J-E-double-F-E-R, S-O-N spells Jefferson, Jefferson.
Proud to be the boys and girls who go there, go there.
Everything we’ve learned we’ve come to know there, know there.
J-E-double-F-E-R, S-O-N you see.
It’s the school where the rule is to be your best and be the top.
Jefferson for me, The Hilltop Gang. — By Virginia D’Alfonso, 1962
Forty years ago, Jefferson Elementary School on Alameda Padre Serra in Santa Barbara closed. The students were shipped off to various schools, and that old fight song went silent. Jefferson had been an elementary school on APS for 41 years.
In September of this year, however, the historic Jefferson campus welcomed back 125 students and became the new home of Santa Barbara Middle School. The halls and the schoolyard ring once more with hearty laughter and youthful energy.
Many locals still remember the glory days of Jefferson Elementary School.
“It was a home. It was like everybody knew everybody else,” remembers local chiropractor Rusty Smith, who attended Jefferson from 1966 until the year it closed in 1972. “Everything here was so positive and the location had an energy. Nobody wanted to leave.”
A recent walk around the campus brought back memories for Smith. He remembers hockey in the boys’ bathroom, the grandfather clock in Principal Mariam Hanlon’s office, watching the first moonwalk on television in one of his classrooms, and the wide-open space all the way to Milpas Street.
“There was nothing from here to the Santa Barbara Bowl,” he said.
Former Santa Barbara Middle School parent Gloria Cavallero attended Jefferson from 1963 to 1966. Enrollment then exceeded 300 students, and the campus teemed with the young energy of students. She remembers her music teacher, Mrs. Hanlon, for her wonderful voice and that Glee Club was really big. She wistfully recalls the lively after-school sports program, the Christmas tree that stood in the main floor entryway, and that it cost 30 cents for a hot lunch.
She also remembers the day President John F. Kennedy was shot.
“The principal came in to tell the teacher,” Cavallero said. “It wasn’t until a little later that day that they announced it to the school. It was right here in this hallway that I saw two girls crying.”
Jefferson alum and former SBMS parent Bruce Klobucher was in kindergarten that historic day.
“They pulled everyone out of school and circled us around the flagpole to let us know that Kennedy had been shot,” Klobucher said.
He also vividly recalled the ashes and purple haze of the historic Coyote Fire. He remembers playing a wide variety of sports on the playground, and he remembers The Beatles.
“My friends started wearing Beatles’ haircuts, yet my dad said, ‘No way, no Beatles haircut for you. You’re getting a butch,’” Klobucher said with a laugh.
Sally Jacobson and Charmee Padilla, Jefferson classmates from 1937 to 1941, remember the safety drills.
“What I remember most is the war,” Padilla said. “Teachers used to line us up and herd us down the street so we would know where to go during an air raid.”
Jacobson added: “Jefferson Elementary was a very fun childhood experience. It was really sad when the doors closed and we had to change schools.”
Jefferson closed temporarily in 1941 and 1942.
Whether it was during the pre- or post-war era that students attended Jefferson, their memories of the years spent here are happy ones, according to Jacobson.
“I wish that all children could have the opportunity to attend school here, with the small classes and teachers that take such an interest,” she said.
From Ms. Tisdale and Ms. Thurman in the 1930s to Mrs. Sendrak and Mrs. Roberts in the 1960s, the common theme with the Jefferson alumni is the profound level of love, care and learning they received from their teachers.
That same level of care and positive energy is being felt schoolwide at Santa Barbara Middle School.
“You could take Santa Barbara Middle School and house it in a tent and you would still have magic,” Klobucher said, “but having this spectacular site doesn’t hurt.”
It’s been nearly four decades since the halls rang with children’s voices and the fields were home to kickball and foursquare. Like so many alums with whom we spoke, Head of School Brian McWilliams believes that the Jefferson campus is “hungry for children again.”
McWilliams wants to mix Jefferson’s legacy of being a neighborhood asset with the Santa Barbara Middle School’s mission to be a private school with a public purpose. He’s grateful that building owner Ernie Brooks embraced the real-world learning at SBMS and provided it with a long-term home.
“Mr. Brooks chose us because he knows we will continue that theme of innovative, passionate education, and like the Brooks Institute, we will continue to inspire and light up kids’ imagination,” McWilliams said. “We understand there is a responsibility to be good neighbors, and we look forward to being of service, and a community asset to this beautiful neighborhood.”
— Larry Good is a Santa Barbara Middle School parent.