Garfield High School (Seattle)

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James A. Garfield High School
JamesAGarfield HS 2.jpg
400 23rd Avenue
Seattle, Washington 98122

United States
Type Public
Established 1920
Principal Theodore Howard II
Faculty 92 (October 2005)
Enrollment 1,918 (September 2010)
Color(s) Purple & White          
Mascot Bulldog
Newspaper The Messenger

James A. Garfield High School is a public high school in the Seattle Public Schools district of Seattle, Washington, USA. Located along 23rd Avenue between E. Alder and E. Jefferson Streets in Seattle's urban Central District, Garfield draws students from all over the city. Garfield is also one of two options for the district's Highly Capable Cohort for academically highly gifted students, with the other being Ingraham International School. As a result, it has many college-level classes available ranging from calculus-based physics to Advanced Placement (AP) studio art.


In 1917, the Seattle School Board authorized the purchase of property for East High School at a location suggested by the board’s secretary, Reuben Jones, because it was “on a hill and the school would stand out.” Construction was delayed until the end of World War I, and by that time there was a pressing need for space in the city’s four high schools. Immediate action had to be taken, which meant that a temporary structure was erected at the East High School site in 1920. The 12-room wooden structure housed 282 incoming freshmen who transferred from Broadway High School.

Midway through the 1920–21 school year, 140 more students entered East High School. Portables were added, and, by 1922–23, a total of 27 temporary buildings stood on the grounds. Enrollment by this time exceeded 900 students. Additional property was acquired and construction began on a permanent building. The first principal, George N. Porter, suggested that the school be named after James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States who earned recognition as a congressman and Civil War leader. Porter also selected the Bulldog as school mascot and the colors purple and white. The new James A. Garfield High School opened in September 1923 with over 1,000 students. The three-story structure was designed in the Jacobean style by Floyd Naramore with elaborate terra cotta details. The main (north) entrance features a projecting bay with triple arched doorways.[1]

As the 1920s progressed, Garfield’s student body increased to over 1,500. A bond issue passed in March 1929 provided funds for an addition to the building,[1] and the city commissioned Naramore to design an addition.[2] The south wing included laboratories and classrooms for 680 more students. Enrollment continued to grow until 1939, when it reached an all-time high of 2,300 students. In 1955, 9th graders transferred to junior high school, reducing enrollment from 1,500 to 1,250.[1]

Throughout much of its history, Garfield has been known for its ethnic and racial diversity. The Arrow, the school's yearbook, in 1938 described the school as “a thriving community comprised of many races which are bound together by the staunchness of the Bulldog tradition.” The Christian Science Monitor featured Garfield in 1946, referring to it as a school of many races but no race conflicts. The 1945 annual emphasized contributions made by various groups in the school, including a Cathay Club that staged Chinese plays, Japanese-American students who performed traditional dances, and African-American musicians.[1]

Activities growing in popularity during the first two decades were numerous service, music, and athletic clubs. The Big “G” Club was established for girls who were active in sports. The Ski Club, which sponsored trips to Snoqualmie Summit, won several ski tournaments in the 1930s. From the beginning, Garfield set high standards for its publications. The school annual, The Arrow, received the All-American Honor Rating from the National Scholastic Press Association in 1934–36. The Messenger, the school newspaper, grew from a single page to an eight-page tabloid and also received national recognition. Garfield’s literary magazine, The Pen, provided an outlet for creative writers beginning in 1938. Garfield students and staff also established a tradition of community involvement. During the 1950s, the art department worked with Harborview Medical Center and the Veterans’ Administration hospitals to create murals and other projects. The memorial wall at the east entrances to Memorial Stadium was designed by a Garfield student. In 1947, an academic exchange program was initiated with a school in Braunschweig, Germany. Over the next ten years, students and teachers from these two schools participated in the exchange.[1]

During the late 1960s, news stories circulated about racial tensions and violence at Garfield. By 1970, enrollment had plummeted to less than 1,000. A special Central Region within the school district was formed, led by an assistant school superintendent, with the intent of reestablishing quality education in troubled schools. This effort led to the 4-4-4 plan in the Central District when Garfield again became a four-year high school. Additional space was needed to establish a comprehensive program, and the former Washington Junior High School became part of Garfield, known as Garfield “B.” This annex housed music, advanced science, industrial arts, home economics, and other career and vocational programs.[1]

By 1974, enrollment had grown to about 1,050, and the community coined the slogans “Garfield has turned the corner” and “This is the year of the dog.” New construction around the campus brought parks department facilities with Medgar Evers Swimming Pool adjacent to the school. In 1979, Seattle's program for academically highly gifted students was placed at Garfield, APP, initiating an academic surge with a college-oriented curriculum. The program required all 9th graders take math and science.[1] By 2011, due to the success of this program, an alternative program, IBx, was opened for APP students at Ingraham International School in North Seattle to help relieve pressure on an overcrowded Garfield. The program has been renamed from APP to HCC, the Highly Capable Cohort as of 2015.

Garfield High School has long played a key role in its neighborhood, and because the Central District has changed, so has the school's population. In its early decades, the school was noted for its Jewish, Japanese and Italian populations. After World War II, the neighborhood became predominantly African-American[3] and by 1961, 51 percent of Garfield students were black, compared to only 5.3 percent of the general Seattle school district population.[4] In the late 1960s and 1970s, Garfield was at the center of the school district's attempts to avoid forced busing through various plans, including turning it into a "magnet" school. This began the focus on music and science that persist to the present day.

Notable people who have spoken at Garfield include Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson.[5] Civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael spoke at the school in 1967.[6] Former President Barack Obama gave a speech in 2006 regarding "Innovation in Education,"[7][8]

During a 2012 school field trip, one of the school's students allegedly raped another student. The school's mishandling of the ensuing investigation resulted in an ongoing federal investigation of the school district for Title IX sexual violence violations.[9][10]


Garfield High School occupying the grounds of the former Lincoln High School, Wallingford, Washington.

The buildings have lasted for more than eight decades, but they were partially demolished in a sweeping redesign of the school that began in June 2006. The remodel was mostly completed by the fall of 2008, making the class of 2009 the only class to attend classes in both the old and new buildings. There was a movement to hold off the remodeling to preserve the building's history, including a city initiative to preserve the Quincy Jones auditorium as a historic site, thereby blocking the remodeling.[11] The new design has a state-of-the-art performing arts center. After its renovation, Garfield had become the second most expensive high school in the state, after Stadium High School, with Stadium High at $106 million and Garfield at $105 million.

The school reopened in time for 2008 classes on September 3. Faculty and students vacated their temporary quarters at Lincoln High School at the end of the 2007–2008 school year.[12]

Terracotta work[edit]

Garfield High School's architecture makes extensive use of terracotta. Among the many terracotta details worked into the building are emblems of botany, the trades, arts and crafts, industry, intelligence, and the sciences.


Of the approximately 400 students who graduated in 2011, 70 percent planned to attend four-year colleges, and 20 percent planned to attend two-year colleges. Garfield has over 200 students in IEP (Individualized Learning) and ELL (English Language Learners) programs, along with 415 APP (Accelerated Progress Program) students. The school currently offers 17 Advanced Placement and 10 honors courses. In 2012, the mean reading, math and writing SAT scores for Garfield students were 575, 578 and 569, respectively.[13]

Garfield was one of 14 schools in King County in 2007 to receive the "School of Distinction" award from the office of superintendent of public instruction for making the most progress over six years in reading and writing on the WASL.[14] The school also had a silver medal of distinction from U.S. News and World Report in 2008 and 2009 for being among the top-performing high schools in terms of college readiness.[14] The school is noted for producing a number of National Merit Scholars each year,[5] and Garfield consistently produces more National Merit Scholars each year than any other public school in Washington state.[15] Garfield frequently competes for the highest number of National Merit Scholars of any school in the state, including private schools.[16] Garfield students make up more than 70 percent of the Seattle Public School students who take AP exams.[15]

Each year there are dozens of valedictorians, most of whom go on to the top universities.[17] In June 2005, 44 valedictorians graduated.[14] In recent years, however, the school has faced widespread complaints that white students are served through AP and honors programs, and black students are not supported.[18] During the 2006–2007 school year Garfield offered more than 120 different classes across nine departments, including an extensive selection of advanced classes. Garfield students also take classes from local community colleges through a program called Running Start. Students also take courses through online programs from Stanford's EPGY and Johns Hopkins University's CTY program. Students also attend on-campus courses at the University of Washington.[19]

Testing controversy[edit]

In January 2013, the entire teaching body of Garfield High School refused to administer the standardized Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, which is administered system-wide, three times per year. The teachers called the tests useless and a waste of instructional time.[20] After their protest became public, teachers at local schools nearby such as Ballard High School and Chief Sealth International High School joined the movement. The American Federation of Teachers has endorsed the school's boycott of the tests.[21]


Garfield athletics have been strong historically. Athletic successes for the decade 1950–60 included four city football championships, two tennis titles, two baseball championships, and a state AA tournament trophy in basketball.[1] The boys basketball team has won the most state Washington state championships in state history.[22]

Soccer practice on a cold January Saturday.

Garfield basketball teams have won many regional and state titles, including a stretch from 1980 to 1991 during which time the Bulldogs won five Class AAA titles. The boys basketball team has won the state championship 11 times and was the runner-up five times since 1949. The team has notable alumni, including Brandon Roy (GHS c/o 2002), Tony Wroten (GHS c/o 2011), and University of Washington alumni Will Conroy.[23] The girls team boasts alumnus Joyce Walker (GHS c/o 1980), who is best known as the third woman to join the Harlem Globetrotters.[24] Both the girls and boys teams were state champions in 1980 and 1987. The girls team won the state championship in 2005,[25] and the boys won in 2014.

In 2001, the boys swimming and diving team won the state championship.[26] In 2007, the girls swimming and diving team won the state championship.[citation needed]

Garfield won state titles in boys and girls track in 1987.

Famous Bulldog alumni also include Olympic gold medalist Debbie Armstrong, who won the giant slalom at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.

Most recently, The Garfield boys basketball team won the state championship in 2014 and again in 2015.

Programs, clubs, and activities[edit]


In 2005, Garfield's performance of Cabaret won the Outstanding Program and Poster Design award and Special Honors in Educational Impact and Student Achievement from the 5th Avenue Theatre.[27] Subsequent musicals have been unable to enter the 5th Avenue Awards due to scheduling. One of the main draws of Garfield's drama program is its large student-led Drama Club, an important element that is missing from many other local area schools. The Garfield Drama Club produces collections of short one-act plays, and a main stage Autumn Show every year, all of which are directed and produced by current students.[28] The department also performs two teacher-directed shows per year: a Children's Show for local elementary schools, and a Spring Musical.


The Messenger is Garfield's monthly student-run newspaper. The Messenger has earned awards from the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association: placing in Best of Show in the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Conventions and winning its most prestigious honor, the Pacemaker Award, in 1997 and 2006.[29] A column from the paper was reprinted by All About Jazz in 2004.[30] In 2006 and 2007, staff reporters won the NSPA's Brasler Prize.[31]

Outdoor education[edit]

Post, Garfield's Outdoor Education Program, is a student-led organization which leads a variety of outdoor trips available to all students in the Seattle School District. Trips include rock climbing, mountain climbing, snow camping, biking, kayaking, backpacking, survival skills, wilderness navigation, skiing and snowboarding, and canyoneering.[32] The program is entirely staffed by Garfield students, who complete a 30-hour Mountaineering Oriented First Aid Course as well as a series of basic survival courses.[33]


Garfield remains one of the last two public schools in the Seattle metropolitan area that offers Latin.[citation needed] The Latin language club is affiliated with the National Junior Classical League and remains one of the largest local chapters.[34] Garfield students score highly on the National Latin exam as well, with more than half of the Latin students receiving golds (top 10 percent in the world) for several consecutive years. Other languages offered include Spanish, French and Japanese.


Quincy Jones Performance Center at Garfield

The music program at Garfield High School has won numerous awards. Several notable musicians attended the school, including Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Macklemore, and Ernestine Anderson.

Vocal department[edit]

The choirs at Garfield include a Treble Choir, Concert Choir and a Vocal Jazz group.[35] In 2009, the vocal jazz ensemble received a special commendation for its performance at Lionel Hampton.[36]


The orchestra program includes a symphony orchestra, a concert orchestra, and a chamber music program. Every year, many students from the orchestra play in the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras, often in principal positions. Garfield students also play in the Seattle Conservatory of Music Starling Scholar Chamber Orchestra, and many community ensembles. Garfield orchestra members have had their original compositions debuted by the Seattle Symphony and SYSO. In 1995, Garfield guest conductor Gerard Schwarz, music director of the Seattle Symphony, said, "I don’t recall hearing a high school orchestra perform anywhere in this country on such a high level."[37] Garfield has won numerous first-place awards in festivals around the world, including the Best Orchestra for Downbeat Magazine in both 1999 and 2007, and the National Orchestra Cup in 2011.[37] The Garfield Symphony Orchestra has also toured and performed in Japan, Europe, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York.


Garfield High School jazz quintet at Seattle's Paramount Theatre, 2008.

Garfield's jazz program has won state, national and international awards and accolades in big band, combo and individual categories. The jazz ensemble has toured Europe several times, visiting the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Italy and most recently in the Montreux and North Sea Jazz Festivals. It has also attended the International Association of Jazz Educators' conference, as well as the Essentially Ellington Competition in New York City. It is the only band to win the 'First Place' trophy in consecutive years (2003–04 and 2009–10) and the only band to have been invited to Essentially Ellington for ten consecutive years.[38] Overall showings at Essentially Ellington have included 1999 (honorable mention), 2000 (honorable mention), 2002 (2nd place), 2003 (1st place), 2004 (1st place), 2006 (3rd place), 2008 (2nd place), 2009 (1st place), 2010 (1st place), 2013 (Finalist), 2014 (Finalist), 2015 (Finalist), and 2016 (Finalist). Its consistent placement in national competitions and long history of national recognition indicate its status as one of the best high school jazz bands in the country.[39]

Among the many other awards are 13 division and sweepstakes awards at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival (Moscow, Idaho), 13 first-place finishes at the Reno Jazz Festival, five sweepstakes awards at the Clark College Jazz Festival (Vancouver, Washington), ten sweepstakes or first-place awards at the Viking Jazz Festival (Poulsbo, Washington), six sweepstakes awards at the Bellevue Jazz Festival, six first-place awards at the Mount Hood Jazz Festival, and first place in the "Heavy" (top) Division at the 1995 Fullerton College Jazz Festival.[citation needed]

Notable alumni[edit]


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 47°36′18″N 122°18′6″W / 47.60500°N 122.30167°W / 47.60500; -122.30167