History of James Leitch

In 1862, James Leitch emigrated with his brother David from the Glasgow vicinity of Scotland. James chose to live in Warm Springs where he bought 105 acres of fairly flat land rising gradually up to the hills. He returned to Scotland to marry his sweetheart, Christina, and brought her back to live on his ranch. Two children were born: a boy, James Alexander, and a girl, Katherine. When Christina died, James hired a house keeper to take care of the children. She was also from Scotland , and her name was Isabella. He later married her, and they had a daughter, Margaret. James raised chickens and walnuts on his ranch. He was also very interested in the newly formed Warm Springs School District, and became its first trustee.

Following James' death in 1904, Isabella gave an acre of ground to her stepson, James Alexander (Alex). He built a four-room house on it, and later married Georgia Abel, daughter of George F. Abel of Illinois, a Civil War veteran. They had a son, James Orville Leitch, who is the last to bear the family name, as there are no heirs.

In 1910, Alex sold his stepmother's share of the property, 33 acres, to Joseph F. Vargas. That same year he became a member of the Warm Springs District Board of Trustees and held the position until he died in 1929. The ranch was left to his wife, Georgia, and their son, James Orville.

Orville followed in the family tradition by winning a seat on the school board as trustee in 1948. He continued to be a member until the district was absorbed through unification in 1964 into the Fremont Unified School District. During the latter part of his trusteeship, the Warm Springs School Board purchased ten acres of land from the Leitch family, to be used for a new elementary school.

In September 1965, the James Leitch Elementary School opened its doors to kindergarten through third grade children. It was located on Fernald Avenue in the center of the ten acres. Architect, John M. Evans, of Oakland was the designer and it was constructed at a cost of $365,440. It is a one-story conventional A frame style built around a rectangular functional yard.

The dedication ceremony was held on April 26, 1966. Leitch and his mother, Georgia, who was then 89 years old, were guests of honor. They presented a gift to the school in the form of an American flag. The PTA gave the California bear flag. A third grade class led the Pledge of Allegiance. The audience participated in the singing of America the Beautiful. Reverend Jon Wampler, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, gave the invocation and at the end of the ceremony, the benediction.

John J. Lanthier served as a teacher and principal for the first year and a half. John then became full-time principal until June 1969. Ann Shepherd moved from Fremont Elementary School to become the school secretary and served there a number of years.

The school and teaching staff at the time included:

  • Jeanne Karow and Miss Shapeero taught Kindergarten
  • Mrs. T. Ziama, Lynn Johnston, Miss Berggren, Miss Powers, and Miss Honi taught first grade
  • Shirley Nomura taught second grade
  • Mrs. Wampler and Betty Bates taught third grade
  • Sue Nielsen was the Library Clerk
  • and Albert A. Durazo, who transferred from the Warm Springs Elementary School, was the Custodian.

In September 1969, James T. Howden became the second principal. The James Leitch School had originally been selected to be a pilot school for the Early Childhood Education Program (ECE). Jim Howden saw a large part of the program developed but passed away very suddenly in August 1973.

The ECE Program provided for great parent involvement in the school program. About 100 parents came to the school each week. It was an individualized program designed to meet the needs of each child and made use of aides in each classroom.

In October 1973, Spencer Lewis was appointed the new principal. He had previously worked with Howden as a teacher, and as his vice-principal. He carried on the philosophies and program of ECE.

The school won the Cleanest School Award in Fremont from 1971-74. Mrs. Curteman's class was seen on Public Educational Television in 1976. The theme was a patriotic one for the American bicentennial year called "Musical Salute to America ." A memorial garden, dedicated to James T. Howden, is located in the school's courtyard. On most days children are found seated on the benches enjoying some special activity.

In 1977, John Peacock, who had previously served as principal of Fremont School, became Leitch principal when Fremont School was closed due to declining enrollment.

With the passing of Bond Measure A in 1991, the school renewed its facilities, upgraded the telecommunications system and added new classrooms. An entire new wing was completed for the Fall of 1995. A new computer lab gave students exposure to new technology.

In line with the FUSD's goals, the James Leitch Technology Committee was founded in 1996 and is still going strong to this day. Its mission statement is: "All James Leitch students and staff will have access to, and maintain educational technology to enhance learning across the curriculum and enable everyone at the school to become active learners and thinkers." By the Summer of 1998, every classroom at James Leitch had at least one computer with access to a local area network (LAN) as well as Internet access. The network planning and implementation was carried through with volunteer effort lead by Eric Layton and James Leitch Principal at the time, Marie Troiano.

James Leitch School was chosen to be one of the 200 schools across the nation to participate in the Space Program of 1998. Posters, which were to be sent to outer space in the Space Shuttle, were signed by each student at the school.