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History of the Chaffey Joint Union High School District

The Chaffey Joint Union High School District

The Chaffey Joint Union High School District traces its roots back to 1882 when George Chaffey, along with his brother William, purchased land from the Cucamonga Land Company and Kincaid ranches (Ontario/Upland) with the objective of creating a “new model colony” that would surpass anything of its kind ever attempted in California. George’s plan for perfecting this township, in which he named Ontario after his Canadian Province, involved a strict commitment to fundamental principles – one of which was to provide a college for the agricultural education of the people of the colony and for the general education of their children.[i]

To support his endeavor, the Chaffey brothers set aside 20 acres of land for the educational facility.[ii] He provided 384 town lots and 270 additional acres to be sold at a later date to support the institution.[iii] Then George established an endowment with the University of Southern California to have their Trustees supervise the building plans and run the school. The Chaffey College of Agriculture of the University of Southern California opened its doors in 1885, and during the next 16 years, it operated as a fully functioning learning institution.[iv]

Ontario began to prosper, and many settlers began to purchase the desirable town lots. Due to this success, the Chaffey brothers were courted by the government in Australia to develop a colony much like Ontario in their own country, and in 1886, they accepted.[v]

The college continued to attract young men and women to the colony who wished to receive higher education, but in 1901, due to the mismanagement of the endowment by the University of Southern California’s Trustees, the college dissolved.[vi] That same year, the Ontario School District took over the abandoned college building to serve the area’s secondary students.[vii]

In 1902, George Chaffey returned and brought forward litigation against the University of Southern California. In 1906, the Superior Court demanded that the University of Southern California relinquish all claim on the property and provide a settlement to be used toward annual student scholarships and the Chaffey library. The Chaffey Trust Fund was established, and to this day, the interest of that early financial settlement provides over $13,000 in annual scholarships to seniors who graduate from each school in the Chaffey District.[viii]

In May 1911, the citizens of Ontario and Upland voted by large majority to form a Union High School District, to which the name Chaffey was attached.[ix] On June 9, 1911, the Chaffey Union High School District became a legal entity, and Merton E. Hill was named as the first Superintendent. Chaffey Union High School opened its doors to 346 students on September 11, 1911. As the high school received its new name, the colors were changed from cardinal red and black to orange and black.[x] Later, the tiger became their mascot.

For the next 43 years, Chaffey Union High School served secondary students from Alta Loma, Camp Baldy, Central Cucamonga, Etiwanda, Fontana, and Upland. Chaffey Junior College was reestablished in 1916 to meet the needs of students who wished to continue their education after high school.[xi] The college remained on the Chaffey Union High School campus until it moved to Haven Avenue in north Alta Loma in 1960. The original college building was condemned in 1934, and most of the structures that exist on the Chaffey campus today were built from President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration funds that were provided to create jobs during the Great Depression.

George Chaffey died on February 29, 1932 at the age of 84. During his lifetime, he founded 12 towns, engineered the electricity that lighted Los Angeles, founded a college, owned banks, and will forever be known as the “Father of the Chaffey District.”

In 1938, Gardiner W. Spring was named as the District’s second Superintendent. Mr. Spring was the driving force behind the construction of many of the buildings including the auditorium which was named the Gardiner W. Spring Auditorium in his honor.

In 1952, under the helm of Superintendent Daniel Milliken, the District built Fontana High School to meet the needs of a growing population in the east region. Maroon and white became the school colors, and not surprisingly, they were known as the “Steelers.” A unification election was held in 1955, and Fontana High School separated from the District and became part of the newly created Fontana Unified School District.[xii]

Also in 1955, a successful bond election enabled the District to build Upland High School to serve the northern communities. The green and white “Highlanders” would remain part of the District until their unification in 1987.[xiii]
Montclair High School was built during the term of Superintendent Allan G. Smith at a cost of a little more than $2 million in 1959. The school’s name was originally planned to be Monte Vista High School, but the name was revised to Montclair High School prior to its opening.[xiv] It is the home of the Columbia blue and black “Cavaliers.”

Population continued to grow in the north, so plans were developed to build a school on Baseline Road in Alta Loma. What was initially slated to be called Hillside High School in the planning stage, was later named Alta Loma High School when they opened their doors in 1963.[xv] The school is the home of the “Braves,” and they proudly fly their blue, white, and silver colors.

Another high school in Ontario became a necessity but making it a reality was not an easy proposition due to a defeated bond that was earmarked for the new facility. Finally, at a cost of almost $5 million, the District built Ontario High School in 1967 with cardinal red and gold as the school colors and “Jaguars” as the mascot.[xvi] That same year, the District opened Chaffey Adult School to meet the educational needs of adult students within the community.

Following 1967 and throughout the next few years, the District began to experiment and explore options to meet the needs of high school students in an alternative setting. In 1969, a program was established to meet the needs of this student population. In 1973, Valley View High School was constructed as the District’s first continuation school. Valley View’s colors are green and white, and their mascot is the Viking.

In 1976, the Chaffey Union High School District was given a gift of land that included a portion of the parcel that was located in Los Angeles County. Therefore, as required by law, it was necessary for the District to revise its name to Chaffey “Joint” Union High School District.

On April 4, 1977, the longest serving Board member in the District’s history, Charles Uhalley, was elected. A few years later in 1982, under the leadership of Superintendent Mike Dirksen, Etiwanda High School was built.[xvii] The name “Etiwanda” comes from George Chaffey, who named the community after a Native American Algonquin Chief that his uncle Benjamin befriended back in the mid-1800s on the shores of Lake Michigan. The eagle was selected as the mascot with red, black, and gold as its colors.

In 1992, while Superintendent Dean Smothers was at the helm, Rancho Cucamonga High School was built.[xviii] The school was located geographically between Alta Loma and Etiwanda in the north. As Alta Loma High School’s school color is predominately blue and Etiwanda High School is red, it was only fitting to merge those two colors into purple: hence the school’s colors of purple, silver, and black. The mascot is the “Cougars.”

Board member, Art Bustamonte was elected in December 1995. Following his election, the District decided to open another continuation high school and add a community day school. Canyon View Continuation High School existed to support students until it was combined with Valley View Continuation High School in 2010.

During the mid-1990’s, the District was forced, once again, to address overcrowding in the northern and southern parts of the District. Superintendent Bette Harrison spearheaded an unprecedented charge to build two new comprehensive high schools at the same time. The challenge was that this endeavor would require the community to support a bond to provide the District with a necessary $128 million to build the two schools.[xix] Through her leadership and the efforts of a very strong Board of Trustees which included Art Bustamonte, Clyde Francisco, Kathleen Kinley, Ray Sarrio, and Charles Uhalley, the bond passed in April 1998. In August 2002, with Barry Cadwallader as Superintendent, Los Osos (blue and gold “Grizzlies”) and Colony High School (red, white, and blue “Titans”) opened on the same day.[xx]

In 2008, the Board named Mathew Holton as the District’s ninth Superintendent. In the fall of that same year, Board members Shari Megaw and Sue Ovitt were elected to the Board of Trustees. In 2010, Josie Estrada was elected to the District’s Board of Trustees. In 2012, the District, known for its cutting-edge approach to instruction, opened the Chaffey District Online High School.

In November 2012, the District was successful in obtaining authorization from the District’s voters to pass an $848 million bond (Measure P). Under the leadership of Board members Art Bustamonte, Josie Estrada, Shari Megaw, Sue Ovitt, and Charles Uhalley, the District established the Citizens’ Bond Oversite Committee in order to satisfy the accountability requirements of Proposition 39 and the Strict Accountability in Local School Construction Bonds Act of 2000.

In 2014, John Rhinehart was elected to the Board and faithfully served until his resignation in March 2021. Gil Zendejas was elected to the Board in 2018. Under the strong leadership of Superintendent Holton and Board members Art Bustamonte, John Rhinehart, Sue Ovitt, Shari Parker-Megaw, and Gil Zendejas, the District persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic which began with the school closures in March 2020 and continued for over a year.

In March 2021, Dionne Berwick was appointed to the Board to fill the vacancy and complete John Rhinehart’s term. In October 2021, Ms. Berwick resigned, and Donald English was appointed to replace her in Trustee Area Four. In September 2022, Shari Parker-Megaw resigned, and Cary Willborn was appointed on October 4, 2022 to represent Trustee Area Five as her replacement. Mr. English was elected by the voters to continue representing Trustee Area Four in November 2022.

The Chaffey Joint Union High School District, the second largest high school district in the State, has always been revered and respected for its efficiency and its students' performance results. As of 2024, the District has demonstrated stability by having only nine superintendents lead the District in over the last 113 years. It has talented and dedicated principals, teachers, support staff, and, most importantly, exceptional students. The students’ success is reflected in their academic performance, which ranks at the top of all large high school districts throughout the State including extracurricular awards. The District boasts the highest graduation rates in San Bernardino County, and students are routinely accepted into prestigious colleges across the Country. Throughout history, there has been a consistent commitment to support students and provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary for them to graduate college and career ready and one day realize their dreams. The District is convinced that this commitment will continue for the next 100 years.

[i] J. A. Alexander, The Life of George Chaffey, (Melbourne: Macmillan Co., 1928), p. 59.
[ii]Jack Frankish, "Some Early History of Ontario," Pomona Valley Historian, vol. IV, no. 4, October. 1968, p. 177.   
[iii]J. A. Alexander, The Life of George Chaffey, (Melbourne: Macmillan Co., 1928). p. 62.
[iv]"Ontario," Los Angeles Times, October. 20, 1885, p. 4.
[v]Esther Boulton Black, "Ordeal in Australia," Pomona Valley Historian, vol. VII, no. 5, April 1971, p. 61.
[vi]Ontario Observer, May 24, 1901, p. 1, also May 31, 1901, p. 1.
[vii]Lois Le Baron Avery, a teacher who served at the original Ontario High and Chaffey High Schools, writes in the 1917 Fasti about an Ontario High School District. However, the title deed to the land and building, which given over to the Chaffey High School District (February 7, 1912), was held by the Ontario School District.
[viii]Betty Richards, "The Chaffeys: Saga of a Southern California Family, Pomona Valley Historian, vol. VII, no. 1, Jan. 1977, p. 44.
[ix]"Union Proposition Carries by Large Majority," Ontario Record, June 1, 1911, p. 1.
[x]"Calendar," Fasti, 1911.
[xi]Minutes of the Board of Trustee of the Chaffey High School District, August 11, 1916
[xii]Ibid., November 1, 1955.
[xiii]"Unification Passes for Upland Schools," Daily Report, November 6, 1986, p. A1
[xiv]"Dedication Ceremonies Slated for New High School," Ibid., September 1, 1959.
[xv]"50,000 Pupils Head for Classes," Ibid., September 9, 1963, p. B1.
[xvi]"Local Enrollment Increases Slightly," Ibid., September 12, 1967, p. A4.
[xvii]"RC School Funding Supported by Panel," Ibid., July 8, 1980, p. A1.
[xviii]"Campuses Come Alive this Week," Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, September 7, 1992, p. B1
[xix]"Chaffey Board Money Pays Off," Ibid., April 16, 1998, p. B1.
[xx]"It's Show Time for New High Schools," Ibid, September 4, 2002, p. A5.