A look back in time

S. Taylor Johnson left his mark on Oceanside schools (Part 2)

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Editor's note: The final part of a two-part series. To read Part 1, click here

S. Taylor Johnson’s arrival in Oceanside in 1918 as the Oceanside School District’s new supervising principal brought stability and direction to a fractured community during its formative post-World War I growth era.

The fact that Johnson ever made it to Oceanside was a tribute to his value and determination. Confident enough to turn down the position a year earlier due to the salary, it was the Oceanside Board of Education that returned to him less than a year later, giving in to his salary demand without questions. He remained undeterred as factions from the community tried their hardest to dissuade him from coming by, telling him that the community did not want him and that he would soon be fired after the faction’s candidate is elected to the board.

After settling into a house with his wife, Maude, at 36 Stevens St., Johnson was in charge of a school district with about 500 students who were taught by 17 teachers. The district had one school building — a structure that would end up being commonly referred to as “Central School” and School No. 1 — and would eventually morph into the district’s high school, junior high school, an elementary school and, finally, a sixth-grade center before being closed and eventually demolished in 1981.

While Johnson immediately discovered that the community was fractured, he was determined to stay out of the fray and do his job as principal. He immediately set up a new recordkeeping system and policies that continued in the district for decades. As an advocate of progressive methods, he helped modernize the district’s teaching methods with ideas such as having noon dances for high school students as a way of providing a supervised lunch hour.

As the district’s population continued to grow, Johnson feverishly worked to get community support for bond measures passed that would allow for the construction of new buildings. Even after some propositions were defeated, Johnson took the high road and put the emphasis on trying to do what he felt was in the best interest of the students. This eventually led to the construction of Terrell Avenue School No. 2 in 1921, Oaks School No. 3 in 1926, South Oceanside Road School No. 4 in 1926, School No. 5 in 1928 and the new High School No. 6 in 1934. Upon the opening of the then-newly constructed Oceanside High School, which is today’s Kindergarten Center, a segment of the Oceanside community sought to name the new structure in Johnson’s honor. While that effort did not succeed, it is illustrative of his impact on the school district and how highly regarded he was in the community.

Possibly Johnson’s most impactful decision was the hiring of Walter S. Boardman. Due to the district’s population growth, officials were permitted to create a schools superintendent position in 1926. Johnson was promptly appointed as the inaugural superintendent — by a board that had different trustees than those that initially hired him eight years earlier. Johnson then hired Boardman as the principal of OHS.

Upon Johnson’s retirement in 1940 at age 70, the board appointed Boardman, his protégé, to take over as the superintendent. Despite initially entering into a district replete with infighting and turnover, the two men led the district for 41 years combined and gave it stability and credibility.

In describing Johnson at his testimonial dinner, Fred Shaw, who was counsel to the board and a future trustee, aptly summed up the difficulty that Johnson faced during his years in Oceanside and the methods in which he dealt with them.

“His accomplishments have not been performed without criticism,” Shaw said. “The worth of a man is sometimes shown by the criticism heaped upon him. During the tenure of this educator, the angry, swirling, tumbling, frothing billows of passion, hatred, selfishness, greed, politics [and] personal desires battered the shores of his administration, only to spend their force against his calm judgment, then gently, in a frothy, angry mass, slink back to the oblivion from whence they came.

“It was not as an educator alone that we honor…[f]or the man himself is greater than anything he does,” Shaw continued. “His gentleness, his kindness, his consideration for the feelings of others, the moderation of his language, make him at all times and under all circumstances the gentleman and endears him to all his associates. His aims and ideals have been an inspiration to those who have worked with him.”

While he remained active, Johnson’s retirement did not last long. He came down with a chronic case of bronchitis during a visit to Daytona Beach, Fla., and died on May 29, 1942. S. Taylor Johnson was survived by his wife, his son, a daughter, and thousands of students who pass through the schools of the Oceanside School District.