Hart High's first principal, Lester C. Dalbey, from Gwen Gallion's copy of the 1948 Tomahawk yearbook.
My father, Lester Charles Dalbey, was born in Sheridan, Placer County, California. He was the second of four children born to Harrison Clark Dalbey and Marybelle Hoffman, both of whom had come to California from Iowa by covered wagon in the 1870s.
Lester Dalbey worked for more than 40 years in California schools. He taught in one-room schools and served as administrator in several elementary school districts in Northern California.
In 1930, while he was principal in Susanville, he accepted the position of principal at Newhall Grammar [Newhall Elementary] School. The Newhall school board offered him the administrative position with the stipulation that he find a way to bring a high school to the Santa Clarita Valley. In those days, students from Newhall and surrounding communities attended high school in San Fernando in the Los Angeles City School District. The townspeople wanted to form their own high school district, thereby severing ties with Los Angeles schools and providing an opportunity to build community spirit which can come with a local high school.
Nineteen-thirty was an eventful year for Lester. He married Margaret Ann Jennings, Bureau of Indian Affairs nurse, and moved more than 500 miles from his beloved Northern California to the Santa Clarita Valley. He enrolled in the University of Southern California's School Administration Program with the express purpose of researching the feasibility of a high school in the valley.
He completed his thesis paper in 1933 (the year I was born). In 1933 very few people lived in the Santa Clarita Valley. Because of this small population and tax base, the area would not be able to support a high school district; however, his research prepared him with the necessary information he would need when the population came to the valley.
And, of course, it did come. At the end of World War II, during which time many people moved to Newhall to work for the Bermite Powder Company, Newhall and surrounding communities indeed had the required assessed valuation to support a high school district.
During the war years, Lester continued his work as principal, served as an air raid warden, grew a "victory" garden, and started planning for the new school district. Seceding from the Los Angeles school district and forming a new school district required an understanding of the laws regarding such matters and also the ability to garner community support for the project. Lester succeeded on both counts, and by the time the war ended, the community voted to form its own high school district.
In 1945 Hart High's first class started on the campus of Newhall Grammar School. When they graduated in 1949, the ceremonies were held on the football field of the new campus. Lester had become principal-superintendent of the new William S. Hart Union High School District and had the important job of supervising the building of this new campus. His work of nearly 20 years was realized he saw a high school in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Lester participated in two graduations of the new school, 1949 and 1950. By the 1950-51 school year, changes began to occur in educational practices that he did not like. He believed in a traditional, old-fashioned, three-R's type of education while educational trends headed in other directions. He resigned his position and retired to Rocklin in Placer County.
Retirement did not slow him down. He was used to a busy day, always starting early in his garden, and then moving indoors to an office routine. In Rocklin he continued this practice, finding civic affairs to his liking. He organized a neighborhood fire district and served as a director; he petitioned the county to improve unsafe road conditions. Fate cut short his retirement years, and he died in 1955 of a brain tumor.
People who knew Lester always described him as "strict but fair." I believe this description is accurate. But I also see him as a man who had a vision and was granted the wherewithal and grace to see that vision become a reality.
The writer adds:
(Lester Dalbey) truly pioneered Hart High. I remember hearing him say that the timing was just right for the secession from the Los Angeles school district. Had they waited another year, new legislation would have made it much more difficult to start a new district.
As I think about his life I remember some incidents that exemplify who Lester Dalbey was. For instance, during the war he and my mother brought enough peaches and apricots back to Newhall from his brother-in-law's fruit ranch in Winters to preserve them for use in the school cafeteria the following winter. Quite an unusual task for the principal and his wife, the school nurse! And one day, on a trip to San Fernando during school hours, he spied some Newhall students hitchhiking. He stopped, gave them a ride back to school, and escorted them to their respective classes. He very likely called their parents in the evening to discuss appropriate punishment.
At Hart High's 50th anniversary celebration in October 1995, the author gave her father's 1933 thesis to the high school library.
Mary Catherine Troka lives in Sacramento.