William Brooks Elementary recently celebrated its golden anniversary.
El Dorado Hills’ first elementary school was Park Village Elementary when it opened its doors to 120 kindergarten to fifth-grade students in January 1964. John Taylor served as both principal and Buckeye Union School District superintendent.
The school’s second principal, William N. Brooks, was killed in a car accident on El Dorado Hills Boulevard in 1968 and the school was renamed in his honor.
In 1964, the Mountain Democrat reported Park Village opened with a “first” in American education techniques referred to as “team teaching.”
“It was an open concept where you didn’t have walls separating classrooms,” Principal Kathi Jensen said. “Until I read that, I didn’t realize it was innovative at the time.”
In 1964, the school was one building, known as C building today. “It was totally surrounded by fields, horses and livestock,” Jensen added.
Brooks’ rural nature was mentioned time and again during interviews. Renee (Lange) Devine attended Brooks in the 1980s. “It was a rural, tiny little school,” she remembered. “Park Village was the only subdivision around. Animals grazed at recess and once we even saw a horse give birth off in the distance.”
Renee’s mother Linda Lange was a parent at Brooks before teaching kindergarten there from 1990-2009. “When I go back to teaching, I want to teach there,” she remembered thinking, impressed by the small community feel and friendly atmosphere.
By 1977, today’s administration wing was built, but the current staff room housed kindergarten. Christina (Ginney) McColley went to Brooks and now her two children attend school there. She was in the kindergarten class that moved from the staff lounge. “The new kindergarten room was really state of the art,” she remembered. “I was in awe of everything! I still get flashbacks when I take my son to school now.”
Calahan is in kindergarten and her daughter Rylee is a second grader.
“My kindergarten teacher was Barb (Crittle) Ryder. We called ourselves Crittle’s Critters,” McColley said. “Ms. Crittle played the ukulele and was so amazing. She is definitely the reason I became a teacher.”
By 1980, there were still no homes surrounding the school, but the gym and E building were built and five portables were added. “The original library was a portable,” Lange remembered. “The floor sunk in.”
By 2001, Brooks was beginning to look like it does today, though Jensen said she thinks it’s never lost any of its charm. “With its park-like setting, I do believe William Brooks is still the most beautiful school around,” she said. “When you look at it 50 years ago, it was this building on barren land, no trees or anything. Nothing. I think that’s what’s so amazing.”
One less visible, but equally dramatic, change took place in 1992 when Brooks staff changed its mascot from the badgers to the bears. “They were opening up new schools around town,” said Jensen. “The staff went on a weekend teacher’s retreat to Tahoe and thought it might be nice to have a fresh start too.”
Lange was one of those decision makers. “We got talking about our mascot,” she remembered. “Wouldn’t it be easier to be bears? Kids know what bears are and we see pictures of them all over. They’re much cuddlier seeming than a badger too. We didn’t think it was that big a deal.”
Yet there’s a legion of alumni who only recognize the original mascot. “One of our parents went to Brooks and still has a Brooks Badgers T-shirt,” said Jensen. “She has her son wear it on spirit days … and in the kindergarten room there’s still a pennant that says Brooks Badgers.”
“I still have a hard time with the bears,” said McColley. “I am a badger to the core.”
Look closely at the mural outside the gym and you’ll see one badger on the left among a score of bears, a nod to the school’s colorful history.
McColley remembers how quiet El Dorado Hills used to be. “There was one stop sign from my house to Brooks,” she said. McColley lived on the south side of Highway 50 and in 2006 moved back to El Dorado Hills with her husband to raise their family; they even bought her childhood home from her parents. “I wanted my kids to have the same experience I had growing up and I love that Brooks is a small country school and there’s still no fence.”
Memorabilia will be displayed in the library, including an office typewriter, chairs, a record player and an American Flag framed in plexiglass hanging in the library. The flag was donated to the school after it was flown over the nation’s Capitol between 1964 and 1967.
Today 479 students attend Brooks. Undoubtedly their experiences will add to its rich history.
“William Brooks Elementary is a school where memories have been made for 50 years,” said Jensen. “Our current students will remember each year as it brings new friendships, new opportunities and new challenges for educational opportunities to their lives. Hopefully some of them will come back for the next celebration, when we celebrate 75 years.”