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Walter Hays School was named for a Presbyterian minister who was well known and highly respected in Palo Alto, though he lived here only 15 years (1905-1920). Hays was President of the Board of Education at the time construction of a union high school was being considered. Because of his rare abilities as an executive and a negotiator, as well as his strong interest in the future of Palo Alto schools, he was able to bring the communities of Mayfield (California Avenue and College Terrace areas), Stanford and Palo Alto together to agree on a site, when delay seemed inevitable. Palo Alto High School opened in 1919. During his presidency, the South Palo Alto Grammar School was also built. A bronze plaque, located on the brick wall near the Walter Hays School office, was designed by John and Pedro de Lemos, commemorating Walter Hays for "distinguished service to the schools of the community."

The original mission-style building of Walter Hays School, designed by noted architect Charles K. Sumner, was built (and opened) in 1923 for $66,000. Residents were critical of the location because it was on the edge of town. The structure contained six classrooms, accessory rooms and a tower over the entrance. In 1947, a six-room wing designed by Palo Alto architects Birge Clark and Walter Stromquist was added, and in 1962, the multipurpose room completed the complex. These two portions were retained when the original building was replaced in 1970. The new library was dedicated to Miss Edith Patton, who was on the first faculty and served as principal from 1926 until her retirement in 1942. Portables were added to the campus during the '96-'97 school year to accommodate growth and class size reduction. In 2000, construction was completed on a wing of four new classrooms. Extensive renovation of the existing classrooms, library and offices were completed in 2001.

What once started as a small six classroom building has expanded into a facility with over twenty classes, two playgrounds, gardens, and meeting rooms. We educate on average 480 to 500 students each year coming from over 300 families living in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.  We represent a myriad of cultures and races. Our community is diverse in so many ways and yet we come together for one clear goal – to ensure that our students are given the tools they need to achieve their own greatest potential.