Highland Park Elementary

Highland Park

Treasure on a Hilltop

Treasure On A Hilltop – Highland Park School and its Community

By Margaret Young

School Statistics


  • Acquired: 1916
  • Cost: $4,300


  • Completed: 1921
  • Cost: $305,338

New Building

  • Anticipated Opening: Fall 1999
  • Anticipated Cost: $14.6 Million

In the time frame of Seattle history, Highland Park was one of the latest areas to be developed.  According to history books, it was in 1851 that the schooner Exact deposited the Denny party at Alki.  In 1852 Arthur Denny, John Bell, and Carson Boren paddled across Elliott Bay and founded the city of Seattle. By 1853 Alki had become a bustling area with a steam saw mill (moved to Port Orchard the next year), a barrel making shop (specializing in barrels for fish packing) and a “Wholesale and Retail Store and Ship Chandlery”.

By 1864 along the strip of land where Harbor Avenue stretches today, a community called Freeport had sprouted.  In 1871 the first shipbuilding yard on the west side arrived at Freeport and it became the earliest home for shipbuilding yards on Puget Sound.  By 1877 a brickyard on the Duwamish River, along what is now West Marginal Way at the foot of Boeing Hill, was in full production and able to turn out 490,000 bricks in a year.  The year 1890 saw home seekers flocking to West Seattle.  This influx was aided by a new mode of transportation…the first bona fide ferryboat on Puget Sound which made its inaugural run in 1888. 

Then, in 1889, the Great Seattle Fire wiped out Seattle, but the same flame that ruined Seattle seemed to spark expanded development in West Seattle.  A cable street railway, which began operation across the bay in 1890 in conjunction with the new ferry added impetus to West Seattle’s growth.  Three years later this expansion came to a temporary halt because the “Panic of 93” struck nowhere harder than that aspiring community of West Seattle.

When gold was discovered in the Yukon at Klondike and Bonanza Creeks in 1896 the influx of hopeful gold seekers into the Seattle area revived the West Seattle economy.

All of this West Seattle development was happening north of the little wooded, isolated Highland Park area which sat high on a hill overlooking South Park and Seattle.  It was accessible only by foot or horse because there were no roads, only trails through the woods.  To the south White Center and Burien were slowly developing, mostly because it was an area full of timber to be harvested.  A small saw and shingle mill began operation near what is now NW 102nd and 8th Ave SW, in 1888.  It employed six men to cut about 20,000 board feet per day.  Later milled included one at 17th SW and SW 112th. 

These mills were content with cutting smaller logs, but because the lumber was un-planed, it could only be utilized within the community.  The coming of railroads to the area opened up new stands of timber.  In 1905 Washington Timber and Logging Company ran a railroad from Seola Beach to a round house at 28th and Roxbury.  Another line ran from Highland Park to Greendale and on to Hicks Lake.

While many settlers in the area continued to utilize abandoned logging roads, Ambaum Way was pushed through to Burien in 1910.  This road was an unending river of mud through a very solid forest corridor of fir trees.  Ambaum was first surfaced in 1921 as far as SW 112th and eventually widened to four lanes in the 1950’s.

The use of ferries and the construction of bridges brought settlers into the West Seattle area, but it was the advent of the railway that finally made the Highland Park area accessible and brought prospective homeowners to the sparsely settled hilltop between West Seattle and Burien.  On July 1, 1912, the Highland Park and Lake Burien Railway opened.  It was a nine-mile line which began at Riverside (West Marginal Way and Spokane Street) where passengers made connections with the three West Seattle lines.  Sam Meltzer, Jacob Ambaum, Hiram Green and George White (for whom White Center was named) and others were primary developers of this Highland Park/Lake Burien Street Care Line.

The tracks followed what is now West Marginal Way to about the 5200 block, where they continued directly south, straddling the side of a steep bank.  Reaching the top of the hill at Ninth Avenue and Holden Street, the tracks followed Ninth, turned west on Henderson, south on 16th, east on 107th, and south on 12th to 118th, where they looped around the head of Salmon creek to 12th and 122nd.  From there the route continued south to Burien on the newly completed road laid out by and later named for Jacob Ambaum who had settled at what is now 128th and Ambaum Way in 1902.  Halfway between 151st and 153rd the tracks cut diagonally across Ambaum and ran west along 152nd to Seahurst, the end of the line.

Developers realized that access to a street car line would bring buyers into the area.  This was probably when the Highland Park area got its name.  Merritt Sherman, a newcomer to the area in 1933, says that one of his neighbors who was already thought of as an old timer in 1933 always told him that the area used to be called “Billy Goat Hill” (probably because it was so steep), but the developers didn’t think that name would help sell home sites, so they changed the name to “Highland Park” (which would seem to imply a park-like setting on a high piece of ground with a view).

According to Earl Cruzen, the streetcar finally went out of business for two reasons: 

  • Frequent mud slides on the bluff above West Marginal Way were time consuming and expensive to clear, and
  • During periods of caterpillar infestations hundreds of them would fall onto the tracks and as they were run over by the streetcar, they made the track so slick that the streetcar couldn’t get any traction and would slide back down the hill. 

Until 1912 the few families located around the Highland Park area were content to send their children down the hill and through the woods to school at South Park.  It was about a two mile trek and was closer than Mt. View School on the other side of White Center.  As the population increased, Highland Park parents began to feel that they merited a school they could call their own.  According to the Seattle School District minutes of September 12, 1913, “The Superintendent reported having the territory along Lake Burien car line lying south of Riverside and west of Concord School, in the vicinity of Highland Park…and recommended that owing to the number of pupils reported in that locality, that a portable be installed, the residents to furnish a suitable side for same.  On motion the installing of the portable as per the Superintendents recommendation was authorized.”

This approved portable, still an annex of South Park, was put on a borrowed piece of property located on the corner of Ninth Avenue SW and SW Henderson St. where the Methodist Church now stands.  The lot was owned by Mr. E. J. Sherman.  In the fall of 1913 the portable was ready for its first class, and Miss Leita Blackwell “on recommendation of the Superintendent, and a motion…was elected to the regular list of teachers, to serve at the Highland portable on the Lake Burien car line”.  Mr. F.C. Jackson, principal of South Park School, served as principal of the Highland Park portable as well.

When Miss Blackwell stood at the door and rang the bell on the first day of class, 16 pupils from the first grade through the sixth grade, answered the roll call.  The seventh and eighth grade students went to Jefferson School.

In order to get to school each day, students walked through the woods by means of trails since there were no streets.  When the days were short in the fall and winter months, the students had to go directly home from school because there were no electric lights to show the way…only lanterns and candles.

Miss Blackwell left in the spring of 1914 after completing one year.  Miss Kay took her place and stayed until the spring of 1916.  In the same year the Seattle school board decided that Highland Park should have a permanent site and began looking for a suitable piece of land.  “It was decided to accept the offer of Mr. H. Coughlin for the sale of block 34…lying between 10th and 11th Avenues SW and W Cloverdale and W Trenton Streets, for the sum of $4300.00, as a site for a future Highland Park school.  On further motion of Mr. Spencer, it was ordered that sufficient ground be cleared and that the portable building now established at 9th Ave. SW and W. Henderson St. be moved and place on the new site.”  School board minutes indicate that the board requested that immediate possession be secured, and that the owner provide a two plank sidewalk from the present site to the new one. 

A small section of the new property large enough for four portables was cleared, and the school began in the new location.  By the time the entire block was cleared, enough families had moved into the district to necessitate the addition of two portables.  Double sessions were held to accommodate the increased enrollment.  F.C. Jackson was still principal and still dividing his time between two schools.

In 1919 another two portables were added making a total of eight one room buildings.  The enrollment had risen to 290 pupils.  Mr. Frank Peterson was assigned as head teacher that year and acted as a teacher and principal for the first few months until another teacher was assigned to the staff.  At that time Mr. Peterson took on the duties of a full time principal.

With a steadily increasing student population it became obvious that “real” school was needed.  In 1919, district architect Floyd Naramore, who had recently assumed his position as architect for the district, began the design for a new school.  In June a bond issue was passed which enabled the district to proceed on the construction of a number of badly needed school buildings throughout the city.

The original building was designed as a flat-roofed, U-shaped, one-story block, which wrapped around a one-and-one-half story block projecting from the center of the front elevation, housing an auditorium.  A one-story frame wing on the interior of the U, facing north, enclosed a play area.  Identical entry halls flanked the central auditorium block.  Offices were located in the corner of the U, near the entry halls, with classrooms flanking both sides of corridors extending along the risers of the U.  The concrete building was faced with a red tapestry brick laid in a running bond.  All detailing was in a white cast stone.  The entries each featured a pair of glazed and paneled doors and transoms with ornamental iron fans.  The one-story structure was designed in the Georgian style, like many of Naramore’s school buildings constructed throughout the following decade.

Alumni like to point out that Highland Park was one of the few Seattle schools that had a lunchroom and kitchen totally separate from the auditorium.  In the early ‘30’s hot lunches cost a dime and included a hot dish, fruit, milk, soup and a cookie.  The original lunchroom and kitchen were across from the auditorium in what is now a kindergarten room and stockroom.

Mr. Virgil Smith, who became principal in 1920, had the privilege of being the first principal in the new building which was completed in 1921.  That was the year seventh grade was added; the following year saw the addition of an eighth grade.  For the first two years after completion of the building there was no home economics or manual training department.  Through the efforts of one of the members of the PTA, a petition was drawn up and after the necessary signatures had been secured, it was presented to the School Board.  As a result of this action two teachers were added to the staff and the two departments opened.

In the fall of 1926 Mr. L.B. Moffett replace Mr. Smith and served as principal for 10 years until 1936.  During this time the enrollment fluctuated between 537 and 653 students.  In 1929 Mr. Naramore designed extensions to the existing southerly wings which blended with his original architectural design.  This addition accommodated specialized rooms which included a physical training room, a sound-proof music room, two library-reading rooms and an art and science room.

Those children who were Highland Park students during the ‘20’s and ‘30’s have remained good friends over the years.  They still get together for lunches and parties and still share their nostalgic memories.  Earl Cruzen remembers that there was a swampy area on the east side of the school.  He used to run through it to get away from older bullies because he was small and light weight and didn’t sink in.  He also recalls soccer games in South Park.  Kids would run all the way down there after school.  He still hasn’t excused the teachers who spent two years trying to force him, a born left-handed person, to write right-handed before they finally gave up the effort.  That’s just the way it was back then.  Everyone was expected to conform, and right-handed writers set the standard.

Selma (Jevick) Schau remembers that there were tree stumps as big as dining room tables by the school (probably left there when the land was cleared for the early portables).  The centers of the stumps contained rotted-out holes which children played in.  She got her foot stuck once and thought she would never get out.  Street car tokens, she recalled, cost 2 for five cents and were sold in $1.00 rolls.  It was during the depression and a lot of kids bought candy with their token money. 

Irene O’Conner, who left Highland Park in 1927, remembers that many people in the area were poor but definitely “not on welfare”.  Everyone worked hard.  According to Elsie Galloway, “Everyone was poor, but no one realized it”.  There were always ways for young entrepreneurs to make a little spending money.  Earl Cruzen used to cut nice Christmas trees on the property where the reservoir now stands at Westcrest Park.  He brought them home three at a time on his bicycle and sold them for 25 cents each.  Later he watched the reservoir being built and sold drinks to the workers.  He also learned early on how to protect his investments.  According to his account, the first thing he did anytime he was able to buy a piece of candy from the little store across the street from the school was to lick it good all over.  Then no one would ask him to share it. 

From the fall of 1936 to the spring of 1941 Miss Blanche Tanner was the principal.  She was followed by Mr. Frank M. Brock who served for two years.  Each school year saw continued increase in the enrollment.  By 1943, when Mr. K. J. Knutson took charge, there were approximately 750 pupils registered.  In 1944 building changes were implemented, probably because of the increased enrollment.  School District blueprints show that the kitchen was moved to the east end of the auditorium.  Then the old lunchroom was converted into a classroom and the old kitchen became the stockroom.  At the same time outside doors with stairs were added at each end of the lunchroom.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, brought America into World War II.  Within a week of the bombing American G.I.’s appeared on the Highland Park playfield.  They were sent there to man anti-aircraft guns and barrage balloons.  It was considered a strategic location because of its proximity to both Puget Sound (a likely air lane for enemy planes) and the Boeing Company (which needed protection because it was producing aircraft for the war effort).  According to Mr. Merritt Sherman, who has lived near the corner of 9th SW and SW Henderson since 1933, “the soldiers were good guys and made nice neighbors”.  Some of them used the empty lot behind his house to set up their tents because there wasn’t enough space for all the soldiers on the playfield.  They connected phones and lights in his mechanics barn.  When the war finally ended and it was time to leave, the soldiers worked a long time putting the playfield back into good condition.

Once a week during these war years Highland Park students wore uniforms in patriotic colors to show support for the war effort.  They also had Bond Sales and brought in their

pocket change to purchase war bonds.  Highland Park had frequent air raid drills.  Penny Long remembers that as soon as the air raid siren went off all the students had to run home; when they got there, they were to write down the time it had taken them.  In 1996 a group looking through the cavernous boiler room under the school discovered many large boxes of gauze bandages and about 30 canvas cots.  They were left overs from the war years.

It is interesting to note that despite the influx of military personnel into the area, despite the fact that many area residents had to get to work at Boeing every day, and despite the fact that the Highland Park population was growing rapidly, the whole community continued to be without cement sidewalks or paved roads.  Bob Rhoads, who was in Highland Park’s last 8th grade graduating class in 1952, can still remember getting splinters in his bare feet on the plank sidewalks.  Penelope (French) Long, who attended Highland Park School in the ‘50’s and returned later as a teacher, remembers that when she had patrol duty on rainy days, the corner at 11th Ave. and Trenton St. was so muddy that the only way she could tell where to stand was by positioning herself near the fire hydrant.  She assumed that it marked where the sidewalk stopped and the street began.  The first cement sidewalks were laid around the school and in the community in 1954.  The streets continued to be packed dirt and weren’t paved until 1960.

Enrollment during the ‘40’s and through the ‘50’s continued to climb despite the transfer of 7th and 8th grade students to the new Denny Junior High School in 1952.  After Mr. William Kelly replaced Mr. Knutson as principal in 1947 the rapid increase in enrollment and the inability to obtain portables for housing made it necessary to close the shop and home economics departments in order to provide an additional kindergarten room and two classrooms.  By 1951 the enrollment hit 982 pupils.  This number called for two additional portables and a staff of 28 teachers.  The high enrollment also entitled Highland Park to its first vice-principal, Glen Scarvie.  He was recalled into the armed forces the following year and Ronald Pickett, who took his place, remained in the position for the next four years.  In 1955 Mr. Pickett was assigned as principal at Alki School and Lloyd Tremain replaced him as vice-principal for two years.  He was succeeded by John Batchelder.

Because of continued community growth school enrollment continued to rise.  In 1953, even after the upper grades were sent to Denny Junior High School and Highland Park had become a K-6 elementary school, enrollment was still high…998 pupils.  The following year three new portables were erected inside the court, and enrollment continued to climb to a new high of 1,068 pupils.  It was common for the thirty-one teachers to have classrooms of approximately 40 students, even in the lower grades.  By 1958 there were nine portables on the grounds, and the enrollment had hit 1,130 pupils.  Because of a school levy failure in the spring of 1959 and the consequent loss of our kindergarten for the following year, enrollment dropped to 904.  The Highland Park Cooperative Kindergarten Association was formed in the community in an effort to provide kindergarten for the year.  During this year a permanent library was established in a vacant room.

During 1960 the school was rewired and fluorescent lighting was installed in all of the classrooms.  Also, two more portables were added so that class loads could be lowered to not more than 35 pupils per class.  By the early 1960’s Highland Park was the largest K-6 grade school in the entire state (and remained so for several years) with 19 portables housing 45% of the school’s population.  In 1963 the school hit its peak enrollment: 1,182 pupils. 

In 1964, when William Kelly was transferred to Lafayette School, Sivert Skotheim took his place.  Meanwhile, Richard Hammett replaced Vice Principal Batchelder in 1962.  Because Highland Park maintained its size of well over 1000 students, there was a certificated staff of 42. 

The School Board decided that a neighboring school should be constructed, and in September, 1968, Philip McCluskey was assigned as an additional vice principal to assist in the planning of that school.  For nearly two years Mr. McCluskey was principal of a “school within a school” which met in the portables.  Finally in December, 1970, the children and staff assigned to Sanislo School left their portables and walked the distance to their new building at 18th Ave. SW and SW Myrtle St.   Ten Highland Park portables were then moved or demolished.  Both Skotheim and Hammett retired in June, 1973. 

Frederick Steed became principal, and John Batchelder returned as vice principal.  The enrollment had dropped to a much more comfortable level…about 680 students with a staff of 33.  During Mr. Steed’s tenure a very different problem arose…the issue of desegregation.  In 1954 the Supreme Court had ruled that racial discrimination was unconstitutional.  In 1978 Seattle decided that it would attempt a program of voluntary desegregation, and the process of moving children to schools out of their neighborhoods in order to achieve racial balance began.  Highland Park became a K-3 school.  The fourth and fifth graders were bussed to Wing Luke School and, in return, Wing Luke’s K-3 students were sent to Highland Park.  The school library underwent a major change by bringing in more K-3 level books and sending out most of its 4th-5th grade books.  This bussing program made a dramatic change in Highland Park, formerly a close-knit neighborhood school.  Having been isolated and, for many years, almost inaccessible, it suddenly found itself blended with another community. 

It was during Mr. Steed’s term as principal that Highland Park gained recognition as one of the first three schools in the region to have a computer lab for students.  Under the direction of Mrs. Sharon (Cassady) Price, the lab became an educational showpiece.  Educators came from all over the state of Washington as well as from many other states, to take notes on how this model lab was used to teach remedial math and reading.  In the mid ‘90’s we were still using the same type of computer lab to accomplish the same type of reading and math reinforcement; the only difference is that the equipment is much more modern.

On a lighter note, Mr. Steed’s tenure at Highland Park saw a drastic turn-around in clothing styles for women teachers.  With the advent of mini skirts and pant suits in the world of women’s clothing styles, principals faced a hard choice and a rebellious staff of female teachers.  According to Beverly Perry, who began her Highland Park teaching career in 1971, women just couldn’t find respectably long skirts in the stores; mini-skirts were in vogue.  So Mr. Steed had to make a decision.  Should be allow his teachers to wear totally unacceptable mini-skirts or not-quite-so-totally-unacceptable pant suits?  Ms. Perry says that he chose pant suits, “but they had to be matching tops and bottoms…a real pant suit, no slacks or jeans”.  It wasn’t until the mid seventies that female students were allowed the choice of wearing pants instead of dresses. 

Mr. Steed remained the principal until his retirement in 1982.  He was replaced by Victoria Foreman.  Until World War II female teachers and nurses were required to quit teaching when they married.  During the war women had left their housework behind and had taken jobs in order to help support the war effort while their men were off fighting.  This breach in tradition brought about the beginning of a change in attitude toward working women.  Luckily the long-standing “married women don’t work” tradition had passed into extinction by 1982 because Ms. Foreman’s wedding took place several years after she accepted the principalship.  She broke with tradition in another way too.  Many of our previous principals had been fathers, but she was the first one to become a mother.

It was during Ms. Foreman’s principalship that the Highland Park office took it’s first halting step into the world of technology.  Until 1982 office machinery included a manual typewriter, a mimeograph machine and a duplicator.  In 1982 the secretary started using an electric typewriter.  Soon a second electric typewriter appeared and was followed by the first copy machine.  By the time Ms. Foreman was reassigned to Kimball School in 1987-88, the School District had started putting student records on line and secretaries were being given computer training in District sponsored classes.

It was during this period that the Effective Schools Project was put into place.  Each school had a profile based on survey data collected from staff and parent surveys.  These profiles, along with achievement test results, provided information for schools to use in writing School Improvement Plans.  Highland Park was also involved in a legislative funded project, “Schools for the 21st Century”, which was designed to increase teacher, parent and community involvement in decision making at the local school and to focus on student achievement as the outcome of the decisions.

One year after Ms. Foreman left Highland Park the student assignment plan underwent a major change.  Elementary schools were divided into clusters and changed to a K-5 configuration.  Bussing was no longer used to “desegregate” schools; it was used to “enhance racial balance”.  The rules regarding racial balance were very complicated and involved a lot of Federal guidelines, but basically a child could go to his/her neighborhood school if it didn’t create an imbalance in the racial mix of the school.  If it did, the child would be bussed to another school in his/her cluster.

In the early ‘80’s a reunion was held at the school.  “It was very interesting looking at the sea of white faces,” Ms. Foreman recalled, “because Highland Park had become very diverse and represented the many people in the Seattle area.”

By the time Venus Placer-Barber took over as principal in 1988 Highland Park was well into the age of technology and beginning to venture into the realm of global interaction.  Highland Park became the School District’s “Russian World Language Culture Magnet Program”.  (Four other schools were chosen as magnets for other languages.)  Michael Russell, an elementary teacher fluent in Russian and knowledgeable in Russian history and culture, was hired to oversee the program.  Staff have supported this program and have been enthusiastic about it since its inception.  When state funding was withdrawn after several years, the staff voted to use part of its special needs money to retain the program.  Of the five schools originally chosen as World Language Magnet schools, Highland Park is the only one which still has a functioning World Language program.

In 1989 a relationship was established with a sister school in Tashkent, Russia, (School No. 17).  That school’s principal visited here and Mrs. Placer-Barber returned  the visit in 1990.  Highland Park has entertained many Russian visitors, mostly students, but also diplomats and professionals.  It’s most prominent Russian guest was Mrs. Boris Yeltsin, wife of the Russian president.  She toured the school in 1994.  Arriving behind a cavalcade of police motorcycles, she was greeted by a yard full of kindergarten students waving Russian and American flags.  The security was something Highland Park had never seen before.  Secret Service agents, both American and Russian, were outside, inside and on the roof.

All students had received instruction in Russian dance with the PTA paying for the instructor.  A dance troupe of Highland Park students was formed and these skilled students  performed for groups all over the city. 

In the spring of 1996 Tansory parents worked very hard on fundraisers and managed to raise enough money to send a group of 12 students from the Tansory dancers (along with parent chaperones)  to Perm, Russia, for two weeks.

Changes and improvements came rapidly in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  A Site Council, which involved parents and community in decision making for the school, was started as part of Gov. Booth Gardner’s “Schools for the 21st Century” restructuring effort.  A daycare was established on site to ease the burden of child care for working parents.  Highland Park started one of the first Conflict Mediation programs (which teaches students the skills they need for solving their own problems) in the Seattle schools.

For several years Highland Park had one full day and two half day (2 ½ hour) kindergarten programs, but because this seemed inequitable, the teachers have now worked out a way to overlap schedules so that Highland Park can offer four-hour sessions for all kindergarteners.  A Family Levy passed in 1990 enabled Highland Park to acquire a family support worker.  The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Benefit Gang became partners with the school and provided assistance in many areas. 

In 1993 students designed a mural (with the help of an artist-in residence) for the cement wall on the east side of the playground, and parents and students painted it onto the long wall. 

In 1993 Mrs. Placer-Barber was transferred to North Beach and James Oftebro became Highland Park’s new principal.  This was the same year that the Bilingual Program was placed at Highland Park.  The large influx of immigrants from the Asian Pacific Rim countries and from Mexico had created a tremendous educational challenge for the School District.  How could it teach children who didn’t even speak English?  The Highland Park staff made a determined and united effort to rise to the challenge of helping these students learn in the most effective and efficient manner.  They have taken classes, pooled skills and ideas, hired bilingual aides, planned social events to draw in non-English speaking parents and arranged evening ESL classes for parents.  Highland Park has proudly become a multi-ethnic school where all cultures are appreciated and respected.

A Technology Levy that passed in the early ‘90’s brought computers into the classrooms.  Earlier the computer lab had been used only by children who needed to be brought up to grade level in math and reading, but computers in the classroom were for everyone and broadened the whole scope of teaching and learning.  Highland Park students now approach computers with confidence and skill.

The school library boasts over 10,000 volumes and is a real source of school pride.  Mastery of reading remains a top priority with teachers, and they see to it that their students make frequent visits to the library.

Physical changes to the building in the early ‘90’s included reinforcement of the inside and outside walls to make it more secure during earthquakes, and the addition of a ramp leading into the lunchroom to make it more accessible to the handicapped.

Mr. Oftebro’s tenure as principal has seen problems that were never thought about back in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s …a high percentage of single parent homes, the drug culture, the emergence of gangs, latchkey children in families where both parent work, the overwhelming influence of television and “Nintendo”, a sexual revolution bringing with it the problems of AIDS and “free sex”, and continued bussing with its associated problems.  Current Highland Park teachers are just as dedicated and caring as they were when the school began, but the influences facing our children today sometimes make the world of teaching seem like a totally different career.

In the late ‘80’s it started to become evident that the original Highland Park school building was showing its age.  With the addition of computers, electric typewriters, copiers, laminators, etc…the electrical wiring proved to be obviously inadequate.  The 60-plus-year-old heating and ventilation systems also were outdated.  Concern about earthquake damage prompted the District to reinforce inside and outside walls, but that still didn’t bring the buildings seismic rating of 50 up to the Districts standard of 100.  Classrooms seemed to become smaller and smaller as more computers, T.V.s and overhead projectors filled the space.  With the changing population there came a need for extra support staff…counselors, speech therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, etc., and there just were not enough nooks and crannies to put them.  Even dividing the custodians’ office into two rooms and converting his storage closet into a Family Support Workers office didn’t provide enough conference/meeting rooms. 

A School District Committee studied the historic significance of the school and came to the conclusion that, although the building “could be considered a prototypic Naramore school” there are other schools that are better examples of Naramore’s architectural style.  Another committee looked at the differences in cost between remodeling the old school and building a totally new one.  It concluded that it would cost a million dollars more to remodel and would result in a reduction in the existing play area and a compromise in the size and organization of space within the existing buildings.  Another problem with remodeling involved the many ramps in the halls which connect the three different levels of the building.  Making these levels handicapped-accessible would be an almost insurmountable challenge.  These considerations, along with other ones, prompted the decision to destroy the old school and rebuild a totally new structure on the same site.  Because the existing property is only 3.7 acres there was no option available to build anywhere else on the site.  The adjacent park of 7 acres is available to supplement the school’s playground.

In 1994 Seattle voters passed an initiative which enabled the Seattle School District to proceed with a “Building Excellence Program” which would rebuild and/or remodel 13 schools.  Highland Park was one of the 13.  And so the decision was made…a new school would be built.

An architectural firm, Burr Lawrence Rising & Bates, was hired, a Design Review Committee representing teachers, support staff and office staff was selected to provide input to the architects, and the job of designing a new building began.

In the autumn of 1999 teachers and pupils are scheduled to return to Highland Park Elementary as they have every autumn since 1913, but this time they will enter a new school passing through an archway of bricks salvaged from the original school building.  The design of the new 71,200 square foot school is compatible in scale and setback with the residential neighborhood of single-family homes.  It features a landscaped parking lot on SW Trenton Street and an on site bus loop on the east side running parallel to 10th Avenue SW.  The northern end of the site will connect the parks playground with the school yard, covered play space and gymnasium.

A large picture of the 1921-1997 Highland Park School building will hang in the prominent place in the new building.  Because of all the wonderful memories the sight of it conjures up, it will never be forgotten.  A building can be replace, but the memories last forever.

1913-1919 F. C. Jackson

1919-1920 Frank W. Peterson

1920-1926 W. Virgil Smith

1926-1936 L. B. Moffett

1936-1941 Blanche L. Turner

1941-1943 Frank M. Brock

1943-1947 K. J. Knutson

1947-1964 William P. Kelly

1964-1973 Sivert Skotheim

1973-1982 Frederick Steed

1982-1988 Victoria Foreman

1988-1993 Venus Placer-Barber

1993-???? James B. Oftebro

????-???? Ann Gray

????-2013 Ben Ostrom

2013-2019 Chris Cronas

2019-2021 Adam Dysart

2021-Present Mary McDaniel

White Center Remembers 
by Mike Knapp and Reg Young

West Side Story 
Published by “West Seattle Herald/White Center News Pages 6-31, 103-105

Seattle School Board Minutes
September 12, 1913 to October 17, 1916 Architects blueprints from the Seattle School District


  • Members of the classes of the ‘30’s
  • Community members
  • Past principals and teachers
  • Alumni from each decade