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School named for leader with foresight

• James M. Foster was superintendent from 1966 to 1986.

Posted: April 28, 2008 2:30 a.m.
Updated: June 29, 2008 5:04 a.m.

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Editor's note: Over the next several weeks, The Signal is giving you a closer look at local schools named for individuals.

Of the 15 schools in the Saugus Union Elementary School District, two have been named for former superintendents who left legacies of fostering excellence in education for all students in the communities of Canyon Country, Saugus, and Valencia.

James Foster Elementary School was named for James M. Foster, who was superintendent for twenty years - from 1966 to 1986. When Foster took over the district helm in 1966, the Santa Clarita Valley was mostly farmland with developments of homes sprouting up everywhere.

From the beginning, Foster demonstrated his forward thinking as he focused on providing housing for the growing student population. On a piece of land that had formerly served as a Los Angeles County juvenile facility, Foster succeeded in providing classrooms for students who would eventually attend Rosedell Elementary in September 1967 and Highlands Elementary in September 1970.

Foster took the district through some tough, financial times, especially when families left the state as a result of the 1971 earthquake. Because of his leadership, vital programs would be maintained, new ones created, staffing enhanced and an accountability program piloted.

Foster was a visionary and, as the Santa Clarita Valley began to grow again, he envisioned not only a very nice school for children but also a facility that could be used in case of a downturn. So, before he retired, Foster negotiated two parcels of land for the Foster Elementary School site.

The groundbreaking on Feb. 29, 1988, turned out to be a "cake-breaking" at Santa Clarita Elementary School, after a "three-day rainstorm that turned the new school site into a sea of mud unsuitable for such a ceremony," according to an article in the March 2, 1988 edition of The Signal.

Foster was the guest of honor at the ceremony and was recognized for his role in the planning of the school, which was designed to be converted to condominiums should the student attendance ever drop. James Foster Elementary opened on Pamplico Drive in Saugus in September 1989, and the student population is still flourishing.

In 1985, Foster passed on his legacy to Charles A. Helmers, another Saugus superintendent with a school named for him. Foster remained in Canyon Country after his retirement until his death on Dec. 23, 2002.

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