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


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