The following are excerpts from “Becoming A Real School 1960-1990: The Story of The College Preparatory School” by Robert Baldwin, Jr. (Head of School, 1969-1990)
The College Preparatory School was launched in September of 1960 when thirty-three students, four teachers and a handful of parents gathered under a hot sun to hear the Reverend Charles Guilbert, Mills College Chaplain, offer his blessings and Godspeed. The site was a corner lot, 6264 Claremont Avenue, Oakland, opposite what is now a Safeway store. The double lot included a small, five-room, l9th-century farmhouse and a just-completed cement block structure containing eight classrooms. Just ten months earlier, Mary Harley Jenks and Ruth Willis had arrived in Berkeley intent on starting a school.
College Prep (referred to in the past as CPS) was the brainchild of Miss Jenks, who at 57, decided she wanted to establish a school of her own design before she retired. Throughout her career she cared deeply for the young people she served, at the same time holding them to high standards of scholarship and conduct. Her joy was to watch a student experience pleasure in learning and to see him/her delight in the life of the mind. Nonconformists, independent thinkers and students with a well-developed social conscience gave her special joy. She passed on many of these qualities to CPS graduates.
There have been modifications of Miss Jenks’ original vision and the school’s early style. Students no longer rise as an adult enters a classroom, dress codes have relaxed and there are no morning prayers. In the ’60s and early ’70s boys wore slacks and a collared shirt; girls, skirts with blouses and/or sweaters in some combination of blue and white. The lengths of boys’ hair and girls’ skirts were serious issues in those years.
The school has always been non-profit and co-educational. The small size, roughly 125 to 150 which the old campus dictated, turned out to be not economical and precluded curricular expansion, particularly in the arts and athletics. In considering alternate sites, the Board and I felt that it was important to retain the intimacy and intensity which characterized those early, cramped years. Yet survival demanded an expanded enrollment which, in turn, demanded more space.
Enrollment pressures became stronger as a result of many people’s discontent with public schools plus CPS’s own growing reputation. In the early ’70s there came an opportunity to buy the six-acre parcel on Broadway which was to become the new campus. Sixteen portable wooden classroom buildings wore purchased at auction from the Oakland Unified School District for $130 each. Eleven of these are in use today, nine as classrooms, one as a Faculty Room, and one as the Business Office and adjacent library extension.
In the design of the new campus on a six-acre parcel on Broadway, every effort was made to capture both the shadow-of-Berkeley heritage and the intimacy of a central courtyard area which would be well populated and traversed during the day by students and faculty. The school moved in December of 1982, with the faculty and students doing most of the work. Since then, as enrollment has grown and a six-classroom building, the music, art and gymnasium facilities, and a science building have been added.
A full school history would include the major achievements of its students, high points in athletics, the school’s listing as among the twenty five academically strongest independent schools in the country (by the Harvard Review), and the long list of students each year receiving National Merit recognition…but that’s the rest of the story for another time.