The Founding of Pasadena’s Schools


Pasadena Unified School District

Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) had its humble beginnings in September 1874 in the parlor of William Clapp’s small house on South Orange Grove Avenue. The school district, originally known as San Pasqual School District, hired young Jennie Clapp as the first teacher. Her first class had only two pupils.

As the local population increased with the arrival of the railroad in 1886, the school district grew rapidly. In the 1920s, in response to overcrowding, the district adopted the 6-4-4 plan, which organized schools into six years of elementary school, four years of junior high school, and four years of high school/junior college. The 6-4-4 system received nationwide praise but was phased out in the early 1950s due to boundary changes and cost.

school on Clapp property

First schoolhouse on Clapp property, circa 1876 (Main Photo Collection, S3-1a)

1970 photo of school busing

Mothers at Audubon School in Altadena show support of busing, September 1970. Photograph by John Doran (Pasadena City Schools Negative Collection, #6731)

By 1955, there were thirty-four schools serving 25,020 students in K-12th grades. The school district grappled with issues of segregation and overcrowding throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In January 1970, Pasadena became the first non-Southern city ordered by the federal courts to desegregate its public school system and implement a cross-district busing plan.

Today PUSD serves 18,000 students in twenty-eight schools and offers diverse educational choices, including dual-language immersion programs, STEAM academies, International Baccalaureate schools, career pathways, and award-winning arts and music for all.

– Laura Verlaque

Pasadena City College

Pasadena City College, initially Pasadena Junior College, opened its doors in 1924 to approximately 270 students. On opening day, it was the largest of the junior colleges in California. William Ewing, who became the school’s first president, is credited with proposing the plan that led to the creation of the college. The 1924 Bond Campaign provided one million dollars for new high school and college buildings on the Pasadena High School campus. In 1928, Pasadena’s Board of Education adopted the 6-4-4 school system, which turned the school into a four-year junior college serving grades eleven through fourteen. That year, the facility officially changed its name from Pasadena High School to Pasadena Junior College, and the college’s old Pirate mascot became the Bulldog. In 1938, Pasadena Junior College merged with John Muir Technical High School. In September 1948, the facility officially became Pasadena City College; in 1954, the school adopted the Lancer mascot, which is still retained to this day.

Throughout the decades, PCC has continued to grow. Today, each semester, the college provides over 30,000 students from more than ninety different countries with a high quality, innovative learning environment that inspires, supports, and facilitates student learning and success.

– Michelle L. Turner

Cosmetology class at school

Cosmetology class, circa 1940s (Main Photo Collection, S18-67)

Pasadena Digital HistoryTo learn more about the history of Pasadena’s schools, view the Pasadena Digital History Collaboration’s online exhibits – Roots of Education in Pasadena: 1870s-1920s and Pasadena City College’s 90th Anniversary.