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Mission & Philosophy

Our History

Mary Harley Jenks and Ruth Willis founded The College Preparatory School in 1960 with 50 students and families who gambled on a place that offered a different high school experience, one that insisted on the value of deep learning.
The School thrived with the blend of high standards and care that became its signature. When College Prep outgrew its tiny Claremont Avenue location in 1983, 200 “Cougars” streamed up the hill to our open-air Broadway campus. Today, 360 students and 80 faculty and staff continue to aspire to live the motto Ms. Jenks selected from Vergil—Mens Conscia Recti—a mind aware of what is right.
The following are excerpts from "Becoming A Real School 1960-1990: The Story of The College Preparatory School" by Robert Baldwin, Jr. (Head of School, 1969-1990)

The College Preparatory School was launched in September of 1960 when thirty-three students, four teachers and a handful of parents gathered under a hot sun to hear the Reverend Charles Guilbert, Mills College Chaplain, offer his blessings and Godspeed. The site was a corner lot, 6264 Claremont Avenue, Oakland, opposite what is now a Safeway store. The double lot included a small, five-room, l9th-century farmhouse and a just-completed cement block structure containing eight classrooms. Just ten months earlier, Mary Harley Jenks and Ruth Willis had arrived in Berkeley intent on starting a school.

College Prep (referred to in the past as CPS) was the brainchild of Miss Jenks, who at 57, decided she wanted to establish a school of her own design before she retired. Throughout her career she cared deeply for the young people she served, at the same time holding them to high standards of scholarship and conduct. Her joy was to watch a student experience pleasure in learning and to see him/her delight in the life of the mind. Nonconformists, independent thinkers and students with a well-developed social conscience gave her special joy. She passed on many of these qualities to CPS graduates.

There have been modifications of Miss Jenks' original vision and the school's early style. Students no longer rise as an adult enters a classroom, dress codes have relaxed and there are no morning prayers. In the '60s and early '70s boys wore slacks and a collared shirt; girls, skirts with blouses and/or sweaters in some combination of blue and white. The lengths of boys' hair and girls' skirts were serious issues in those years.

The school has always been non-profit and co-educational. The small size, roughly 125 to 150 which the old campus dictated, turned out to be not economical and precluded curricular expansion, particularly in the arts and athletics. In considering alternate sites, the Board and I felt that it was important to retain the intimacy and intensity which characterized those early, cramped years. Yet survival demanded an expanded enrollment which, in turn, demanded more space.

Enrollment pressures became stronger as a result of many people's discontent with public schools plus CPS's own growing reputation. In the early '70s there came an opportunity to buy the six-acre parcel on Broadway which was to become the new campus. Sixteen portable wooden classroom buildings wore purchased at auction from the Oakland Unified School District for $130 each. Eleven of these are in use today, nine as classrooms, one as a Faculty Room, and one as the Business Office and adjacent library extension.

In the design of the new campus on a six-acre parcel on Broadway, every effort was made to capture both the shadow-of-Berkeley heritage and the intimacy of a central courtyard area which would be well populated and traversed during the day by students and faculty. The school moved in December of 1982, with the faculty and students doing most of the work. Since then, as enrollment has grown and a six-classroom building, the music, art and gymnasium facilities, and a science building have been added.

A full school history would include the major achievements of its students, high points in athletics, the school's listing as among the twenty five academically strongest independent schools in the country (by the Harvard Review), and the long list of students each year receiving National Merit recognition...but that's the rest of the story for another time.
    • Mary Harley Jenks at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Broadway campus, May 10, 1980

      Mary Harley Jenks at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Broadway campus, May 10, 1980

    • Joyce & Robert Baldwin, Jr.

      Joyce & Robert Baldwin, Jr.

Heads of School

Mary Harley Jenks 1960-1969
Robert Baldwin 1969-1990
Clint Wilkins 1990-1994
Janet Schwarz 1994-1999
Murray Cohen 1999-2011
Monique DeVane 2011-present

The College Preparatory School

mens conscia recti

a mind aware of what is right
Photo Credit: Dan Battle, Mark Compton, Bosky Frederick, Polly Lockman, Richard Wheeler, and Jonathan Zucker.