This is the fourth in a series of articles on school districts in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Some history, 1884-2004

Santa Ynez schools are considered to be in the "College School District" due to the establishment of College of our Lady of Guadalupe in 1884 by Mission Santa Inés on the present 35,000-acre lot. The college land grant was made by Governor Micheltorena to California’s first Bishop, Rt. Rev. Garcia Diego, for the support and maintenance of a seminary for boys.

This seminary was also the first college in California.

Governor Micheltorena pledged $500 a year toward its support, and Bishop Garcia Diego ordained that the sons of wealthy parents should pay $350 a year for schooling and board. The school was a two-story building constructed of adobe with a tile roof. A chapel was built nearby for the benefit of the boys and the people who lived in the vicinity.

Due to decline of the mission system, the school closed in 1882.

In the meantime, the land that had been granted for the college became universally known as the College Ranch. Later when a school district was established in the Santa Ynez area, it was named the “College District” for the first public school to exist.

Children of the early Santa Ynez settlers attended school in residences until a frame school building was constructed for them on the site of the present Santa Ynez School in 1896. This was a two-story building with two classrooms downstairs for the elementary pupils and classrooms upstairs for the high school pupils.

When the building burned down in 1907, children began to meet in private homes and later in the Old College Hotel.

In 1908, a new three-room concrete elementary school was constructed in Santa Ynez on the site of the original wooden structure. The College School was a three-teacher school for many years.

In 1933 that the first College School lunch program was started, one hot dish per day was provided for the children. An auditorium building was added to the school plant in 1938. 

In 1946 College School became a four–teacher school and the school board began to look to establish a kindergarten class. The first kindergarten in the valley was started in the fall of 1947 with a class in the school auditorium where it shared space with the cafeteria.

In 1947 an army mess hall was purchased from Santa Maria Air Base, moved to College School, and converted into two permanent classrooms and a cafeteria kitchen.

During the 1950-51 school year two temporary classrooms were added, paid for with funds provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for the education of its employees children during the construction of Cachuma Dam.

By now the school had grown to an eight-teacher school with a full-time principal. The school cafeteria was closed for lack of space in which to operate.

102919 Santa Ynez School District 2

Students sit on the steps of the two-story Santa Ynez Grammar School, circa 1896.

In 1952 College School District approved the sale of bonds for the construction of two classrooms to replace the temporary rooms provided by the Bureau of Reclamation. This fourth building was completed at the school in 1953 and the temporary classrooms were converted into a permanent dining room. A school lunch program was re-established that year in a completely equipped cafeteria.

Construction began on the present school buildings in 1964 and a gymnasium was completed in 1971. In 2004, the community passed a school bond measure to modernize all district facilities.

Today, the school district has two campuses on Pine Street in Santa Ynez. The College Campus houses the district office, a preschool for 3 and 4 year olds, and a 20-student kindergarten classroom. The Santa Ynez elementary campus is located just up the road and serves 208 students in first to eighth grades.

Present day

In an interview with Maurene Donner, the current principal and superintendent of College School District, the district's goals were laid out.

The first and foremost goal is to meet the needs of each individual student given that Santa Ynez has a diverse student body that includes a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and academic proficiencies.

College School District is a Title I district, which means the federal government provides additional funds to provide low-income and migrant students the extra support they need to achieve academic and personal success. With these additional funds, the district has implemented many programs that have proven to be very successful.

For example, in reading, the district averages 22.3 points above the state average – one of the highest levels in Santa Barbara County.

This is due to an emphasis in teaching reading skills so that children are reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade.

The school funds an English Learning Development (EDL) specialist to help children learn to read at grade level. 

In addition, the district is part of the MTSS Program (Multi-Tiered System of Support) that gives teachers the training and materials they need to help all students achieve academically. 

The result is that all students improve and low-performing students tend to perform at or above grade level. The program not only supports students but educates parents on how to encourage and support their children.

Also, part of this is the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) Program, which provides funding and teacher training for schools to develop unique education opportunities for high-achieving students.

According to Ms. Donner, the district's involvement in the PBIS Program (Positive Behavior Intervention Support), helps student's learn respect, responsibility, cooperation, and how to deal with conflict in a positive way.

Teachers and administrators have the training and materials to “establish the foundations for delivering regular, proactive support and preventing unwanted behaviors.”

The goal is to teach the “whole child” to be successful in life, not just the “academic” child.

In addition to a high-quality academic curriculum, the district offers many additional programs: Music, visual arts, and physical education.

An after-school program helps with homework and provides many supplemental activities. All students have the opportunity to go on field trips. Every other year, the 7th and 8th graders go on a trip to New York City and Washington DC over Memorial Day weekend. Students fundraise to help pay for this adventure.

Thanks to a partnership with the YMCA, all third graders get swimming lessons. Every spring, all grades participate in a Spring Show that includes music and dance performances. Thanks to a gift from the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, the school was able to purchase many musical instruments for student use.

According to Ms. Donner, all of these student academic and personal growth activities would not be possible without a dedicated teaching staff.

Every Monday is a minimum day for students, so teachers have the opportunity to meet with each other and have in-service training. They plan, problem solve, and coordinate their programs so no student “slips between the cracks.”

Ms. Donner says many of the children that enter as non-English speakers, are in the GATE program by the time they are in the upper grades.

Her wish list for the future includes upgrading all classrooms with new technology to support the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) curriculum; refurbishing the older buildings; being able to serve breakfast in addition to the snack and lunch provided now; and improving the playgrounds and athletic fields, which are used by the entire community.

In summary, College School District is an example of what schools can do to provide an excellent education to children from all backgrounds. Santa Ynez citizens can be proud of their schools and take pride in the diversity and excellent educational opportunities the district offers.

Judith Dale can be reached at