When Sunset Valley Elementary opened in August 1971 it was considered to be out in the country. Much of the area around the school was farm land or undeveloped. Many of the roads had only just been paved in the 1960s. The City of Sunset Valley, which had been incorporated in September 1954, was beginning to feel the expanding City of Austin bumping up against its boundaries. The photo at the right shows Brodie Lane (left side of photo) around the 1960s about 1 mile south of the school.
The school had under 250 students in grades one through six that first year. Kindergarten was still being established in Texas. Most of the new students were drawn from Joslin, Cunningham and Barton Hills Elementary schools. The school serviced essentially all of what was then considered southwest Austin.
An early PTA document offered this description:
“The newest elementary school in Austin, Sunset Valley, has been built with a large media center or library centrally located. Semi-open learning areas are located on each side of the library and are arranged with units for contained classrooms and open areas for learning circles. Basically three grades occupy each area.
The cafetorium is equipped to be used for eating with tables and chairs or as an auditorium. The stage is complete with curtain and sound equipment. The back portion of the auditorium is equipped for use as a gymnasium.”
The original building did not include the 300 and 400 wings. The classrooms facing the front (102 & 103) and rear (202 & 203) were originally open out into the pod area. 203 is shown in the photo.
A message from principal Carl Wheeler (pictured with secretary Mrs. Gillespie) stated:
“The establishment of a good elementary school in a new facility is our joint responsibility this year. To be successful in our task we must have the cooperation and support of the students, the parents and the staff.”
The school’s original colors were orange and yellow while the mascot was the scorpion. At some point in the 1970s the school started using this cheer:
Scorpions, Scorpions, Go, Go Go!
Sting ‘em high, sting ‘em low!
Sting ‘em on the toe!
Yea Sunset Valley!
It was used on and off until the scorpion was no longer the mascot in 1991.
The first fundraiser was a “Tasting Dinner.” People would pay an admission charge to go through a buffet line sampling a variety of dishes brought in by parents. School music groups provided entertainment. This tradition would continue for several years.
The large tract of land purchased by the Austin Independent School District for the school also included plans for a major athletic complex and bus barn. The city of Sunset Valley was happy to have the school but vehemently opposed the athletic complex. Legal battles lasted for two years and got as far as the Texas Supreme Court. AISD eventually prevailed and the Burger Center was completed in 1976.
The second year for Sunset Valley saw a significant but manageable increase in enrollment to about 380 students. This was right at the capacity of the original building (and accounting for larger class sizes than we typically see today). One of those students was sixth grader Crystal Young, who would later be a teacher at Sunset Valley.
Also that year, the school implemented I.G.E. (Individually Guided Education). It was a non-graded program in which a child could progress at his or her own pace. He or she could move quickly through areas found easiest but take more time on things that proved more difficult. Report cards would indicate levels of achievement rather than typical grade level placement. This only lasted a few years.
For the 1973-74 year, the still young school would see significant changes. The area was becoming populated with many new homes. Enrollment jumped to an astonishing 670 students, almost 300 more than the permanent capacity of the original building. Overcrowding would be a major issue for the school through the rest of the 1970s and much of the 1980s. A new kindergarten program was launched with two classes and sixth graders began attending Joslin, which had become a Sixth Grade Center. Some former Joslin students were moved to Sunset Valley, which also was part of the increase in numbers.
In 1973 Bob Knauth (pictured with secretaries Mrs. Gillespie and Mrs. Peschke) took over as principal and Linda Walker began what would become an incredible 37 years teaching at Sunset Valley. Miss Walker retired in Summer 2010 but continues to help out in the school in many ways.
Court rulings on desegregation initiated discussions about busing, but this issue would not be resolved until several years later. Corporal punishment was becoming controversial and the district conducted a survey about it during the 1973-74 school year.
In the Fall of 1974 Oak Hill Elementary opened. This was expected to provide major relief to overcrowding at Sunset Valley, but instead the impact was only minimal. Enrollment continued to be around 600 students for the rest of the decade.
In October 1975 the City of Austin, Travis County and AISD agreed to build a sidewalk along Jones from Westgate to the school.
In 1976 the school celebrated the country’s bicentennial in a variety of ways including a student musical about George Washington called “Let George Do It!”
In Fall 1976 a new playground was built with the involvement of Dr. Joe Frost from UT, a noted expert on school playgrounds.
At the end of the 1977-78 school year Evelyn Pressler retired after 5 years at Sunset Valley and 41 years of teaching. She had transferred from Joslin when it became a Sixth Grade Center. She graduated from UT in 1937.
In Fall 1978 Johnny Boone became principal of Sunset Valley. Prior to that she had been the AISD K-3 Instructional Coordinator for 12 years. Before that she taught second grade at Joslin Elementary for 10 years. Many children of her former students ended up attending Sunset Valley. While coordinator, Mrs. Boone established kindergarten in AISD starting with just three classes in the district and growing the program to more than 150 classes. She was instrumental in working with the Texas Legislature to establish kindergarten across the state.
Since the school was so crowded during the 1970s there were many portable buildings in use. As many as ten classes were out in the portables, roughly a third of the school. At first mainly kindergarten and first grade used the portables. The portables were remodeled and in Fall 1979 fourth and fifth grade began using them while kinder and first moved into the building. Fifth grade classes had has many 32 students.
Throughout much of the 1970s music teacher Kay Greenhaw cultivated a select group of 5th graders called the Sunset Singers. Over the years they gained more and more recognition performing around town in addition to school events. Unfortunately, the group came to an end when Sunset Valley no longer had 5th grade and Mrs. Greenhaw moved to another school.