Naval Operating Base School History

Opened: 1931
Closed: 1956

Guantanamo Bay Naval Operating Base (NOB) School, in Cuba opened in 1931, making it the oldest still operating overseas DoD dependents school in the world. In 1931, there was just one staff member, the Protestant chaplain, five students, and a single classroom located in an office of the base chapel. By the next school year, 1932, the school had a growing enrollment of over thirty students. When the enrollment totaled thirty students, school was held in a small open-air building on Administration Hill. A wing of the Naval Hospital was built on the site of the first school. In 1932, because the number of students increased, the school was moved to a larger building near the tennis courts on Administration Hill. The newly arrived faculty of five teachers taught grammar school in the morning and high school in the afternoon. The high school moved to a new building on Chapel Hill in 1941 and remained there until August 1985, when it moved to its next facility.

From its origins in 1931 until now, the school was temporarily evacuated three times: for World War II from December 1941 until October 1945, from October to December 1962 due to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and most recently, from September 1994 through January 1996 during the Cuban and Haitian refugee influx.

With the return of dependents after V-E Day, the Naval Operating Base School for children reopened in October 1945. The 1945-46 school year opened with an enrollment of 45 pupils and five teachers. As a result of the enormous turnover of Naval personnel on the base, the early post-war years were characterized by a constant change of pupils and teachers. Because of the acute shortage of teachers in the states, most teachers were wives of Naval personnel. When the husbands were transferred elsewhere, the wives resigned their teaching jobs.

In 1945-46, the first faculty after the war included Miss Harriet Black, principal; Miss Hilda Anderson; Miss Betty Lythe; and Mrs. Simon Rottenberg. Mrs. V. E. Oppel later replaced Mrs. Rottenberg. Shortly after school opened, the kindergarten was organized and placed in the charge of Mrs. Lillian Sage, wife of Captain G.E. Sage, Chief of Staff. The June 1946 graduation exercises, in which eighth graders—eight girls—received diplomas, were the first graduation ceremonies held in the Naval Chapel.

Juanita Kunz, the first senior to complete high school requirements at the Naval Operating Base School, graduated with honors in June 1947. In June 1948, Diana Ramirez and Linna Miller graduated from the NOB High School. The graduation exercises held in the Naval Chapel combined the high school and eighth grade ceremonies.

In 1947, nine pupils—eight boys and one girl—graduated from eighth grade. The next year, 1948, the eighth grade graduated ten students—five boys and five girls.

In 1948 the base paper reported that the NOB School library had the following new equipment: a new light-oak card catalog cabinet with nine drawers, a large display case with glass doors, and a display rack. The article also reported that the school library had college catalogs and bulletins from more than 100 institutions of higher learning. It further stated that the materials were accessible to students, faculty and all base personnel.

Dr. John A. Permenter was the Supervising Principal for the NOB schools and congratulated the school on its second annual for the 1949-1950 school year. That year the school had seventeen faculty members for grades kindergarten through twelfth grade. There were twelve graduates including the two students who graduated during the summer. School extracurricular activities included the Girls’ Athletic Association, Student Council, the yearbook, the Library Club, and the Science Club. The boys’ basketball team played military teams and were supported by the six cheerleaders. The elementary school had two classes of kindergarten and first grade and one class at the other grade levels. Square dancing was an activity enjoyed by all grade levels.

For school year 1954-1955 the enrollment grew from 600 students the previous year to an enrollment of 800. A new auditorium was dedicated for the school. There were seven seniors, fifteen juniors, sixteen sophomores and twenty-one freshmen in the high school portion of the school. The elementary grades had two classes for fourth, fifth and sixth grade; three classes for third grade; four classes for kindergarten, first and second; and one nursery class. The yearbook was the Coral Reef, and the newspaper was the Arrow. The school had a packed intramural program for men and women. The boys’ basketball team played in the men’s base league. There was a high school band of eleven students, a high school combo band of six students, and two elementary bands. The clubs included a drama club and the Girls Athletic Association.

In 1956 the school’s name was changed to W. T. Sampson School and a dedication plaque was placed on the school building. The school was named in honor of Rear Admiral William Thomas Sampson, commander of the North Atlantic Squadron during the Spanish American War. The school mascot was the Pirates and the school colors were green and yellow.

Information from school webpage, base newspaper article and yearbooks

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