Families arrive on first day of new school year at at Crane Country Day. (Teresa Pietsch)

A ballooned archway, cheering kids, festive signs and honking horns welcomed students back to Crane Country Day on Tuesday, Sept. 4, officially marking the 90th first day of school for the K-8 independent school in Montecito.

“This is not only the first day of school for this year, but this is the first day of our 90th year and that’s a significant milestone,” said Joel Weiss, head of school.

“This ritual of parents handing off and entrusting their kids to Crane has been happening for 90 years, and that’s pretty remarkable,” he said.

If one traveled back in time to the school’s first, first day in 1928, the campus would look incredibly different, Weiss said. Back then, there were only 30 students (all boys) in third-through-eighth grades.

Today, the school serves 250 all-gender students on an 11-acre campus that recently added a Design and Engineering Center and new sixth-eighth-grade English and math classrooms.

The new buildings surround the school’s 120-year-old oak tree symbolizing the importance Crane places on honoring tradition while embracing a fast-paced world.

“The physical campus has changed dramatically but the values and culture of the school have endured,” Weiss said.

“When Crane started nine decades ago, we had a daily assembly, which we’ll have this morning and inside any classroom you will still find a rigorous curriculum immersed with exciting, hands-on learning, just as it’s always been taught,” he said.

“Yet the most enduring characteristic is this really tangible sense of community that carries the school through good times and challenges,” he said.

As one of Crane’s most senior employees, Anne Perkins knows the value of community. She has been an assistant teacher at the school for 26 years where her husband and all three of their children attended.

She founded the Parents for Crane organization, mobilizing the Crane community into a powerful volunteer force.

Perkins enters her 27th year as Crane’s 90th anniversary coordinator and is planning festivities throughout the year, leading up to the big events May 3-4, which will include an informal gathering for all alumni and their families plus an adults-only, gala.

“This is a chance to bridge the past and present and truly celebrate the wonderful community that has been a hallmark of the school for 90 years,” she said. “It’s going to be huge, celebratory reunion.”

Another longtime employee, director of development Debbie Williams (who counts 43 years at the school) and Dan McCaslin, former teacher of 36 years, are working on a commemorative book documenting the school’s history

As Crane’s longest-term employee, Williams said she’s seen the school go through peaks and valleys, and credits Crane’s sustainability to the dedication of its board and parents.

“The heart and soul of Crane has never wavered,” she said. “The strength of the community, which includes parents and staff, is built on a shared enthusiasm and genuine care for the well-being of our students. And that hasn’t changed in 90 years.”

For more about Crane’s 90th festivities or to register as an alumnus/alumna, contact Perkins at aperkins@craneschool.org. For admissions information or to schedule a tour, contact Erin Guerra, 969-7732, ext. 106.

— Ann Pieramici for Crane Country Day.