Leon Worden

Keep Canyon, change Hart district's name

By Leon Worden
Friday, October 1, 1999

ay it with me. Thanks to open enrollment, all of Santa Clarita’s best players go to Hart, which returns the favor by sending all its delinquent teachers and students to Canyon, where they commit sex crimes, which lands them on the front page of The Signal (making it look like The Signal favors Hart).
    Tell me I’m wrong.
    Is it true? Maybe. Maybe not. They’ve suspended open enrollment this year. But the truth isn’t the point. As a past and maybe future City Council member once dared to say, perception is more important than the truth— and the truth is, there’s a perception out there that the “rest” of Santa Clarita considers Canyon Country its stepchild.
    How often have we heard people complain, “All the best stuff happens in Valencia” — whether it’s shopping, housing, entertainment, dining... ?
    Now then.
    Last week the folks who run the elementary schools in Canyon Country completed a three-year study showing it would be workable for them to split off Canyon High from the rest of the SCV’s high schools and form their own K-12 district. They conducted the study at the behest of people who think it would be a good idea.
    It’s a terrible idea.
    One of the reasons we formed a city in 1987 was to unite this valley, after decades of division. Splitting up our high schools would only deepen the rift, not bring us closer together.
    It would actually be worst for people in Canyon Country. Median home prices are highest locally in Valencia and Stevenson Ranch, and lowest in Canyon Country. With upscale housing tracts like Bridgeport under construction in Valencia, and Westridge and Newhall Ranch on the way, the picture isn’t likely to change. Twenty years down the road, we’ll be looking at a school district of “haves” on the west side and “have nots” on the east, if Canyon Country secedes.
    What’s next, secession from the city?
    The school system setup is screwy enough as it is. Left unchanged, it already inhibits unity. For the uninitiated, all our junior and senior high schools are in one district, but our elementary schools are divided by region: Castaic, Saugus, Sulphur Springs (Canyon Country) and Newhall (covering Newhall, Valencia and Stevenson Ranch).
    I’d sooner see all the public schools come together into one district than see our high schools split into different districts. Arguments about local control, in this case, don’t wash. We’re not Los Angeles. We have local control, whether there’s one district or five.
    Another thing. The name of the SCV’s high school district— William S. Hart— is the same as one of its high schools. That was fine and well and good when there was just one high school in town. But it doesn’t make sense today— and it creates the perception (there’s that perception thing again) that Hart High is somehow more important, more special, than the other three high schools.
    If we consider ourselves Santa Clarita, if every school is as important as the next, if Santa Clarita is how we wish the world to see us, then we should name our high school district “Santa Clarita.” Heck, we can’t even brag about our good schools to outsiders, because no outsider would associate “Hart” with “Santa Clarita.”
    Funny thing is, “Santa Clarita” was the original name of the district.
    In January 1945, the good people of this dusty, oil-drilling, munitions-manufacturing wartime town voted 1,184-7 to create the Santa Clarita Union High School District. On June 2 they voted 432-2 to pass a $300,000 bond measure to build Santa Clarita High School.
    But the name “Santa Clarita” wasn’t commonly used around here, and it drew protests.
    The Signal of Aug. 9, 1945, reported: “Conscious that the name of ‘Santa Clarita,’ adopted for the high school district and for the high school, has never obtained complete public approval, the board, at its meeting last week, initiated a move to have the name changed from Santa Clarita to William S. Hart. The board did this after ascertaining that Mr. Hart is agreeable to having the high school named after him.”
    Hart, the beloved cowboy star of the silent screen, owner of the mansion on the hill overlooking the new school site, builder of Newhall’s only movie house a few years earlier— and who would meet his Maker in a year’s time— “has been Newhall’s first citizen for more than two decades,” The Signal reported.
    It’s a good, solid, historic name for a high school, and we should keep it there.
    But as for the district’s name, well. Go ahead. Revoke my membership in the Hart High Alumni Club (Class of ’79, thank you). Throw me out of the Historical Society. Let the school keep the name, but change the name of the district to “Santa Clarita.”
    Which, by the way, means “Little St. Clare” — a reference to the Little Santa Clara River that runs through these parts... when it isn’t busy being a chunk of dirt.
    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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