Baker started as a district in 1865, at which time four others existed. As the county seat was shifted to Baker, transportation improved and mining thrived; the city grew rapidly. The coming of the railroad (1884) and the concurrent development of hardrock mines, lumbering and cattle ranches boosted Baker into the position of distribution center for the area.
Baker's first school was in a kitchen in 1866. A public school followed on what is now the 1900 block on Main Street. It continued until 1871. The district then received land from the State of Oregon between Center Street (Broadway) and Court. That tract became the site for a private academy, which yielded to the public school, and later for elementary and high school buildings. It continues in such use.
When the private Baker City Academy closed in 1885, the district began plans for a three-story 10-room building for all grades. It opened with 606 pupils. That high school was the second in the Northwest.
However, it became necessary for the district to build auxiliary buildings for the use until 1900. Then the district zoned the city and built three elementary schools between 1900 and 1908. The stone high school was constructed in 1917, thus relieving the original large structure. In 1925, the fourth elementary school was constructed at Churchill, and the Junior High School in 1934-35. The original school was demolished.
That school, with its first graduating class in 1891, established educational patterns which were widely adopted in the Northwest including the vocational classes, music, drama, athletics, and a well-rounded curriculum.
Superintendent J. A. Churchill later became State Superintendent and president of Southern Oregon Normal School.
Post-1900 homestead laws opened the backlands to settlement in the county. Many homesteads were marginal, but small schools started to serve children within walking distance. The schools were simple, often constructed by the parents, and taught by teachers who "boarded around".
As depression came on, districts were hard-pressed; as W.W. II engulfed the land, many residents deserted the backlands, and schoolhouses were empty. Buildings were poorly maintained over the county.
In 1946, the Baker Superintendent instituted the reorganization plan, which was approved by the board of education. As a result, during the next 16 years, 45 districts joined Huntington; and 14 joined Unity. Three united with North Powder.
Those joining District 5J were: Auburn District (1), started in 1862, founded on gold and located southwest of Baker; Pocahontas (2), 1862, gold and population center, west of Baker; James (3) 1863, ranching, west of Baker; Wingville (4) 1864, ranching, northwest of Baker; Rock Creek (7) 1866, ranching near Haines; Ebell (8) 1867, south of Baker; Fairview (11) 1870, ranching, northwest of Baker; Pleasant Valley (12) 1870, ranching south of Baker; Lookout (13), a homesteaded school; Troy (14) in the canyon south of Baker; Weatherby (15), beside the Oregon Trail, South; Muddy Creek (17), once a high school district, in north Baker Valley; McEwen (18) in lower Sumpter Valley, one time railhead for Sumpter Valley Railroad; Plano (19), where the Oregon Trail entered Durkee Valley; Keating (22), lower Powder Valley; Haines (24), one-time high school in Haines; Pondosa (26) near Medical Springs; Durkee (27) on the Oregon Trail south; Lone Pine (28) , at the foot of the Elkhorn Mountains northwest of Baker; Washington (29), Lower Powder Valley; Sumpter (31), in Sumpter, former high school district; Stewart (32), in Bowen Valley; Bourne (34), in canyons north of Sumpter; Beaver Creek (35) above Bowen Valley; Lockhart (36), in Powder River Canyon above Salisbury; Alden Creek (37), near Pleasant Valley; Goose Creek (38) in Lower Powder Valley; Missouri Flat (40) north of Baker; Pleasant View (4*) near Balm Creek; Rock Springs (53) on grade to Sparta; Mountain View (56) on east side of Keating Valley; Manning Creek (66) east of Durkee; Sunnyslope (69) east of Baker; B* Lookout (70) on Lookout Mountain but distributed to Districts 5J, 61, and 16J; Rohner (73) near Love Reservoir; Riverview (75) homestead school NE of Haines; Five Mile (76) on east slope of Little Lookout; Virtue Flat (77) east of Baker; Judd Creek (79) near Durkee; Mountain Home (81) near Beaver Creek; Sutton Creek (82) south of Baker; Blue Mountain (84) near Ponderosa; Oregon Cooper (87) near Mother Lode Mine.
In the reorganization plan, Baker District 5J rebuilt or renovated elementary schools Keating, Haines, North Baker, Churchill, the former high school and the junior high school (middle school) buildings; built new elementary schools at South Baker, Brooklyn; added onto North Baker and Churchill; built a new high school and athletic facilities; enlarge all school grounds; purchased a school farm; renovated school curriculum; and followed a faculty involvement program.
The school earned national recognition on four occasions.
District 5J maintains a high school and four elementary schools and a middle school in Baker and elementary schools at Keating and Haines.
The District has been accredited continuously since 1918, the longest such accreditation in the state.
From the days of log cabins in 1862
until 1946, Baker County developed 108 school districts, many in
remote mining, lumbering, or homestead country. As economics and
transportation changed, so did school needs. From 1946 until 1966,
schools consolidated into four districts under the "20-Year Plan."
In this June of 1986, the four districts in Baker County and North Powder district (8J) are operating in relatively modern facilities as a result of reorganization and reconstruction. Each offers 12 Years of training. Two small districts have shifted to a 4-day week as an economy measure and to accommodate athletic games without interruption of class time.
Pine-Eagle district (61) operates a high school (enrollment 119) and an elementary school (enrollment 155) in Halfway. The district also has an elementary school (85) in Richland.
Huntington (16J) has a high school of 57 and an elementary school of 93. Burnt River (30J) has a high school of 27 and an elementary school of 38.
North Powder (8J) has about 44 in high school and 90 the elementary.
Baker district (5J) has 677 in high school, 312 in the Middle School (grades 7-8), a total of 1,003 in four elementary schools in Baker, 77 in Haines elementary school and 15 in Keating (grades 1-4).
Each school district cooperates with private pre-school training. Each offers help for slow-learners or handicapped students, with assistance from the Education Service District.
Each local district has a board of education, a superintendent, and a bus system.
There is an Education Service District at the county level. That district acts as liaison between the state and local districts and helps districts as arranged by resolutions.
In true frontier spirit, much of Baker County's quality of living is self-motivated. Neighbors help neighbors, and people gather in home-managed clubs or organizations to help each other. Listed below are some of those service clubs and organizations. Their current addresses are available through the local Chamber of Commerce.
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