4 campus reorganization scenarios presented at Sonoma Valley school board meeting

“There’s an excess of facilities, and that results in poor educational outcomes from an instructional standpoint, and a potential waste of money,” said Josh Jackson, engagement specialist and planner for Perkins Eastman.|

International global planning, design and consulting company Perkins Eastman last week presented four possibilities for the reorganization of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, as declining enrollment and increasing costs have prompted the district’s board to look at reconfiguring, and possibly consolidating, school campuses.

Representatives of Perkins Eastman made a presentation to the district board at its March 9 meeting detailing four scenarios for a districtwide reorganization, which drew varied responses from the public.

“There’s an excess of facilities, and that results in poor educational outcomes from an instructional standpoint, and a potential waste of money,” said Josh Jackson, engagement specialist and planner for Perkins Eastman.

Sonoma Valley Unified School District currently has five elementary schools — Dunbar, El Verano, Flowery, Prestwood and Sassarini — that offer grades K-5. The district also includes Adele Harrison and Altimira middle schools, with grades 6-8; Creekside and Sonoma Valley high schools, hosting grade 9-12; and Sonoma and Woodland Star charter schools, which include grades K-8. Flowery and Adele Harrison are dual immersion schools.

In “Minimal Footprint,” the first scenario presented, Flowery and Sassarini would offer transitional kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as early childhood education classes. Atimira would serve as the grades 6-8 school, and Sonoma Valley and Creekside high schools would continue to have grades 9-12.

El Verano would become a K-5 dual immersion school, Woodland Star would take over the Dunbar site, Prestwood would be used for workforce housing and Adele Harrison would be devoted to adult and alternative education.

“This scenario is intended to maximize efficiency while maintaining current grade configurations,” Jackson said. “We’ve investigated embedding early childhood education facilities within Flowery and Sassarini elementary schools. There would need to be some investment at those sites — things like restrooms in the rooms that serve the youngest students.”

The plan also requires the school district to negotiate a lease with Woodland Star.

The firm’s second scenario, “Districtwide Schools,” would have grades K-2, early childhood education and transitional kindergarten at El Verano, 3-5 at Flowery and 6-8 at Adele Harrison. Sonoma Valley High School would accommodate grades 9-12, as well as adult and alternative education, and Creekside would house 9-12.

Altimira would become a K-8 dual immersion school while Woodland Star would move to Prestwood and include adult education.

“Sassarini would be made available for affordable, workforce housing development and the Dunbar site could be adapted for a nonpublic school-type program,” Jackson said.

In this plan, Adele Harrison would need to be expanded to accommodate all students in grades 6-8, El Verano would require modifications to provide early education facilities and the school district would have to negotiate a lease with Woodland Star. The shift to a K-2 and 3-5 model could be disruptive, according to Perkins Eastman’s assessment.

“The third scenario, ‘Neighborhood Schools, tries to ensure that schools are walkable to the student populations they serve,” Jackson said.

It would utilize El Verano and Prestwood for grades K-5, Altimira for 6-8, Sonoma Valley High School for 9-12, as well as adult and alternative education, and Creekside for 9-12. Flowery would become a K-5 dual immersion school and Sassarini would house infant, toddler and transitional kindergarten classes.

Sonoma Charter would use the Dunbar site, Sonoma Charter’s current campus would be used for workforce housing and Adele Harrison would move to the campus at Woodland Star, which would be relocated to Adele Harrison.

To make these changes, the early childhood education facilities at Sassarini would need to be modified and the district would need to negotiate leases with Sonoma and Woodland Star Charter Schools. Again, the shift to a K-2 and 3-5 model could be disruptive, according to Perkins Eastman.

“The fourth scenario, ‘Flowery K-8 Option,” is a small tweak on the previous ‘Neighborhood Schools’ scenario,” Jackson said.

In that proposal, El Verano and Prestwood would include transitional kindergarten through fifth grade classes, Altimira would have grades 6-8, and Sonoma and Creekside would have 9-12. Flowery and Sonoma Charter would house transitional kindergarten through eighth grade dual immersion classes, Sassarini would have infant and toddler prekindergarten classes and Woodland Star would move to the Dunbar site.

This scenario would require modification of early childhood facilities at Sassarini and the negotiation of a lease with Sonoma and Woodland Star charter schools. The district would also need to determine the viability of a two-site dual immersion program.

No school sites would be converted to housing, in that scenario, which would mean some site, such as the district office or maintenance and operations land, would need to be used for it, Jackson said.

“Or you could look into a land swap, or identify other parcels that might be available by working with a partner agency,” he added.

In all four scenarios, Dunbar would no longer be a traditional school site.

“No matter how we penciled it out, we could not fulfill the guiding principles by having a very small school there,” Jackson said.

The guiding principles are to create a unified district, emphasize wellness of the whole child and the community, provide an inclusive student focused approach, supply forward-thinking learning environments, value community assets and assure fiscal responsibility.

“I really like the idea of bringing sixth graders back to the elementary schools,” Yuliana Camarena, a former student in the district, said during the meeting’s public comment period. “I think that would give extra time for students that may need it.”

She also supported creating more dual immersion schools, which she said may increase overall district enrollment.

Melanie Blake, a former Sonoma Valley Unified School District board member, encouraged the board to take a closer look at programs that are offered.

“Until we can identify what we need in terms of educational programs for kids, we’re not going to be able to identify which facilities configurations best meet the educational needs of the kids in our schools,” she said.

Board President Anne Ching voiced a request for more information.

“It seems that all these scenarios are based on facility capacity,” she said. “But there are so many other considerations, and I’m wondering when we will get that information.”

Ching said she would like to see a status report on the condition of facilities, what the scenarios would mean for attendance areas and if there is any scenario in which portable classrooms are not used.

Elizabeth Kaufman, acting superintendent of the district, said she feels that a baseline should first be set for the maximum number of elementary and middle school students, and then the board should determine which schools are needed.

“Conceptually, I think we’re headed to a three, one and one (three elementary schools, one middle school and one primary high school) model,” Kaufman said. “I know we’re going to save money that way, and I know we would have a better impact on kids.”

More than half of the community members polled in a recent survey oppose breaking Sonoma Valley Unified School District elementary schools into a grades K-2 and 3-5 model.

The survey, conducted by the school district and the Perkins Eastman consulting firm, showed that 53% of respondents oppose the K-2 and 3-5 model, while 25% are in favor of it and 22% have no opinion. These preliminary results were compiled from 116 responses.

In the same survey, community members were asked if they are interested in establishing a K-8 dual immersion school. Fifty percent of respondents liked the idea, an additional 12% were in favor, but only if it was established at the current site of Flowery Elementary School; 12% were opposed; and 12% said they needed more information.

The survey data and other public input, as well as discussions at Sonoma Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees study sessions, were considered in Perkins Eastman’s proposals.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

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