Montair Elementary celebrates 50th year | October 17, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - October 17, 2008

Montair Elementary celebrates 50th year

Alumni invited to carnival as part of anniversary celebration

by Geoff Gillette

The world was a different place in 1958. Gas was 24 cents a gallon, houses cost $30,000, and the 680 freeway didn't exist. October of that year marked a new beginning of sorts in the Danville School District with the opening of the brand new $600,000 Montair Elementary School.

Montair is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. It opened Oct. 5, 1958, replacing the former Danville Elementary School, which closed down when the student population outgrew the facility. Around 400 students going to Danville were bused from throughout the district to attend the new school.

Alamo resident Bruce Marhenke was a teacher at Montair when it first opened and said the school today is a little different than it was back then.

"Well, we didn't have the big building there where the library is," he recalled. "And there were walnut trees everywhere. The whole grounds were loaded with walnut trees."

Marhenke, who had been living in Berkeley at the time of his hiring, had to make some adjustments to the slightly more rural lifestyle of Danville.

"This one day there was an airplane coming low and this stuff started coming out…. I made the kids get down because I thought something was happening and one of the kids said, 'Mr. Marhenke, that's just a crop duster.'"

The first principal of Montair was Maevis Wood. She, along with her sister Charlotte, carved out names for themselves in education here in Danville.

"Maevis Wood is someone I would genuinely call an educator," Marhenke said. "A lot of times in this day and age when we're teaching for tests and things like that, a lot of principals have become administrators instead of educators."

Current Montair Principal Matt Hermann said that while education has changed over the years, Maevis Wood's guiding principles remain.

"It's different now. We're trying to understand the needs of all our learners," he noted. "We use a lot of different forms of instruction - audio, video, kinesthetic. But we are dedicated to seeing all our students succeed."

When Montair opened, classes would have 30-35 students, compared to now when kindergarten to second grade classes have 20 students and third to fifth grade classes are at 30.

Another difference is in how schools are funded. Changes in the property tax funding formula over the years have affected how much money schools receive. In 1958, fundraising was not an issue widely discussed, whereas in 2008 many programs wouldn't exist without the benefit of funds raised through a variety of means.

During a day off school in early October, students at Montair scoured the streets of Danville on an information treasure hunt. Given clues by Principal Hermann, the students, accompanied by 70 parent chaperones, went to locations around town to find the answers to questions. Those answers would speed them on to the next clue.

"This was a fundraiser for our PTA," Hermann said. "Kids either got a flat donation or pledges based on the number of clues found." He added that the idea of the treasure hunt is based on a similar annual event held in San Francisco's Chinatown each year.

Kelly McKenna and Kerry Morone are sisters living in Danville and alumni of Montair. Now their children go to school there. McKenna said there are some big differences between when she attended the school 30 years ago and now.

"The main difference is things like technology, the kids all go to computer classes," she said. "It seemed so much simpler. You had one teacher in one classroom. And now as early as kindergarten they go to computer class."

Morone said her memory of the school is one of happiness. "It's still a happy, friendly environment. Kids walking to school, riding their bikes. That's still happening. It hasn't changed much and it has a nice feel to it."

McKenna agreed. "I think it's really the comforting feeling. The down-home feeling. Not a lot of bells and whistles, everything's still pretty much the same. It's that home feeling."

Hermann said that while they are excited to be marking their 50th year as a school, their celebration will be fairly low key.

"We thought it would be fun to incorporate the anniversary with something else school related so what we decided to do is get the word out and invite the alumni to our carnival," he said. "We thought it would be nice to invite the community and see if we can get as many of our former students as we can to come for a visit."

The carnival is set for noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 19. It will have games, food, prizes, an obstacle course, cake walk and other activities - plus a chance for alumni to reminisce about school days 50 years ago.