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South Pasadena Schools

a photo of the logo of Arroyo Vista Elementary School

Nestled in the West San Gabriel Valley, the South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) has been in existence since 1886. It consists of five schools: three elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school. SPUSD has a total enrollment of approximately 4,800 students and employs scores of exemplary teachers who are members of the Teachers Association of South Pasadena.

Backed by parents, teachers, and meaningful community support – the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF), local PTAs, and booster clubs – SPUSD attracts families who value challenging academic programs and outstanding teachers. From its Gold Ribbon elementary schools to its Gold Medal ranked high school, SPUSD has earned a reputation for providing high quality, empathetic, public education comprised of dedicated educators and diversely talented students at all levels. Consistently recognized for superior performance in academics, arts, and athletics, SPUSD students earn honors at the local, state, and national level.

In South Pasadena, education has always been a priority. So important that by 1886 (two years before incorporation) the South Pasadena School District had been formed, and the El Centro school (currently SPUSD offices) built – “at a cost of $1,550 including bell and outhouse.” The Lincoln Park School (known today as Arroyo Vista) soon followed in 1887, and in 1904, school bonds were eventually floated, land purchased, and plans were made so that a high school could be built, enabling students to no longer have to travel to Los Angeles or Pasadena. The first high school class of 32 students met in Center Street School on September 18, 1905, and in 1906, the site of the current high school was purchased for $15,000. Over time, land was also purchased for the eight-room Marengo Elementary School – in 1910 on land sold by railroad magnate Henry Huntington – and the middle school on Fair Oaks Boulevard in 1924. The Monterey Hills Elementary School, the city’s newest school, was opened in 1967.

Arroyo Vista Elementary School

An image of the school building of Arroyo Vista School

The current Arroyo Vista Elementary School (AV) on El Centro Avenue occupies the site of the earlier Lincoln Park School, and drew students from both Lincoln Park and the El Centro School.

The school currently serves approximately 700 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Comprised of students from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds, the AV student population reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity of Southern California.

Arroyo Vista’s mission statement is “to provide a nurturing and stimulating learning environment for children of many backgrounds so that each child becomes a literate and productive citizen of our multicultural society.”

The current Principal of Arroyo Vista is Cheryl Busick, who succeeded now-retired Brent Noyes in June of 2011.

According to Busick, Arroyo Vista provides students with the “opportunities to develop their potential intellectually, socially and emotionally.” Busick believes that AV “exists to provide an effective educational program and to offer all students opportunities to develop their capabilities to the maximum of their potential so that they may act constructively as contributing citizens in our changing society.”

Arroyo Vista possesses a professionally skilled faculty that is personally committed to meeting the needs of students. This commitment, as well as Arroyo Vista’s motivated student body, has resulted in AV being honored as a California Distinguished School in 2010, and as a NCLB National Blue Ribbon School in 2005.

In addition to its strong academic foundation, Arroyo Vista has a parent community that is interested and vigorously involved in school life – this is evident in its extremely engaged PTA.

Marengo Elementary School

The Marengo Elementary School enrolls approximately 750 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Marengo is known for its commitment to providing “instructional activities that encourage children to become responsible, contributing, tolerant citizens, while focusing on the pursuit of academic knowledge.”

It’s mission statement is to “support self-directed, lifelong learners as they grow into resourceful and productive citizens… [and to] provide a safe, creative environment with respect for students of diverse backgrounds and learning styles.” By recognizing “the important role families and community play in the education of our students…[Marengo] will continue to promote a positive home/school connection.”

The current Principal of Marengo is Patricia Cheadle, who previously worked for the San Gabriel Unified School District for 19 years.

Cheadle says she is “supportive of all aspects of the school community, and [believes] that collaboration is the best way to ensure student success.” According to Cheadle, Marengo’s reputation for excellence “is certainly the result of its talented teaching staff, involved parents, dedicated support staff and amazing students.”

The school boasts an API (Academic Performance Index) of 945 out of a maximum of 1000 and was named a California Distinguished School in May of 2010.

Monterey Hills Elementary School

Opened in 1967 in the Altos de Monterey area on Via del Rey, Monterey Hills Elementary School is the most recent addition to the South Pasadena Unified School District.

A federal loan financed the development of Altos de Monterey, which was extensively planned for the eventual needs of the staff and students with suggestions from teachers throughout the district. As a result, housing in the area was made available to all qualified buyers, regardless of religion, creed, or race. This is said to be why Monterey Hills reflects the multi-ethnic quality of the Altos area.

Currently, Monterey Hills enrolls approximately 650 students spanning from kindergarten to fifth grade. Known for its focus on community service, Marengo’s talented faculty works with students to build “understanding, tolerance, and acceptance” among students and their peers.

Monterey Hills’ mission statement is to “assist all students in realizing their full academic and social development potential. Student needs are met in order to develop responsible, independent and motivated learners. As a product of attending MHS, we want students to be cooperative learners, and problem solvers and to have a well-developed self-concept and be academically sound.”

The current Principal of Monterey Hills is Laurie Narro, who received her Ed. D. in Educational Leadership from UCLA.

According to Narro, she is “eager to help the district achieve the mission of preparing students as 21st century learners through creative instruction and by building critical thinkers; skilled communicators and students who can work collaboratively.”

Monterey Hills is a Gold Ribbon recipient. According to its 2016 CAASPP scores, 80% of students measured proficient and advanced in ELA (growth of 6% points) and 81% of students measured that in math (growth of 2% points), which speaks to the hard work put in by the students and teachers on an annual basis.

South Pasadena Middle School

an image of a white building of South Pasadena Middle School
With the exception of two years (1905-1907), George Bush was the Superintendent of South Pasadena until 1940 – during the district’s growth, development, and rebuilding program. Bush called for the establishment of an intermediate school in the district in 1919, and by 1924, bonds were passed to make money available to purchase the site for a junior high school. The town then waited for the population to grow, thus necessitating construction. In 1927, $555,000 was budgeted for erection and equipping of an appropriate junior high school. Subsequently, architects were challenged to make South Pasadena Junior High School (SPJHS) the most beautiful school in Southern California. What followed was an extensive beautification carried out by students, architects, and professional artists. In 1928, SPJHS finally opened its doors at its current location as a school that, along with its strong commitment to education, valued the arts. Expansion and improvement of the campus continues today. The concept of the junior high school was clearly stated by its first principal, G. Derwood Baker, in 1928: “[SPJSH should] meet the peculiar aims of boys and girls during the period of their early adolescence. Our junior high is not to be a glorified grammar school and we are just as determined that it shall not be miniature high school.” Today, the South Pasadena Middle School (SPMS), as it is now known, enrolls approximately 1,100 students from sixth to eighth grade. Known for its emphasis on real-world applications of learning, the proclaimed purpose of SPMS “is to inspire, challenge and empower all students to acquire the knowledge, skills and values to become a successful, responsible and caring citizen in a diverse society.” SPMS’ vision is to “collaborate in order to nurture our students’ creativity and to support them in becoming independent, contributing, and confident lifelong learners. Working together with families and the community, we will create a safe, positive learning environment for all students.” The current Principal of SPMS is David Kubela, who recently joined ranks alongside Assistant Principal Robert Yim. According to Kubela, “to be successful, students need a rich, rigorous, differentiated curriculum in a safe and fun environment. Leveraging an essay generator tool, working as a community, a Professional Learning Community, with a focus on student learning, using data with outcomes, collaborating and celebrating our achievement, we can assure success for all of our students.” South Pasadena Middle School was awarded a Gold Ribbon Award in 2017 for its “practice of integrating technology to build global citizens. “According to the award committee, “by integrating technology into the core academic and elective classes, technology has become a vehicle for acquiring new knowledge, thinking critically about relevant issues, and collaborating in meaningful way so that students can communicate their creative solutions to real-world problems.”

South Pasadena High School

a photo of front building of South Pasadena High School

Established in 1906, South Pasadena High School (SPHS) is the first and only public high school in South Pasadena. The campus is situated on the west side of the city on Fremont Avenue, and is composed of several main academic buildings, a performing arts auditorium, a swimming pool, three sets of tennis courts, two indoor gymnasiums, a 400-m outdoor track, and three athletic fields. SPHS’ motto is “Scholarship, Leadership, Strength, and Fair Play.” The school colors are orange and black, with a tiger for the mascot.

The school maintains a traditional 2 semester calendar, as well as a varied and well-attended summer school. The co-curricular program is extensive, ranging from athletics to theater, music, community projects, and numerous clubs of interest.  Over 75% of the student body participates in at least one co-curricular program.

SPHS currently enrolls around 1,500 students with a senior class of approximately 350. With a focus on diversity, high academic achievement, and the enhancement of the talents and accomplishments of individual members, SPHS students are “grown locally to make a positive impact globally, deep into the 21st Century.”

SPHS’ mission is to “develop the academic and interpersonal skills that help [students] make a positive impact as global citizens.” Adding further that, “staff, parents, and the community provide the supportive environment in which students achieve their personal bests.”

The current Principal is Janet Anderson, who was once a South Pasadena High School Tiger herself!

According to Anderson, there are “many reasons for our Tiger Pride. Our students are friendly and hardworking, our teachers are dedicated and devoted, our parents are supportive and involved, and we live in a community that supports its schools.”

Anderson believes that “diversity among our student body leads to a very diverse array of involvement opportunities for students; this is a place where students can ‘find their niche within a niche.’ While we are on a journey of continual improvement, we do stop to appreciate how very special it is to be a part of South Pasadena High School.”

South Pasadena High School earned a Gold Medal ranking from U.S. News & World Report in the recent Best High Schools rankings, featuring top-performing schools at the national and state level. Gold medal awards indicate the greatest level of college readiness. SPHS is also accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and has maintained an outstanding record of accreditation throughout the school’s existence.

As for the arts, SPHS’ publications, The Tiger (newspaper) and Copa de Oro (yearbook), have been honored by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. The Tiger was named the best high school newspaper by CSPA once, and the Copa de Oro, the best yearbook twice

In addition to its artistic and academic prestige, SPHS is highly regarded for its athletics, offering varsity team participation in 17 CIF sanctioned sports as well as cheerleading. Annually, more than 400 students participate in athletics with several teams winning league championships. SPHS athletics is dedicated to “developing student ­athletes and to demonstrating the values of sportsmanship, teamwork, and responsible behavior.”

Other highlights of SPHS include a Senior English Community Outreach Business Plan, student-run silk screening and student store companies, a World History “Save the World” project, volunteering for Community Service graduation requirements, design classes, Associated Student Body and club activities.

South Pasadena High School Athletics

South Pasadena High School offers varsity team participation in 14 CIF sanctioned sports as well as sideline cheerleading. Dedicated to developing student-athletes that compete in interscholastic competition, SPHS programs combine a healthy mix of competitive athletics while maintaining high standards of sportsmanship. In addition to the integral role sports play in the mental and physical development of young adults, athletic participation also teaches the meritorious values of sportsmanship, teamwork, and responsible behavior. From its experienced and dedicated coaches and trainers, to its excellent athletic facilities and equipment, SPHS is thoroughly committed to providing students with the best possible athletic environment.

a photo of women's swimming team holding their awards

SPHS sports are played over the course of the fall, winter, and spring seasons, respectively. Fall sports, which run from mid-August through mid-November, include football, boys water polo, girls volleyball, girls tennis, girls golf, and boys and girls cross country. Winter sports, running from mid-November through mid-February, include boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, wrestling, and girls water polo. Lastly, spring sports, which run from mid-February through mid-May, include coed badminton, baseball, softball, boys and girls swimming, boys tennis, boys volleyball, boys golf, and boys and girls track.

During season, teams typically practice two hours per day, five days per week. Practices are mandatory and usually take place after school or in the early evenings. Some sports also hold Saturday workouts. Outside of the school year, some teams continue to have workouts during the summer months as well (e.g. football, water polo).

Students that participate in a complete sports season earn 5 PE credits. While it usually is not possible to play two sports during the same season, students do have the ability to play two or three sports during the course of a school year. If students play more than one sport, they can work out with each during the summer.

While all students are encouraged to try out for sports, high school athletics are competitive, meaning not all students that tryout earn a spot on a team. Most sports have different levels such as varsity and jv that allow for participation by students with varying proficiency levels.

As of the 2016-17 school year, over 400 different students participated on 46 different teams as part of South Pasadena’s athletic program. Overall, SPHS varsity teams amassed a remarkable 5 league team championships.

South Pasadena High School Details and Awards

South Pasadena High School earned a Gold Medal ranking from U.S. News & World Report in the recent Best High Schools rankings, featuring top-performing schools at the national and state level. Gold medal awards indicate the greatest level of college readiness. SPHS is also accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and has maintained an outstanding record of accreditation throughout the school’s existence.

SPHS offers a variety of over 17 Advanced Placement courses, including English Literature and Composition, English Language and Composition, U.S. History, Government and Political Science, Calculus AB/BC, Statistics, Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Physics Course 1, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Computer Science A, Studio Art, Spanish Language, French Language, and Chinese Language.             

According to South Pasadena records, 467 candidates took 987 Advanced Placement tests in 2016, with 86.9% scoring 3 or better. Advanced Placement enrollment numbers continue to increase while the mean score of 3.73 continues to be above the state, national, and global comparable groups. On average, seventy percent of students enroll in four or fewer AP courses during their four years at SPHS, while close to 80% are accepted into four year universities.

The college attendance of South Pasadena High School graduates is also highly laudable. 79% percent of students in the 2016 graduating class completed their A-G requirements. More than 68% of the class planned to attend 4-year colleges and universities immediately after high school. Another 30% planned to attend community colleges, vocational training schools, or join the military. While 3% percent of the graduates indicated that they would be working or taking a gap year before resuming further formal schooling.

The class of 2017, had 7 National Merit Semifinalists and 21 Commended Scholars. The class of 2016, had 8 National Merit Semifinalists and 31 Commended Scholars. The class of 2015, had 8 National Merit Semifinalists and 24 Commended Scholars. The Class of 2014 had 11 National Merit Semifinalists and 23 Commended Scholars.  The Class of 2013 had 6 National Merit Semifinalists and 25 Commended Scholars.

In terms of school-offered programs, SPHS students regularly participate in the Academic Decathlon, a county, state and national honors program designed to promote self-assurance, academic enrichment and teamwork among students from diverse academic backgrounds. Since the program’s beginning a few years ago, SPHS academic decathletes have received two first place awards in Los Angeles County. In California, SPHS is ranked fifth overall – touting the highest combined score in math and science in the entire state. In recent competitions, SPHS decathletes took home 28 medals from the United States Academic Decathlon national competition.

SPHS also offers an award-winning Virtual Business (also titled Virtual Enterprise) program – an in-school, live, global business simulation that offers students a competitive edge through project-based, collaborative learning, while developing 21st-century skills in entrepreneurship, global business, problem solving, communication, personal finance, and technology. Since its inception, the SPHS team has won numerous awards at the local, state, and national level. Even more impressive, the National Business Plan team has qualified for the national competition 12 times in 11 years. Approximately 70 SPHS students annually participate in the program.

As a whole, SPUSD repeatedly produces students who are recognized in the annual Scholastic Art & Writing Competition. Recently, students were awarded more than 100 medals at the regional level and two students succeeded at the national level with a gold medal for drawing and illustration, and a silver medal in the critical essay category.

Here’s an update on our fine South Pasadena Schools: 2018 scores for the online California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) tests in English Language Arts and mathematics have just been released. These comprehensive tests show the South Pasadena Unified School District to be in the Top 5 of all K-12 unified school districts in California.

Special thanks to Matthew DeFulgentiis – exemplary graduate of South Pasadena schools and former editor of Tiger Newspaper –  for helping to gather together the facts and write up this excellent piece.

The outstanding schools in South Pasadena have long boosted property values in the community. If you or someone you know is seeking outstanding schools and a strong sense of shared community give me a call at: (626) 437-6800 to find out about the excellent investment and lifestyle choices in South Pasadena real estate.