Hitting the Books

The New School Year Ushers In Old and New Concerns

by Ethan Stewart

Monday marked a return to academia for thousands of students
throughout the combined Santa Barbara School Districts. From Santa
Barbara High School on Anapamu Street to Monroe Elementary on the
Mesa, school buses jockeyed with minivans and SUVs in the
early-morning hours as backpacked, binder-toting kids prepared for
day one of the 2006-07 school year. Yet the first-day hustle and
bustle belied the fact that attendance was down again this year in
both the elementary and high school districts, sparking
disappointment on the part of Superintendent Brian Sarvis. While he
noted that official enrollment counts aren’t taken until October,
Sarvis conceded this week that the districts are “definitely going
to have to keep an eye on the situation.” All told, 5,399 kids
turned out in the 13 elementary schools, a one percent drop from
last year’s first-day attendance totals, while 9,611 students were
counted in the district’s four high schools, an approximate 4
percent drop from last year’s total. Explained in part by the
declining enrollment trend, the districts also have fewer teachers
this year.

Roll call problems aside, Sarvis expressed his excitement about
the upcoming school year and optimism about the laundry list of
issues facing the districts and the Board of Education. According
to Sarvis, teachers old and new will pay particular attention this
year to raising student achievement on standardized
tests — specifically getting English learners in elementary schools
to proficient levels — and to getting high school seniors up to
snuff on exit exams. Fifty local seniors from the Class of 2006
have yet to pass the required exam, while approximately 10 percent
of current seniors — which translates to about 150 students — are
still trying to earn a passing score. (The test is offered a few
times a year for students at or above the level of sophomore.)
Another hot topic for high schools is the district’s decision to
maintain its traditional policy on giving out student information
to military recruiters. Despite debate among school board members
last year, students will once again be able to “opt out” of the
information-sharing practice only by bringing home a piece of paper
for their parents to sign.

At the board level, the November election is a major focus, with
two seats up for grabs as incumbent Lynn Rodriguez steps down and
Dr. Robert Noel seeks reelection. Noel is joined in his bid by San
Marcos mother Suzy Cawthon, one-time mayoral hopeful William
Hackett, Adams PTA member Kate Parker, Magdalena Maddox, and
Citizens for Neighborhood Schools advocate Roseanne Crawford.

Additionally, the board is tackling a facility master plan
update that aims to resolve some longstanding and controversial
debates over several shared campuses — a tall order, given a total
budget that Sarvis recently characterized as “solid, but without
any extra money at all.” To this end, the board made what President
Annette Cordero called “momentous” decisions this week when it
voted to make the current sites of the Santa Barbara Charter School
(located at Goleta Valley Junior High) and the Open Alternative
School (located at La Colina Junior High) permanent locations,
pending a financial analysis. At the same Tuesday evening meeting,
the board also directed staff working on the facility master plan
to rule out the possibility of splitting the fast-growing César
Chávez Charter School campus, and to take a more in-depth look at
the costs associated with moving the entire K-6 Santa Barbara
Community Academy to underutilized spaces at La Cumbre Junior High.
Currently, the academy is split between La Cumbre and an Ortega
Street site, a fact bemoaned by faculty and parents.

Another point of community contention is a final report due back
before the board sometime in October on the feasibility of turning
its property holdings in the Hidden Valley and Tatum neighborhoods
into affordable employee housing. Additionally, the board’s ongoing
discussion about the possibility of doing away with on-site cooking
facilities at several schools — and creating a centralized,
state-of-the-art kitchen at Santa Barbara High School in their
stead — is slated to be resolved in coming months.


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