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History of CPS

Excepts from Becoming A Real School 1960-1990
The Story of The College Preparatory School

by Robert Baldwin, Jr.
(Head of School, 1969-1990)

The College Preparatory School was launched in September of 1960 when thirty-three students, four teachers and a handful of parents gathered under a hot sun to hear the Reverend Charles Guilbert, Mills College Chaplain, offer his blessings and Godspeed. The site was a corner lot, 6264 Claremont Ave., Oakland, opposite what is now a Safeway store. The double lot included a small, five-room, l 9th-century farmhouse, which was to serve as both home for the school founders and office, and a just-completed cement block structure containing eight classrooms. The event was hardly noticed by the Berkeley Daily Gazette which instead headlined the impending visit of Russian Premier Nikita Khruschev and the Nixon-Kennedy presidential campaign. Just ten months earlier, Mary Harley Jenks and Ruth Willis had arrived in Berkeley intent on starting a school. For seventeen years, they had lived in Littleton, NH, where the Episcopal girls' boarding school Miss Jenks had headed was located.

Miss Jenks had been brought up in Berkeley on Webster Street following the family's move from San Francisco to the East Bay after the 1906 earthquake. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 1924 with honors in Philosophy and a Phi Beta Kappa key. During the Depression, she was head of the Bentley School. Later she received a Master's Degree from Columbia Teachers' College and remained in the East until she left her Episcopal school to return to start her own school in the Bay Area.

CPS was the brainchild of Miss Jenks, who at 57, decided she wanted to establish a school of her own design before she retired. Emerson's adage, "an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man" (or woman), applies aptly to CPS. Miss Jenks was a woman of high intelligence, plain speaking, no frills and plenty of grit. The school name is evidence of her no-nonsense, unambiguous approach. Throughout her career she cared deeply for the young people she served, at the same time holding them to high standards of scholarship and conduct. She could be tough with miscreants and patient with those who struggled through school and adolescence. Her joy was to watch a student experience pleasure in learning and to see him/her delight in the life of the mind. Nonconformists, independent thinkers and students with a well-developed social conscience gave her special joy. She passed on many of these qualities to CPS graduates.

There have been modifications of Miss Jenks' original vision and the school's early style. Students no longer rise as an adult enters a classroom, dress codes have relaxed and there are no morning prayers. In the '60s and early '70s boys wore slacks and a collared shirt; girls, skirts with blouses and/or sweaters in some combination of blue and white. The lengths of boys' hair and girls' skirts were serious issues in those years.

I joined the school in 1968, heading west to seek new opportunities in education. I became headmaster in 1969 when Miss Jenks stepped down. She stayed on as a Director of Studies and as a history/philosophy teacher until her retirement in 1979.

The school has always been non-profit and coeducational. The small size, roughly 125 to 150 which the old campus dictated, turned out to be not economical and precluded curricular expansion, particularly in the arts and athletics. In considering alternate sites, the Board and I felt that it was important to retain the intimacy and intensity which characterized those early, cramped years. There was something simple and appealing about the school. There were indeed no frills and the less-than-economical modus operandi gave an aura of making virtue out of poverty, as one staff member put it. Yet survival demanded an expanded enrollment which, in turn, demanded more space.

A small adjacent building became available in the early '70s and was purchased for $75,000. Having additional space provided three small classrooms and meant that the business operations could be moved out of the kitchen of the little farmhouse. Enrollment pressures became stronger as a result of many people's discontent with public schools plus CPS's own growing reputation. In the early '70s there came an opportunity to buy the six-acre parcel on Broadway which was to become the new campus. When it was purchased for $75,000 in 1976, the school entered a period of capital-raising and building which is just now winding down. Sixteen portable wooden classroom buildings wore purchased at auction from the Oakland Unified School District for $ 130 each. Eleven of these are in use today, nine as classrooms, one as a Faculty Room, and one as the Business Office and adjacent library extension. Others were destroyed in a fire or cannibalized for parts. By the time the parade of portables made its way up Broadway from the Port of Oakland, the cost of the buildings was considerably more, but still a huge savings over new construction. We sold our old campus to the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association, which has since torn the buildings down and built an office building on the site.

In the design of the new campus on a six-acre parcel on Broadway, every effort was made to capture both the shadow-of-Berkeley heritage and the intimacy of a central courtyard area which would be well populated and traversed during the day by students and faculty. The school moved in December of 1982, with the faculty and students doing most of the work. Since then, as enrollment has grown from 220 to 330, a six-classroom building, the music, art and gymnasium facilities, and a science building have been added.

A full school history would include the major achievements of its students, high points in athletics, the school's listing as among the twenty five academically strongest independent schools in the country (by the Harvard Review), and the long list of students each year receiving National Merit recognition...but that's the rest of the story for another time.