Judith Dale: Visiting Santa Ynez High School
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Judith Dale: Visiting Santa Ynez High School

From the Series: Judith Dale takes a look at the history of education in the Santa Ynez Valley series

This is the sixth and final article on Santa Ynez Valley schools in the Valley.


The foundation for the town of Santa Ynez was set in 1881 when the Catholic Church received congressional approval to sell the College Ranch which had been granted to the church by the Mexican government in 1843. Settlers who wanted to move to the area were allowed to buy tracts of land for $6 to $15 an acre.

The reason the town of Santa Ynez is spelled the way it is rather than Ines as is the case with Mission Santa Ines, is that the new settlers did not speak Spanish, so they spelled “Ines” as “Ynez”.

As the population increased, the need for a school for the settlers’ children became apparent.

At first the students met in private homes or stores, but in 1884, a combination grammar and high school was built on the site of today’s Santa Ynez Elementary School. This school burned down in 1908. Both a new grammar school and high school were built in separate buildings to replace the old school.

In 1937, the high school moved to its present location between Solvang and Santa Ynez. Students from all six elementary schools districts in our area (Ballard, Buellton, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Solvang and Vista de las Cruses) all attend Santa Ynez High. To accommodate a growing student population, many additions have been added over the years.

In writing this article I researched why Santa Ynez High School has a pirate as its mascot.

As it turns out, a “pirate” played a key role in the success of Mission Santa Ines and our community. Joseph Chapman (c. 1784 -1848) was an American carpenter and blacksmith who was from Maine. He was pressed into service by pirate Captain Bouchard in the Sandwich Islands. Chapman participated in the pirate attacks on California and was taken prisoner at Monterey.

This 'reluctant pirate' was imprisoned, then freed to build a fulling mill (a process used to soften woolen fiber) at Mission Santa Ines, the ruins of which still stand.

Chapman married Guadalupe Ortega of Santa Barbara and had five children. He was a talented craftsman and builder and is credited with designing and building many mission facilities throughout Southern California. According to the historian Hugh Bancroft, “among all the earliest pioneers of California there was no more attractive character, no more popular and useful man, than Joseph Chapman, the Yankee Pirate.”

Present Day

Santa Ynez High School serves grades 9-12. This year 48 teachers, 6 administrators and 27 support staff serve 886 students.

Santa Ynez High community and tradition oriented as exemplified by both the Superintendent, Scott Cory and Principal, Mark Swanitz are graduates of the school. Many students have parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents that attended SY High were proud Pirates.

In an interview with Principal Mark Swanitz, he emphasized four goals the school has set: academic achievement, student social-emotional health and growth, co-curricular student activities, and community involvement.

In looking at each of these areas, Santa Ynez High is indeed an outstanding high school.

Academic achievement

Santa Ynez High is in the top 22% of high schools in both California and nationwide for academic achievement.

The student graduation rate is 94% compared with 83% statewide.

In the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), 74% of Santa Ynez High seniors are rated college ready; the state average is 48%.

In the American College Testing (ACT) college readiness test, 91% of Santa Ynez High seniors are rated college ready compared to 58% statewide. 

Santa Ynez High offers a complete curriculum for both college admission and career technical education (CTE).

Students can take courses in multimedia, restaurant, sports medicine, agriculture and auto mechanics, drafting, vet science, accounting, kinesiology, film/video, computer science & repair, auto body paint and repair, business math, ornamental horticulture, etc. Many of these courses are in coordination with Allan Hancock College so students get both high school and community college credit.

Also, the performing and visual arts are not forgotten. Santa Ynez offers a wide curriculum in music, band, choir, theater arts, performing arts, as well as graphic arts, visual arts

Student social-emotional health and growth

Santa Ynez High not only emphasizes success in the classroom but socially as well.

In the interview, Mr. Swanitz emphasized that today’s students are under a lot of social-emotional pressure. In that regard, the school offers a “multi-layered system of support – not just academic.

There is a Student Senate that make suggestions to the administration on programs and issues that need to be addressed.

In addition, there is a nine-person committee of Parent Ambassadors that work closely with administration to address student social-emotional issues and serves as a communication bridge to student parents, keeping them involved in the activities and issues of the school.

Co-curricular Activities

Santa Ynez High also offers 40 extracurricular clubs that offer students a wide variety of experiences and leadership opportunities. Just a few examples are Astronomy Club, California Scholarship Federation, Friends of the SYV Humane Society, Future Farmers of America, Journalism Club, National Honor Society, Ocean Conservation, Organization of Latinos and Americans (OLA), Youth & Government – the list goes on.

An impressive statistic according to Mr. Swanitz, is that 70% of students participate in sports at Santa Ynez High. Students can choose from eleven sports for boys, and ten for girls. Sports include football, water-polo, tennis, golf, basketball, soccer, wrestling, baseball, softball, swimming, and track & field.

Community Outreach

Both the community and the school benefit from a partnership.

Santa Ynez High offers many opportunities for community groups to use its facilities – from youth and adult sport teams, to community meetings and events, to adult education courses.

In addition, we all enjoy going to the high school for sporting events, theater and music performances, and educational lectures and meetings.

A perfect example of how beneficial a school-community partnership can be is the current project to build an aquatic complex at the school that will be used not only by the high school students, but youth and the community at large.

The complex will replace the current pool with a “state of the art” 50-meter Olympic pool and a 25-yard multi-use pool that can be used for everything from swim lessons to aqua aerobics. To access more information about the project, visit www.syvaquatics.org/

Mr. Swanitz emphasized that the success of the school would not be possible without a dedicated and highly qualified faculty and staff – and a community that cares about education.

Judith Dale can be reached at judith@hwy246.net.


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Related to this story

In the early 1860s, George Lewis of New York homesteaded 800 acres in the area that is now Ballard and Los Olivos. The town of Ballard was founded in 1880 at the location of a Wells Fargo stage line station. The station’s superintendent was William N. Ballard, a good friend of Lewis. When Ballard died suddenly, Lewis formed the town and named it after Ballard, becoming the first town established in the Santa Ynez Valley.

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