Supporters Rally for Open Alternative School

Dropping Enrollment Threatens to Close the Small K-6 Campus

Gloria Liggett, who has been involved with Open Alternative School since the beginning, pointed out that the school has long utilized outdoor- and holistic-education techniques now considered cutting-edge.
Paul Wellman

More questions than answers remain about the fate of Open Alternative School (OAS) ​— ​a much-revered model of diversity and whole-child success since it opened in 1975. But one thing seems certain: Big changes are on the horizon. Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting was the first public airing of Superintendent Cary Matsuoka’s recommendation to close OAS at the end of this school year, and parents and educators lined up to defend their small K-6 as a vibrant home to kids who learn better outside a traditional classroom.

“It’s with a degree of sadness that I have to bring this recommendation,” Matsuoka said, citing an enrollment drop that will likely plummet further as Santa Barbara Unified School District makes a money-saving move to prohibit students who live outside the district boundary to attend its schools. Twenty-six of OAS’s 70 students utilize these so-called interdistrict transfers. Even so, added Matsuoka in a separate interview, “70 kids is not a school,” explaining that the cost of administrators and office staff becomes feasible only when an elementary school’s kid count hits 250. At its most robust, OAS hovered around 200, back in the early 1990s, when it moved from downtown to its present location at La Colina Junior High.

As Matsuoka floated the bigger picture of “where [we] are going with alternative education,” the discussion shifted to relocating OAS, or at least its philosophy and community, to an elementary school, such as Monroe. “We have to be really careful with this idea that we should be moving OAS to another campus,” he said. “We have to be thoughtful and take our time. If we go too fast, we’ll end up with an outcome that none of us will be proud of.”

Boardmembers praised the passion and commitment of OAS supporters, urging continued collaboration as this big change takes tangible form in the coming months. “My hope is that we can come up with something that doesn’t feel like it was slammed down on the families,” said Boardmember Ismael Paredes Ulloa. The board will revisit the issue at its November 14 meeting.


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