Opening day at Eagle Rock Junior/Senior High
School was September 12, 1927. Principal Helen Babson greeted some
750 expectant youngsters in an auditorium not yet equipped with
seats. Seventy years later a dozen of these former students, wearing
“I was there” badges, were honored at the 1997 ERHS Alumni
Association Annual Dinner.
Helen Babson was an effective leader and the
depression years a propitious time for recruiting faculty. Teaching
openings were few and ERHS, as a new and nationally designated “progressive
education” school, was an attractive assignment. As a consequence
the school assembled a highly talented group of educators, many of
whom had distinguished careers as teachers and others as
administrators. The progressive education experiment didn’t fare
well, being replaced in time by more traditional modes of
instruction, but it apparently inflicted no real damage on its ERHS
subjects, although some complain that they never learned to spell.
Helen Babson was succeeded in 1945 by another
outstanding principal, Robert Kelly, who later moved on to top
leadership posts in the Los Angeles School District.
Charles Sutcliffe was principal from 1953 to
1962 maintaining the ERHS tradition of excellence during a time of
community stability and postwar growth. The Korean club supported a
school near Seoul and was awarded the George Washington medal for
their efforts. The boy’s gym was built, at the time it was the
finest in the City.
From 1962 to 1975 Charles Hamer S’31, who as
an Occidental student had done his practice teaching at Eagle Rock,
was principal. Popular with both students and faculty Mr. Hamer
successfully guided the school through a period of earthquake
related rebuilding and cultural transformation. The Boosters club
was founded focusing anew community support for the school. Under
John Rinaldo the ERHS Jazz Band brought state and national attention
to the school.
Alumni who last viewed the campus in the
sixties are quickly aware of some big changes when they visit the
ERHS of today. Virtually all of the old buildings are gone, victims
of earthquake building codes and replaced by less handsome
structures erected on what used to be the girls athletic field. Also
evident is the far larger number of students, 2800 plus, creating a
variety of logistical problems.
Just as striking is the composition of the
student body, now about 61% Latino, 16.6% Filipino, 6.8% Asian, 2.5%
African American, and 11.8% Caucasian. But a campus visitor also
would see that, despite the overcrowding,
campus life is calm and orderly. It appears that receiving a good
education is a top priority for most students and that is just what’s
happening at ERHS.
Eagle Rock has always ranked high among LA City
schools in the quality of its faculty and in the achievements of its
students. Nearly 90% of its graduates are going on to college or
technical education, probably the highest percentage in the history
of the school. And these students are not only successful in the
classroom, they also are maintaining the ERHS traditions of
excellence in choral and instrumental music, community involvement,
and in producing winning athletic teams, both male and female.
Longtime ERHS traditions continue, the senior class still selects a
name which they feel typifies their aspirations, a student designed
class plaque is still emplaced in front of the auditorium (the same
inside as in 1927, now with seats), and the class still graduates at
the Occidental College Hillside Theatre, less formally but more
affordably now in caps and gowns.
By Eric Warren S'65