Farewell to Cardiff School

Cardiff School teacher and former student Christa Stone, Principal Julie Parker, Superintendent Jill Vinson and Cardiff School Board President Sienna Randall, also a former Cardiff student and parent.
(Karen Billing)

Cardiff School held its last assembly on the old Cardiff campus on June 6, honoring the past and the memories of the 106-year-old campus as well as celebrating the future.

“It’s a big day for us,” said Superintendent Jill Vinson, also a Cardiff School parent. “A lot of us have tried to embrace the happy because there’s so much to be excited about but it’s also a little sad when you’re saying goodbye to an old friend.”

As part of the assembly, third graders stood in a line and shared what Cardiff School means to them with one word: friendship, art, kickball, science, whimsical, engineering, inquisitive, ocean, loving, challenging, unique and birthday lunch. The whole school sang “Time of Your Life” by Green Day, prompting more than one parent to swipe away spare tears.

Julie Parker, who has been the Cardiff School principal for 24 years, said she was nostalgic about some of the physical parts of the campus that will be going including one of her favorite spots: the wall ball courts.

Cardiff third graders share what makes the school great at the last assembly on the old campus.
(Karen Billing)

“I love wall ball, I’ve played a lot of wall ball over the years at Cardiff School,” said Parker, adding that she played her final game at lunch that day with a group of girls.

The blue walls are marked with “The Cardiff Way: Act responsibly, be honest, care for others, show respect.” Recently all students and teachers signed their names to the bright blue walls before they are taken down. Parker said she is sad to see the wall balls go but she is excited that the new campus will feature six wall ball courts rather than just four.

She said she will also miss the assembly steps that the children have gathered on for hundreds of school assemblies as she has so many memories of squinting into the sun, hearing her students chime: “Good morning Ms. Parker!”

Parker said she is looking forward to the new assembly steps, which will be next to the new multi-purpose room, facing the ocean with plenty of room for parents and guests.

Third graders Wyatt, Sloane, Luca and Alice provided a brief history lesson of Cardiff School, going back to its roots in 1913 when Cardiff founder J. Frank Cullen donated the land to build the school—previously Cardiff kids had been going to school in a barn. There were just nine students in that first Cullen School, named for the city by the sea’s founder.

The new school featured the Cullen Bell, a bell from a broken down locomotive train in Santa Ana. As the kids reported, “Ringing the bell was very fun, even the shiest kids wanted to.”

When plans for a new Cardiff School were unveiled in 1950 without a belfry, students became very concerned and threatened to stay at home if they didn’t bring back the bell. The school district eventually gave in and reinstated the bell, it was restored in 1999 and remains a campus treasure used during school assemblies.

At the new Cardiff School, the bell will be right next to the assembly area on the new building so everyone can see and hear it, rather than being located across campus. During the farewell celebration, kindergartners were tasked to ring it 10 times, the 10th toll got lost in the breeze.

At the assembly, kindergarten teacher Christa Stone and Cardiff School Board President Sienna Randall shared some of their memories from when they were young Cardiff School students.

Stone said she recently took a tour of the old campus buildings set to be demolished with a former classmate and her grandmother who had been a student at Cullen School—“There were only six girls in her kindergarten class and five were named Barbara,” she said.

The memories rushed in as they remembered the old school office, beloved teachers and Fridays which were known as Picnic Day. On Picnic Days, students ate lunch outside with the options of burritos or corn dogs and peanut butter oat bars for dessert.

Ringing the Cardiff School bell.
(Karen Billing)

“If you go to Gordy’s Bakery on Encinitas Boulevard, ask for the Lunch Lady for a taste of my childhood,” Stone said.
Randall said she spent a lot of special years at Cardiff—she still has some of the same friends from her elementary school days and she still plays soccer, a sport she learned to play on the school fields.
Echoing Stone’s words, she said, “It’s not so much the building that makes the school as much as the people and the memories.”

After the Measure GG school bond was approved in late 2016, Randall said the district has worked hard with teachers, staff and the community to design a modern and safe campus while keeping the hometown charm of the current site. Some old things will stay—besides the bell, the school will keep its fire truck play structure.

“It has been a long road to get here, but we’re finally ready to begin delivering on what we promised Cardiff voters when they passed Measure GG,” Randall said. “By spring of 2021, Cardiff School students will have a fresh new campus built to the highest safety standards and designed to maximize their learning environment.”

As Superintendent Vinson said in the Cardiff district, they have only rebuilt schools about every 50 years. While a portion of the campus was renovated in 1996, the buildings that will go down are 60 to 70 years old, “we’re doing something that is once in a generation”

“This campus is really regarded as the heart of the Cardiff community and that is a wonderful and special thing,” Vinson said. “We take this responsibility very seriously because the community has entrusted us to do something amazing with this campus for kids.”

This week, second and third grade teachers will move their classrooms to the Ada Harris campus and kindergarten and first grade teachers will be relocating into temporary classrooms at Cardiff School as the rebuild project gets underway.
Construction fences will go up and demolition of buildings will take place. Grading and undergrounding of utilities will follow and will be completed by mid-August with construction scheduled to begin shortly after.

The district continues to work to resolve an issue stemming from a federal grant accepted more than 25 years ago by the City of Encinitas and the district to improve the school’s playfields. The grant agreement language currently precludes the district from building any structures within the boundaries established by the grant agreement, however, the district is going through the process of a boundary adjustment that will allow them to build as well as preserve the public recreational use of portions of the school property.

The group Save the Park and Build the School, whose rainbow-colored homemade signs can be seen all around the edges of the campus, has sued the district over its reconstruction plans for Cardiff School and its potential impacts on George Berkich Park.

While the grant issue is being resolved, the district has agreed to hold off building the multipurpose room and parking lot, which would overlap with a portion of the playfield and the current grant boundaries.

For more information on construction, visit for updates. The district hopes to soon launch an app that will provide updates for interested community members.

The old Cardiff campus.
(Karen Billing)