Vista School, circa 1914
The history of the Vista Unified School District began in the late 1800s with three tiny school districts in the area now known as Vista. The Buena School started in 1887 with 21 students in the unincorporated area just east of the City of Vista. The Delpy School was built in 1894 near where the district office now sits. The original Vista School opened in 1895 with 20 students where the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School is now. Part of that building is still there as part of the private school.
In 1916, those three schools combined to form the Vista Union School District.
The following year, the district passed its first bond measure, borrowing $8,000 to built a new campus in downtown Vista. The Delpy and Buena schools closed in the 1920s.
In 1930, Lincoln School opened where City Hall is now located, and Vista School was renamed Jefferson School. The district had only 373 students at the time.
Voters in the district decided in 1935 to form a unified school district and build a high school in Vista. The Vista Union High School District was formed the following year with the same trustees as the elementary district. Later that year, the two districts were combined into the Vista Unified School District. The first superintendent was Sherman H. Freeman, who led the district from 1936 to 1947. His successor, William Paul Schlechte stayed in the position for the next 22 years.
Vista High School opened at the Lincoln campus in 1936 and moved to a new facility across the street the following year. The high school remained at that site until 1972, when the current Vista High School campus was built and the older campus became Lincoln Junior High. It’s now Vista Magnet Middle School.
Previously, students living in the district had to go to Oceanside-Carlsbad High School when they got older.
Construction on Camp Pendleton during World War II increased enrollment in the district’s two elementary schools in the early 1940s. The number of students at the high school stayed about the same because some of the boys were joining the military or dropping out of school to work. Because of the manpower shortage caused by the war, the district hired its first female bus driver in 1942.
Santa Fe Elementary School opened in 1950 with room for 1,500 students. It was expected that the campus would be big enough to handle any future growth and be the last one the district would have to build. Things didn’t quite work out that way. The district built seven schools between 1956 and 1963, including Crestview, Olive, Beaumont, Bobier, Grapevine, and Monte Vista elementary schools and Washington Middle School. The Santa Fe Elementary campus now houses Vista Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, California Avenue School and Vista Adult School’s literacy center.
In 1966, the district started its first program for students who were learning to speak English as a second language.
Voters passed bond measures in 1968 and 1970 to raise money to build the current Vista High School campus, Casita Elementary School and California Avenue School. When the Casita campus was finished in 1971, it helped the district avoid double sessions and alleviate overcrowding at the other schools
The district had another growth spurt between 1987 and 1993, when eight campuses were built. These were Alamosa Park Elementary, Rancho Buena Vista High, Lake Elementary, Empresa Elementary, Mission Meadows Elementary, Breeze Hill Elementary, Madison Middle School and Roosevelt Middle School.
In 2002, voters passed Proposition O, a $140 million school-construction measure that allowed the district to borrow enough money to build nine more campuses between 2002 and 2010. These were Vista Focus Academy, Hanalei Elementary, Temple Heights Elementary, Foothill Oak Elementary, Guajome Park Academy, Maryland Elementary, Rancho Minerva Middle, Maj. Gen. Raymond Murray High School and Mission Vista High School.
After decades of relatively steady growth, enrollment in Vista Unified schools peaked in the 1999-2000 school year with nearly 26,000 students. Since then, the number of students has slowly declined. In 2011-12 there were 22,440 children attending the district's 30 schools.
Vista Unified continues to change and evolve. Trustees recently adopted a new mission, vision and set of values that will help guide its educators in the future.
Information compiled with the help of the Vista Historical Society, archived copies of the Vista Press and information from school district files.
View more historic photos of Vista Unified schools here.