Columbus Tustin’s five children ranged in age from 14 years to one year old when they arrived here in 1870. It did not take him long to establish a school. No records of that early school exist, but on February 5, 1872, taking the name from the grove of native sycamores, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Sycamore School District.
Off and on, about 28 students, grades one through eight, attended Sycamore School at first. The little one-room schoolhouse sat among some sycamore trees close to B Street on the north side of Third Street, which no longer goes through. On the earliest maps, that block was designated “the school block” and it is still owned by the Tustin School District. Columbus Tustin owned the building and received $8 per month rent until the Sycamore School District purchased it for about $700 in 1875.
As the one-room schoolhouse was outgrown by the end of the 1870s, a bond election early in 1882 raised $3,000 for the construction of a new school. Several plans were studied and one was finally sent out to bid. According to the minutes of the Board of Trustees, the lowest bid was $1,950 more than the building fund. A second bond election raised another $2,000. The construction of a two-story, wooden, Victorian school building was thus accomplished by the end of 1882.
One of the bright notes in all the gloom of the recession of the 1890s was the success of the Tustin Public School. After the formation of Orange County in 1889, the name of the school district changed from the “Sycamore School District” to the “Tustin School District”. The new principal, John J. Zielian, was not happy with the two-story schoolhouse that he was hired to preside over. In 1890, the problems were solved as a $7,000, four-room addition to the building was completed. The school faced Third Street, midway between B and C streets.
The Tustin School District went through vast changes in the early 1900s. Average attendance jumped from 155 in 1900 to 260 in 1920 and 416 by 1925. In 1914 a new schoolhouse – a large brick building constructed on C Street. When Benjamin Beswick took over as principal he insisted that his teachers live in Tustin and attend the Tustin Presbyterian Church. He bought the David Hewes house and added bedrooms upstairs for teachers to rent. As attendance figures climbed, a second school became necessary. In 1921, the Primary Building was built at the corner of Main and C Street.
At the same time, state law mandated that each elementary school be in a high school district. Rather than be annexed to the Santa Ana School District, a citizens’ committee chaired by C.E. Utt pushed for the formation of the Tustin Union High School District, which would combine the Tustin, Laguna Beach, El Toro, Trabuco Canyon and San Joaquin Elementary Districts into one high school district. Plans for a high school building began immediately. The board purchased 15 acres on the State Highway (Laguna Road) for $41,000. Besides classrooms, the plans called for a 1,000-seat indoor auditorium, an outdoor Greek theater, up-to-date domestic science department, mechanical and manual training departments, athletic field and gymnasium. The total cost was expected to be $350,000. The building was not ready for use for the 1921-22 school year, so approximately 75 students used the new primary building as a high school that first year and the primary children used portable classrooms placed on the playground.
The Tustin High School building was torn down in 1966 due to a determination that it was not earthquake safe. Ironically, the building fought “demolition efforts” and took 10 days to demolish it. A new Tustin High School was built in its place and parts opened later that same year.
In 1963, Foothill High School was opened due to the growing student population (as the city’s population was increasing). It’s name is derived from its literal position at the base of Cowan Heights and Lemon Heights in North Tustin.
Beckman High School opened in 2004 and serves over 3,000 students in the Tustin Unified School District. The school was named after Arnold Beckman, a scientist, chemist, and philanthropist. The school is located just over the Tustin border in Irvine.