That was when 11 students began high school classes in the Tracy Grammar School on Central Avenue. Principal A.D. Tenney and his assistant, Mary Acheson, welcomed the students to two classrooms on the school’s second floor — one in the small auditorium and the other in a regular classroom.
The students were Gladys Powell, Viola Sehrt, Harry Hicks, Myrtle Frerichs, Lyle McKeany, Joe DeLamater, Millie Schmidt, Vest Ludwig, Gladys Westlake and Eva Schmidt.
They sat at tables constructed by a local carpenter for classes divided into “commercial” and “literary.”
Within a month of the school opening, trustees of the new district were discussing the purchase of a site for a high school building. They put the district’s money where their mouths were by earmarking $1,500 for the purchase of property.
When the second year of classes opened in September 1913, enrollment had increased to
18 students and class offerings were expanded to include first- and second-year courses in commercial skills and first- and second-year courses in literary subjects. Edna O’Connor and Edith Chambers joined the faculty.
At the high school board meetings, trustees began salting more money away to purchase a site for a high school building. J.J. McCormack resigned as trustee, and Henry Frerichs began a long tenure on the board.
A site “out east of town” at the corner of 11th and East streets was purchased with money generated by property taxes.
West Side Union High School’s first graduation was held in June 1915 at Arlington Hall on Sixth Street. Graduates were Viola Sehrt (who later became a longtime Tracy elementary school teacher) and Elizabeth O’Neil.
At the same time, trustees hired San Francisco architect William H. Weeks to draw up plans for the school building. They placed a bond issue on the ballot to finance construction of a school building in the mission-revival style of architecture, but the bonds failed to pass. In July 1916, a second bond issue, for $30,000, was successful, however, and work soon started on the building.
Funds from the bond issue were augmented by $7,000 in property-tax money to complete the project. The school — with 14 classrooms and a 700-seat auditorium — was completed in the spring of 1917 and dedicated May 1, 1917.
During dedication ceremonies in the auditorium, the Press reported on a moving moment:
“Dr. Joseph S. West, spoken of by many as the father of the high school, was then carried on the stage (having only one leg and paralyzed on the other side, he was confined to a wheelchair) amid a rousing applause from the audience. The veteran gentleman must have felt that his unceasing labors were partially compensated for when his constituents greeted him with so hearty applause.”
The iconic structure served high school students until 1975, when it was declared an earthquake hazard and used only for adult school and district offices. It was demolished in 2007 and replaced in 2008 with a two-story structure with a nearly identical mission-revival façade. It was recently named the James C. Franco Building in honor of the present district superintendent.
In 1928, the high school district was reorganized with the addition of Banta and New Jerusalem districts. The Carnegie district, where mining and brick-making had ended, had been disbanded and its territory annexed to Jefferson. The name of the high school district was changed to Tracy Union High School District.
Over the years, elementary districts in “the islands” north of town were added to the high school district, and in 1957, Mountain House School District in Alameda County was annexed. As that district was in another county, the name of the high school district added the word “Joint.”
Administration of Tracy Joint Union High School District was combined with that of Tracy Elementary District in 1962 to form Tracy Public Schools, but two separate school boards were retained.
The high school district was unified with the Tracy Elementary School District in 1996 to form Tracy Unified School District, governed with a single board.
Tracy High School was the district’s sole school until Duncan-Russell School, a continuation school (now Stein High School), was opened in the 1970s. In 1993, Merrill F. West High School became the second comprehensive high school in the district, followed by John C. Kimball High School in 2009.
Millennium High School, part of the Tracy Learning Center — a charter school sponsored by Tracy Unified School District — also provides a high school education to its students.
At New Jerusalem School, Delta Charter High School provides a program for home-schooled students and those attending classes at the rural campus southeast of Tracy. It is independent of Tracy Unified School District.
With six high schools serving the Tracy area, secondary education has come a long way in the past 100 years. But a new development is already in the works. Next Tuesday, July 17, the recently formed Lammersville Unified School District will break ground on Mountain House High School.