By Susan Motander
With the clanging of an old-fashioned brass school bell, the Monrovia Board of Education convened last week in a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the school. As he rang the bell Board Vice President Ed Gilliland said, “And that’s the way they started school at Monrovia High 125 years ago.”
“You ought to know,” quipped fellow Board Member Chris Rich, “you were there.”
It was in that jovial mood that members of the community joined the Board to celebrate the beginning of its 125th school year. While school had been held for the lower grades since the founding of the city, in 1886, there had not been a secondary school until 1893. At that time the high school, as we know it, was called the Monrovia City School. It was not in the location of the current high school, but rather at Alta Vista Avenue and Huntington Drive (then called Orange Avenue).
It was not until 1929 that the combination Monrovia Arcadia Duarte High School opened a little further west on Huntington Drive. With its iconic bell tower, the school has become a focal point in the community.
Terrance Williams, president of the Board said, “Our district is deeply committed to the success of our school and our students.” He noted several innovative programs at the High School including the Math and Science Academy, the Theater Arts Conservatory and the Humanities Academy as well as the sports medicine program and the early college classes programs. “Our goal is to prepare students for life,” he said.
State Senator Anthony Portantino was on hand to enjoy the celebration that included an impromptu concert from the Monrovia High School (MHS) jazz ensemble before the meeting. Portantino put the establishment of the current high school in historical perspective pointing out that in 1929 not only was Martin Luther King Jr. born, but also Anne Frank and Audrey Hepburn (he glossed over the major news event of the year, the stock market crash). He presented the school district with a lovely proclamation in honor of the anniversary.
Chris Holden followed Portantino and brought up several legislative acts he had introduced that benefitted education including the early college classes program. He too presented the school board with a proclamation, this one from the state assembly in honor of the milestone anniversary. Noting his framed proclamation was smaller and less colorful than that presented by Portantino, Holden noted “The Senate has more of a budget.”
City Councilmember Larry Spicer, MHS class of ’73 presented the board with the unframed city proclamation joking, “We are in the middle of a major, city-wide renewal project.”
While the Monrovia High School jazz ensemble played “Happy Birthday” members of the school board blew out the candles on the school’s birthday cake.
In the only major business activity of the evening the Board voted to name the library at Monrovia High School after Frank Jansson. Jansson taught at the high school for 45 years, even returning to work part time after his formal retirement.
This was an altogether fitting move as there were three things Jansson loved: Monrovia High School, his students, and books. Further, the classroom in which Jansson taught for many years was demolished to make way for the new library and his was one of the first classrooms in that building. It was rare to find the man without a book under his arm.