, either through a project course, or independently through learning enrichment. In May 2001, the English as a Second Language classes at the high school included 76 students from 18 countries, speaking 14 languages. Several special programs and events were launched to celebrate.

Last Modified on November 29, 2023