Monday – April 25, 2016 by Bob Bishop
West Hollywood Elementary School, physically located at 970 Hammond St., is joined at the hip historically with electric streetcar pioneer Moses Sherman. Having carved a rail yard from farm land in 1897 where the Pacific Design Center stands today, Sherman built a one-room schoolhouse no later than 1903 for the children of rail yard workers.
Sherman used his experience as a teacher, principal and public instruction superintendent in Arizona to establish Sherman School, as he named it. The school joined the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in 1910 when the district itself was formed.
A name change to West Hollywood Elementary School in 1929 kept the school consistent with the Sherman community’s decision to rename itself West Hollywood to more closely identify with its glamorous neighbor to the east.
Today the K-5 West Hollywood Elementary School has enrollments averaging between 300 and 400 students per year and the distinction of being one of a very few schools that has provided the LAUSD with students every year for well more than 100 years, according to its website.
Performance-wise, West Hollywood Elementary School has lived up to Sherman’s high standards. In 2014, the school was named a California Distinguished School for the second time by the California Department of Education. The first time was in 2011.
The award recognizes exemplary educational programs and academic excellence. It was one of only 22 LAUSD elementary schools to earn the honor. West Hollywood Elementary also received an additional award for exemplary arts education program.
Overall, it has a Local School Directory Rating of “B” – meaning that it has performed on average better than many other schools across the state on California Standard Test exams in English, the arts, mathematics and science.
West Hollywood Elementary is one of two public elementary schools within city borders. The other is Larchmont Charter School (K-8) at 1265 N. Fairfax. The city is served by two other elementary schools nearby, Rosewood Avenue School (K-6) on North Croft Ave. and Laurel Span School (K-8) on North Hayworth.
Sherman: Public Education Guru
Sherman had ideal credentials for establishing a public school. He launched a teaching career after college, first in New York and then in Prescott, Ariz., where he was the first teacher and principal for Prescott Free Academy, a new school established in 1876. He had been recruited to Arizona by the territory’s governor and quickly was recognized as a leader in education. The governor appointed him Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Territory of Arizona in 1879, and he was elected to the position in 1883.
When first appointed by Gov. John C. Fremont to the position, Arizona practically had no public school system. Sherman created one so complete and organized that even the most isolated communities could enjoy the benefits of education – all before he was 30 years old.
When his appointed term was over the position became elective. In 1883, Sherman became the first elected territorial superintendent of schools – the only Republican voted into public office in heavily Democratic Arizona during that period. When the state legislature asked him to rewrite all laws governing public education, Sherman’s draft was adopted unanimously without changes and remained in place for many decades.
It’s not known whether Sherman taught at the school he established in the community of Sherman, or exactly when his one-room school was demolished to make way for larger, more permanent facilities. He and business partner / brother-in-law Eli P. Clark would have been especially busy at the time pioneering electric railways on the Pacific Coast. They built the greatest interurban system that, once consolidated with others, made Los Angeles an interurban center larger than those in any other half dozen U.S. cities combined.
Sherman situated his small, wooden school house on a sunny slope of Clark Street, known today as San Vicente Boulevard, near Sunset Boulevard, outside the perimeter of the railyard. Subsequent development placed the school on Hammond Street. Students and teachers strolled up the sloping hill to class every day from the rows of bungalows alongside the railyard that Sherman built to house workers and their families.
Homes and a school were necessary because the railyard was the first in the region to be built substantially away from downtown Los Angeles or other populated areas. Sherman chose a site that was roughly at the midway point between downtown and Santa Monica. His extensive railyard consisted of a steam powerhouse, car barn, iron foundry and repair shops that formed the operations hub for the popular Balloon Route excursion from L.A. to Hollywood, the beach cities and back again.
Along the way, the route crossed a sprawling coastal plain dotted with marshes, tar pits and citrus groves – literally the middle of nowhere. Sherman realized the site most likely would become a crossroads of development. By 1910, the Sherman community had about 900 residents, and rose to some 20,000 people by 1930.
First Free Little Library
Most recently, the City of West Hollywood chose the school for its first official Little Free Library on Jan. 23 as a part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service held at the school. This is a pilot program whereby the city provide stipends to West Hollywood residents who wish to install and maintain a Little Free Library on private property.
Charter School District Considered
In 2011, the City Council looked into the possibility of creating a charter school district within its boundaries. Elected officials cited concerns about the quality of education provided in some LAUSD schools, and the limited options available to local residents seeking quality education for their children.
Jeffrey Prang, who was mayor at the time, said the city was interested in the idea because “A growing number of families with children in West Hollywood want higher quality public school, but we are a very small presence within the district.” Prang sponsored a motion to look into creating a charter school district.
“We had a strong interest in a greater partnership with public schools, and we invested money in the elementary schools, but there’s only so much we can do,” Prang said. He noted that West Hollywood schools would have remained part of the LAUSD, but a charter district would have allowed the city to help fund and oversee public schools within its city limits. There were too many barriers to implementing such a district, though, and the city decided not to pursue the idea any further.
However, the city supports educational programming through regular collaborative meetings, grant making, a youth scholarship program, after school homework clubs, arts programming, school gardens, and support for school libraries. The city also has opportunities to coordinate with school operators on joint use of facilities.
Originally published in WEHOville.com.