By DON STINE
Fifty years ago this month Ocean Township High School opened its doors for the first time to greet about 1,000 students- a move that would change the township school district forever.
The opening of the high school in September, 1965 was a turning point for both Ocean Township and Asbury Park- the school district that, up to that year, educated most of Ocean Township’s students.
“When the school opened in September, there was no senior class since seniors had returned to Asbury Park to graduate with their class. It was only until the next year that the high school had its first graduating class and published its first yearbook, called The Sandpiper,” said Township of Ocean Historical Museum Exhibit Director Peggy Dellinger.
A mini-exhibit, called “OTHS at 50” and sponsored by the museum, is opening at the Eden Woolley House, on Sun.,Sept. 6 from 1 to 4 p.m. and runs through the end of November. The exhibit uses photographs, press clippings and artifacts to demonstrate how the school’s history mirrors five decades of social and political change.
“Join us to learn about our talented graduates and the history of the school that shaped them,”
The historic Eden Woolley House is located at 703 Deal Road, near the township library and for more information go to www.oceanmuseum.org Admission to the museum is free but donations are welcomed.
According to historical museum records, Ocean Township built at least nine schools between 1784 and 1960 but none was a high school. Graduating eighth graders had a choice: to go to Asbury Park or Long Branch high schools but most chose Asbury Park.
By 1962, Ocean Township students at Asbury Park High School outnumbered city students by 713 to 558. Ocean Township was rapidly growing in population and more than 1,000 high school-age students were projected by 1966. Asbury Park High School, on split session since the late 1950s, was already overcrowded.
Asbury Park asked Ocean Township to sign a 20-year contract with the city as a condition for its undertaking a building expansion but the township refused. There was also talk of regionalization, at first rejected and later revisited by the city, but it was too late.
A full-blown campaign for an Ocean Township high school, spearheaded by the PTAs, got underway. On June 12, 1962, by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, township voters approved an almost $3 million bond referendum to build their own junior/senior high school. The baby boomers were crowding classrooms everywhere.
“The new school was actually the junior/senior high school when it first opened, taking students in the 7th through 11th grades. That was to relieve the elementary schools that were facing spit sessions themselves,” Dellinger said.
She said the Wayside Elementary School was built in 1970 and it is believed that is when the high school became solely freshman through senior classes. The Intermediate School was built in 1975 to also alleviate crowding in the school system.
“The grade configuration changed a number of times in the first 10 to 13 years of the high school,” Dellinger said.
And a look through almost half-a-century of yearbooks reveals more than changing hair styles and hemlines, she said.
“In the 1960s, Industrial Arts were just for boys and Home Economics was just for girls but, for the first time in the 1970s, girls had golf, tennis and soccer teams. And, in a unique switch, girls fixed cars and boys baked cakes,” she said.
The school district still has three elementary schools, an intermediate school, and a high school- with enrollment at the high school about 1,200 students. More than 90 percent of graduates go on to two- or four-year colleges, with others going into the military or the workplace.
Ocean Township Superintendent of Schools James Stefankiewicz said that the High School frequently ranks among the best in the county and state when rated by different sources, such as magazines and newspapers.
He said that the Ocean Township High School was rated one of the top 100 in the state by New Jersey Monthly Magazine and voted the second “most challenging” school in Monmouth County by the Washington Post newspaper.
“We usually make the top of the lists in both the county and the state,” he said.
Stefankiewicz said High School Principal Kelly Weldon is working with staff to discuss some 50th anniversary celebrations or events. He said he also wants to work with the museum to develop an academic Hall of Fame.
“It would let people relive and tap into many high school graduates we have had in the past 50 years,” he said. “We have some pretty amazing people in all walks of life.
They are in the forefront and innovators in field- it’s a pretty amazing group of people and we are very proud of them.”