In the early 20th century, San Diego was a rapidly growing and developing city. Businesses, from the Hotel del Coronado to the hydro-aeroplane industry, experienced an economic boom due to San Diego’s steadily increasing population.
1912: THE BEGINNINGS
Drawn to the allure of the American West, Clara Sturges Johnson (pictured left) and her husband, William Templeton Johnson, moved to Coronado with the intentions of founding a school on the principles of civic engagement and betterment. The school’s namesake and one of the country’s first progressive educators, Colonel Francis Parker (pictured right), founded his school in Chicago with the priority of teaching good citizenship; the Johnsons emulated this approach. They turned to Columbia University and convinced Ms. Fay Henley, an experienced primary teacher, to be their first teacher. In the fall of 1912, Francis Parker School began its first year of operation at a small cottage on the corner of Randolph Street and Fort Stockton Drive–with two students.
1913: MOVING TO NEW CAMPUS
A year after its founding, Parker’s student population had grown to 30, and they needed a larger school. On November 26, 1913, students pulled little red wagons with their belongings to the current Lower School campus.
The morning on which we moved was characteristically ‘Parker.’ It was charming to see the little group trundling its belonging to the new building.”
1913: BUILDING THE CAMPUS
William Templeton Johnson was not only the founder of Francis Parker School; he was also an architect. William firmly believed that a child’s education depended on a comfortable learning environment. He designed the Mission Hills Campus on the principles of efficiency and practicality, made beautiful by simple craftsmanship and artistry.
The building, equipment, and the courses of study are planned to give each student the very best possible chance to develop physically, morally, and mentally."
"The one law of this school is Thoughtfulness of Others, and if you find yourself wondering whether you should do any certain thing, just ask yourself these two questions: 'Will it disturb anyone else?' and 'If everyone in the school did the same thing, what would it be like?'"
In 1921, Ethel Sturger Drummer, niece of Carla Johnson, became Parker’s 15th faculty member. From 1921 to 1929, she ascended from Drama teacher, to professional supervisor, to principal. Ethel, known as “Happy,” was described by every teacher, parent, and student she worked with as dedicated, inspiring, evenhanded, exemplifying a joy of living and learning, a good administrator, and someone who conveyed a true sense of caring to all those around her. She served as Parker’s Director until her death in 1938.
1939-1946: WAR TIME
Through the years of 1939 and 1945, Parker faced many challenges. The comings and goings of soldiers through San Diego during World War II meant a constantly changing student population. Resources were running low, and they had to remove the Upper School program during these years to focus on the elementary and middle school. The need for a structured administration was clear. In 1945, Parker established an Endowment Fund Committee that granted $20,000 for campus construction, ensured teacher salaries and pensions, as well as scholarship funds. They also established a formal Board of Trustees and Parent Association that became heavily involved in funding, because the Johnsons could no longer solely support the school. Despite hardship, Parker made it through, and had a 256 enrollment waitlist by 1946.
“Devotion, ability and zeal were so brilliantly displayed on the school’s behalf [as was] carried out the improvement of buildings and grounds, the enablement to set up a substantial reserve and stimulation of the largest enrollment in the School’s history.”
Following World War II, Parker education was designed around the constantly changing world. The overall aim of education was to stimulate the emotional and social development of children, while actively using their minds and imaginations; this way, every child would be best prepared to face the world in the wake of insurmountable tragedy. Academics were equally as successful–the junior high program out-ranked all other schools in San Diego, as the students’ placement in the top high schools and subsequent universities would prove.
1969: MOVING FORWARD
Parker had its first high school graduating class since having to eliminate the Upper School program in 1939. Eight graduates, their families, and the Parker staff gathered at the Mission Hills campus to celebrate.
1971: MOVING IN
Upper and Middle School students move to the new Linda Vista Campus. In the late-sixties, the School had grown to 500 students; a new campus was necessary. The Board of Trustees assisted Headmaster Douglas Crone with the search for a new location to allow Parker to expand. George A. Scott, a prominent businessman in San Diego and Chairman of the Board, coordinated the purchase of the 43-acre lot and facilities from the San Miguel School for Boys.
1986: NEW ADDITIONS
The newly-constructed Middle School academic buildings open at the Linda Vista Campus. These buildings are currently still used for the middle school.
The Linda Vista Campus underwent major renovations. Designed by Lake Flato Architects, the campus seamlessly integrated classrooms and buildings with nature and landscaping. Every classroom included sliding glass doors in order to further connect students within the classroom with the open air and outdoors. The design reflected the original aim of architect and founder William Templeton Johnson, as he designed the Lower School upon the same principles of harmonious relationship between the student and their environment.
2019: THE STUDENT LIFE CENTER
In the spring of 2019, Francis Parker School opened its doors to one of its most ambitious projects to date. The one-of-a-kind Heart of Campus center includes a two-level, underground parking garage, Central Plaza with an outdoor amphitheater, and a two-story Student Life Center with a new cafeteria, indoor and outdoor dining patio, and conference rooms. This pivotal project has opened a plethora of opportunities that meet Parker’s evolving academic, arts, and athletic needs, all in a beautiful, state-of-the-art building.