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Diamond Bar Education North of the Power Lines: the Ganesha Years

Promised a high school, North Diamond Bar residents got Kmart.

Developers had promised in the early 1960s that the site of the current was to become .

And with a burgeoning population of young families, the race to build schools was off to a fast start.

In 1962, Walnut Valley School District opened , barely beating the 1963 Pomona Unified School District opening of .

However, it was not until June of 2001 that the elusive dream of a public high school graduation in North Diamond Bar came true.

Almost named Tres Hermanos High School by the Pomona Unified School District (PUSD), is the school that might never have been without volunteer tenacity powering political will.

Emmett Terrell, who retired as PUSD Deputy Superintendent of Personnel Services, described the process as “how do we get it done in a way we can afford?”

The Diamond Point Experience

In 1978, when Sue Sisk and husband John transferred to Southern California from their native Ohio, she remembers falling in love with the openness and the lush green hillsides in the Diamond Bar community. 

However, staying in love with the Pomona Unified School District proved a bigger challenge for the Diamond Bar mother.

“I was a mom who wanted a local high school,” Sisk said.

Emmett Terrell left a teaching position in Pomona to become assistant Principal and then Principal of the school called simply “the Point.”  

Before condominiums were built on the adjacent hillside, Terrell said he liked to “go to school very early and just look at the open space."

Back then, the hillside across from  on Golden Springs Drive was where weekend hang-gliders did their best to cruise from the hilltop without landing in thick patches of spiny cactus.

Terrell said he was pleased to find a “very highly engaged community" around the school.

"My first PTA Board meeting, there were 25 parents,” Terrell said.

Terrell said the staff excelled. Colleen Wasson, the school secretary, had extensive executive experience. Clerk-typist Leslie Allen did not need direction. A classroom aid, Brenda Engdahl, was also President of the Municipal Advisory Committee.

During Terrell's tenure at “The Point," students from the newly developing Pomona subdivision of Phillips Ranch were bussed into the Diamond Bar school until Decker Elementary opened. 

With less than 400 students currently enrolled, at its peak in the 1975 to 1976 school year, Diamond Point served 764 students.

Concerns at the Middle School Level

Largely happy with the elementary education, once students entered , parents’ concerns elevated, Sisk said, hinting that PUSD considered Diamond Bar a colonial outpost, subject to benign neglect.

Sisk winced at memories of “dead mice and disrepair."

"There was not even a fire extinguisher in the gymnasium,” Sisk said.

The fire department later cited the school for violations. Forty days later, just prior to an awards show, the fire department padlocked the gym for code violations.

The district sprung into action, enabling the event to continue as scheduled.

During these "Ganesha Years," when those in North Diamond Bar attended the Pomona School, Lorbeer was a bittersweet ending to the years when local kids attended school together.

For suburban Diamond Bar parents, there were strong concerns about sending children out of Diamond Bar for high school.

Opening a North Diamond Bar Campus

Prior to Diamond Ranch opening, the PUSD attrition rate from Diamond Bar and Phillips Ranch was 70 percent.   

Sisk said that, then, a low number of PUSD students entering college worried her.  

Sisk also recalled parent concern after a shooting on campus at Ganesha.

"How do you deal with academics when you are concerned about safety?" Sisk said.

One North Diamond Bar student who attended Ganesha said the experience was uncomfortable.

"The Pomona kids did not like us," she said. "They thought we were all rich. We most certainly were not."

Like many of her neighbors, Sisk said she experienced stress waiting to see if PUSD would release her child, Tim, to attend public school elsewhere.

With release in hand, Troy Tech accepted Tim Sisk.

With many students from North Diamond Bar and around 116 middle schools in the area, his mom became one of a pool of parents paying for busses to and from the Fullerton campus, which was quickly gaining a reputation for college prep.

Principal Terrell said he remembers PUSD Superintendent Irv Moskowitz as “savvy on how to capture, keep and meet the needs of the community.”

Terrell said the superintendent felt the energy in the community could hold together a coalition to build a high school that would serve North Diamond Bar families.

In 1991, PUSD wanted voters to approve Proposition E — a $62.5 million dollar general bond to improve school facilities district-wide.

Sisk and other Diamond Bar parents agreed to help, but only if money was set aside for a high school in Diamond Bar.  

With an agreement in hand, Sisk relied on community activist Gary Neely and Mayor John Forbing for helping with the process and strategy to succeed in the 12 Diamond Bar-PUSD precincts to pass the bond.  

While the 10 million dollars set aside was good, it was still not enough.

A major proponent of the high school was then California Senator Frank Hill. Author of SB 1718, the measure allowed the City of Industry to sell 72 acres of undeveloped freeway frontage with major geotechnical concerns to the Pomona Unified School District for $1.00.

Gary Neely, a current district representative for Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), praised the bill in a Los Angeles Times commentary:

"This bill would further require the City of Industry to donate $8 million a year for the next 15 years into a fund to be used to construct low- to moderate-income housing within a 15-mile radius of their city's boundaries.”

In addition, the City of Industry provided $5.4 million needed for the extensive grading needed to build the school.

Before a building even took shape, a 350-member booster club had formed in support of the campus. Sisk recalls the community frustration with a series of delays.  

"The core stayed together for our kids out of fear the high school wasn’t going to become a reality without parent oversight,” Sisk said.

In 1992, Patrick Leier, in his role as the new PUSD Superintendent, hired the architectural firm of Morphosis to design a campus beset with challenges.

Besides geotechnical and budget issues, there were problems of jurisdiction. With the entry point in Pomona and the buildings in Diamond Bar, law enforcement jurisdictional boundaries between Pomona Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff, serving Diamond Bar, needed clarification.

Five years of seemingly endless hurdles passed before the first principal, Albert Webb, opened the school in portable classrooms.

Two years later, students transferred to the permanent facility that Architecture Week described as "a rare example of architecture that not only inspires but also educates."

The über modern design is not without its critics, who deride it as prison-like. However, the jutting sculptural campus led the Hyatt Foundation to honor lead architect Thom Mayne with its prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize for its contribution to the art of architecture.

Mayor Steve Tye, whose wife Patty teaches at Diamond Ranch, said the city is "blessed we are to have two award-winning high schools serving Diamond Bar students every day in every classroom."

"The effort was lengthy," Tye said, "but the educators and students at Diamond Ranch High School have proven over and over again that it was worth it."

Lydia Plunk July 31, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Randie- Thank you for sharing your experience. Would love to chat with you about the early years sometime.
Gary August 16, 2011 at 10:04 AM
Thanks for the Props, Carol. It WAS a huge effort pursued by many and I am very proud to say I was but one. Now, every time I drive by there on the 60 freeway, however, I like so many others I'm sure, point and say, if only to myself: "That's my high school". And, then personally, I always smile as I think about those who worked in that old building over on South Garey and who, for so many years, kept telling us it would, could and should never happen. (I don't think they work there anymore, btw.) :)
Gary L. Neely September 29, 2011 at 06:37 AM
I know the people involved with the City of Industry don't spend a lot of time scanning all the different media sources in order to make sure everything said about them is accurate, and there aren't many folks outside of Industry that are predisposed to do go out of their way to make sure that city is treated fairly in the press, so I want to take the time to clear the record up on the one comment made above about how the federal government had a requirement for Industry to build homes and it was in order to get out from under some federal judgement that Industry agreed to participate in making Diamond Ranch High School a reality. That wasn't true. There is not, nor has there ever been any such federal requirement.
Gary L. Neely September 29, 2011 at 06:41 AM
The State, however, does have a requirement for every city to build what the state feels is their fair share of low-to-moderate income housing and the State did have a number for the City of Industry just like every other city at that time. Redevelopment agencies also have a state-mandated requirement to set aside funds targeted to build a certain number of low-to-mod houses as a percentage of their redevelopment projects. . However, cities don't build houses. Developers build houses. And, if a developer doesn't want to build any houses, or there's no room left for these houses to be built, in a city, they don't get built. This was the case for the City of Industry when we approached the City Manager and other city staff members with a request for them to donate property to the PUSD in order to build a high school to service North Diamond Bar and Phillips Ranch. They were under no real pressure to build anything, but they chose to see if they could help us out anyway.
Gary L. Neely September 29, 2011 at 06:43 AM
The suggestion regarding the trade of property on Tres Hermanos for relief from State mandates to build homes anytime in the future came from then State Senator Frank Hill. It wasn't a request from Industry to pursue that end which headed us down the road that eventually lead to a deal where Industry's Redevelopment Agency would sell PUSD the property upon which DRHS sits for one dollar, pay for the $15M it cost to do the site's required grading and also pay about $10M every year since into a fund managed by L.A. County to build low-to-moderate income housing anywhere within a fifteen mile radius of the City of Industry. Truth be know, through this agreement, the money Industry has paid to L.A.County to build low-to-mod housing over the years has resulted in Industry being the single largest source of funds used for the actual construction of low-to-mod housing in Southern California.... and, one of the very few cities in California to have met their State-mandated requirements related to housing. It really was true that this was a deal with no losers. Every one involved won. Even the low-to-mod housing advocates.

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