In the 19th century, Manhattan Beach was largely uninhabited and consisted mainly of wild verbena and scrub-bush-covered hills with a large, distinctive sand dune running the length of the area from the beach to the hills at the east. The development of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1888 and the construction of an electric transit line from Marina Del Rey to Redondo in 1903 ushered in the development to the region and the origins of what is today, Manhattan Beach.
The city of Manhattan Beach, which had previously been under the umbrella of the city of Los Angeles, was incorporated in December 1912. Children in town attended the 11,000-acre Wiseburn School District. In 1911, the city’s students moved to the Daugherty Brothers office building at Marine and Ocean and later to the basement of the community church on Highland Avenue. The first trustees of the Manhattan Beach City School District were elected by the people on April 4, 1913. The first business meeting was held on April 25, 1913, at which time they decided to hold an election to vote for a bond issue of $23,000 to purchase land and erect buildings. The successful election consisted of 21 votes which were cast in favor of the bond. These funds were used to build its first educational facility, Center School (now Pacific Elementary School), at the corner of Center Street (Manhattan Beach Boulevard) and Pacific Avenue with 43 students, four classrooms and two teachers. The women had to sign a contract with five elements: they could not smoke, they could not cut their hair, they could not wear slacks, they could not be married, and they had to live in town. A lot has changed since then!
During WWII, only one new school was erected – Grand View Elementary. This was due to the shortage of building materials needed for the war effort. Grand View opened its doors for the fall term of 1939. In October 1946, the board began planning for additional school sites and administrative facilities. The post-war population boom saw tremendous growth throughout the Los Angeles region.
When the area east of Sepulveda Boulevard, including Liberty Village, was developed, Meadows Elementary, Manhattan Heights, Foster Begg and others were built. A few of the town’s elementary schools were named after some of the women who helped develop the district. In 1955, Curtis Street School was renamed Pennekamp Elementary after Aurelia Pennekamp, who was hired by the district in 1926 as a part-time nurse and was employed full-time in the 1940s. Morningside School was renamed Robinson Elementary after Opal Robinson, who began teaching in the district in 1926, was the first principal of Grand View Elementary and served as an assistant superintendent until she retired in 1959.
Until Mira Costa High School was built in 1950, the students attended Redondo’s high school. At that time Manhattan Beach was an elementary school district and Mira Costa High School was part of the South Bay Union High School District. On three separate occasions, beginning in 1964, initiatives to unify the Manhattan Beach elementary schools with area high schools were placed before the community for vote. Finally, in November of 1992, Proposition V was approved by the voters; and a split unification of the South Bay Union High School District was enacted, creating both Redondo Beach Unified School District and Manhattan Beach Unified School District. Manhattan Beach is consistently ranked as one of the top five districts in the State of California.
By the 1990’s, the newly minted Manhattan Beach Unified School District realized the need to relieve overcrowding within the District as well as modernize their existing schools, most of which were already nearing the half-century mark. The voters of Manhattan Beach approved Measure A in 1996, by two-thirds required margin, for $47.3 million for these much-needed improvements. The construction of a new middle school at Polliwog Park moved the 6th grade from the elementary schools, relieving the five elementary schools of much of their overcrowding. Each elementary school was systematically modernized in its entirety by temporarily utilizing the old Manhattan Beach Intermediate School as interim housing while construction was underway. Upon completion of these modernizations, the Intermediate School became the new home of the Manhattan Beach Preschool program. The City of Manhattan Beach approved Measure M in 2000 in the amount of $26 million. The funds were slated for much-needed upgrades to Mira Costa High School, including fire and life safety standards, repair and rehabilitation of existing educational spaces, and the construction of additional space to relieve overcrowding at the high school.
In 2008, the residents of Manhattan Beach approved Measure BB for $67.5 million with 62% of the votes. The proceeds from this bond were slated for renovations, repairs, and new teaching spaces at the then 58-year-old Mira Costa High School. The final elements of these improvements were completed in 2015, with the final audit and Bond Oversight Committee reports finalized and accepted by the Board on March 1, 2017
On November 8, 2016, the voters of Manhattan Beach approved two bond measures. Measure C is a $114 million measure that will be used primarily at our elementary schools to improve infrastructure (including completing air conditioning for all classrooms), replace the Ladera campus at Grand View, and make improvements to each elementary site, based on the Facilities Master Plan developed in 2015. Measure EE is a $39 million measure to replace the outdated and undersized gymnasium at Mira Costa High School.
On June 5, 2018 the citizens of Manhattan Beach voted on Measure MB, a local funding measure in the form of a parcel tax. The measure received 69.25% voter approval, exceeding the minimum requirement of 66.67% needed to pass. Measure MB levies an annual $225 parcel tax (for six years) to provide this stable, reliable revenue for our schools.
Today, there are eight schools, more than 900 teachers and staff members, and more than 5,800 students in the district.
Manhattan Beach Unified School District is ranked one of the top districts in the state with a graduation rate of 99% and a UC/CSU A-G completion rate of 84%.