Published in Parker Magazine Spring/Summer 2016

By Pat Flynn ’75

When students, faculty and staff arrived for the first day of school on the Linda Vista Campus in the fall of 1971, it was as if the air was charged. I was a freshman.

We buzzed with excitement about our new library, classrooms, labs and gym. We marveled at how much space we had in contrast to the cramped conditions we left behind in Mission Hills, where we had numbered about 500 K–12 students. And we admired the vision of the trustees, led by department store owner George Scott, that brought about the purchase of land with views spanning from the mountain peaks to the Pacific.

But as thrilled as we were, anyone who remembers what the former San Miguel School for Boys looked like would wonder what all the buzz was about if they saw the School then, in contrast to the gleaming, airy Linda Vista Campus of today.

“It’s night and day,” said retired teacher and coach Tony Ghironi, one of several faculty and staff members who lived on campus in residences left over from San Miguel’s boarding school days.

Ghironi lived in the former headmaster’s house and made security checks on the wide-open campus at night. The total Parker real estate—above and below the canyon—was 43 acres at the time.

“We had this collection of old, eclectic buildings—mismatched buildings. Everything we did for 30 years was a make-do situation. We turned bedrooms into classrooms,” recalled Barry Cheskaty, chair of the Visual Arts Department, who started at Parker in 1976.

“When I arrived, [Headmaster] Doug Crone took me out to dorm No. 2, the farthest east, where the San Miguel students had lived,” Mr. Cheskaty said. “There was this empty room at the end that had been the lounge or the TV room. That was going to be my woodshop.”

But even before the delight of the new occupants had worn off, Parker found itself on the brink of economic catastrophe.

In 1973, a bank failure and the subsequent recall of loans for the $1.2 million San Miguel purchase rocked the Parker community.

The situation was dubbed “a financial crisis of the first order.”

The solution lay at the southern end of the campus: 23 acres of land, unused except for a dusty running track.

The school devised a Friends of Parker campaign to seek an immediate infusion of cash. Some of that came in the form of donations, but there were also loans from members of the Parker community—loans backed by the land.

“That was the only asset that we had,” recalled Phil Gildred, who served on the board from the 1960s into the 1990s. “We had the land and we felt we could part with it. We were able to sell these subscriptions—a piece of paper was all it was—and the land was the collateral. It was just Parker families who participated.”

The minutes of the Parker annual meeting of 1978 note that Mr. Gildred, then board president, announced that the loans from Parker families had been repaid with proceeds from the sale of the land, which became the North Rim residential development.

“Many, many people put countless hours into the sale of the land and all of them deserve a tremendous vote of thanks …,” the minutes state. “The school now stands in a very enviable financial condition.”

Ted Tchang, valedictorian of the Class of 1981 and a current Parker parent and board member, said he had not had much contact with the school between his graduation and the time his twin sons enrolled in 2004.

“Let’s face it, in the 1970s, when we were there, the school was on the brink of bankruptcy every year,” Mr. Tchang said. “The school didn’t have a whole lot of resources and the graduating classes were very small; mine had 46. It really surprised us when we came back to Parker in 2004. It was a different school, a better school, in just about every way you could imagine.”

Initial improvements included the building and opening of the Middle School in December 1986, the Field House in 1995 and the Amelita Galli-Curci Performing Arts Center in 1998.

But that was just the beginning. Real change occurred thanks to the decade-long Master Plan process in the 2000s, with the expansion and renovation of the Mission Hills Campus and the Linda Vista Campus at a cost of $70 million.

Mr. Tchang, whose father, Paul, served on the board in the 1970s when the school faced bankruptcy, joined the board in 2006 in the midst of the Master Plan work and served on the board’s facilities committee.

“It’s a testament to the strength of the Parker community that we raised $35 million, essentially, and borrowed the rest,” he said. “It’s still incredible.

“By the time I got involved, the Lower School Campus was already completed and the Upper School was underway,” he said. “You have to give credit to the previous board that had the vision to launch the undertaking.”

Mr. Tchang said a consultant had told the trustees that they would be able to raise less than $10 million, but the board pressed ahead.

The Master Plan was completed in six phases: the Mission Hills Campus renovation and expansion (completed in 2004); synthetic turf and lights for the Linda Vista Campus (2004); 29 classrooms, Viterbi Science Center, Nicholas Commons, office and Senior Lawn (2006); Linda Vista Campus library, Middle School classrooms, Tchang Science Building and Middle School Courtyard (2007); Visual Arts Center, music studios and Peters Family Building (2009); and J. Crivello Hall (2009).

“We got a brand-new campus that is spectacular,” Mr. Cheskaty said. “We finally had a campus commensurate with our national reputation. It looks like a small liberal arts college with beautiful architecture.”

According to Jeff Silberman ’75, a trustee since 2009 and Board Chair-elect, “It wasn’t just about building shiny new buildings for the sake of having a pretty school. It was consistent with the mission of the school, to develop the whole child and productive citizens of the world. This was always done with the best interests of the students in mind. It is a changing world, and we wanted to keep up with the technology, the science, provide more outlets in the arts and music.

“Not only do we attract more students but also more funders, some of whom are not just interested in the physical plant, but in funding scholarships and financial aid.”

Chris Harrington, the Vassiliadis Family Chair of English, started teaching at Parker in 1991.

“I’ve seen a significant transformation. The state-of-the art buildings allow state-of-the-art technology. The students benefit from that greatly.

“It used to be that we had a great program, but kind of an interim plant. Now, the program and the plant are both something to be proud of. These classrooms are better places to teach and learn in. It’s a comfortable learning environment. When kids are comfortable, they learn better.”

Shara Freeman Hoefel
Head of Advancement
Francis Parker School
858 / 874-3374
6501 Linda Vista Road
San Diego, CA 92111