By KATIE WATTS / Petaluma Towns Corresponent
Casa Grande High School has more than homecoming to celebrate this fall. It turned 40 in September, marking a process of maturation that began in 1972.
That year the Petaluma Library at Fourth and B streets was running out of room. You could buy a new eastside house for $27,000, Lucasfilms had recently used the city to shoot “American Graffiti.”
About 1,000 students were expected on the first day of school at the new Casa Grande Junior-Senior High, built on 70 acres at the far southeast edge of town. Much of the campus was unfinished when they arrived
The classroom building was ready, as were the music building and office. Still to come were the gym, cafeteria, library and the building that housed counselors, the student store and technical arts.
“It was constant construction for the first three years,” said Bill Anderson, the school’s first principal. Because there was no football field, home games were played at Petaluma High’s Durst Field, boosting the schools’ rivalry.
“There was always tremendous support from eastside residents and the board of education,” Anderson said, “and the Boosters Club was incredible — still is.”
Anderson has since retired and speaks with pride about his years at the “Big House,” a reference to the real Casa Grande, Vallejo’s Adobe.
In fact, Anderson said, with no football field and an incomplete gym, the Class of 1974 held its graduation ceremony at the Adobe.
During the ensuing 40 years, Casa Grande has gained a reputation for its sports programs, producing athletes that include Jonny Gomes, a designated hitter with the Oakland Athletics.
Other notable programs include the Academic Decathlon, a class that prepares students for a series of 10 scholastic events, and the United Anglers, a program in which students recreate fish habit along Adobe Creek.
Last February, for the 28th year in a row, the school’s Academic Decathlon team won the North Bay Region event and went on to compete at state level. Ac Dec is a series of 10 scholastic events ranging from math, economics, art history and science quizzes to giving a speech, writing an essay and participating as a team in a “superquiz.”
Elvis Wong, member of the 2011 team, described it as “a class where you are constantly challenged to work outside of your comfort zone, to submerge yourself into an intensive learning environment which is beyond the conventional high school curriculum.”
Thirty years ago, wildlife biology teacher Tom Furrer and his students took on the ambitious United Anglers program, rebuilding seven miles of Adobe Creek to recreate fish habitat. A hatchery was built on campus where students raise steelhead trout and salmon and release them into the Bay.
Former Peace Corps member Lynne Moquete was attracted by an employment ad seeking a teacher for the school’s Human Interaction class.
“I was so impressed a school district was progressive enough to understand the need for a class like that,” she said, “and loved that it wasn’t called ‘Life Skills’ or ‘Health’ but ‘Human Interaction,’ how we, as humans, get along.”
Moquete applied, got the job and has taught the class for 17 years.
“As kids’ needs have become greater, our school has figured out marvelous ways to have students interface more with the same teacher,” she said. “Teachers are able to know their students better.”
Students also are offered various pathways, depending on interests and aptitudes.
Gabby Salinas, member of the Class of 2006 and working toward becoming a Registered Nurse, speaks glowingly of a system in which she could focus on health care courses during her junior and senior years. She singled out her counselor, Darryl Yagi, now retired.
“No one in my family had ever gone to college,” she said, “but Darryl told me, ‘No, there’s more,’ and motivated me.”
They are just a few of the things that make Casa Grande special, said current principal Linda Scheele. “I have lived in several states and worked at a number of schools, and I can say with confidence that there is no finer staff and student body than at Casa Grande.”