Woodland Star Charter School to relocate to Dunbar Elementary campus

At the board meeting on Thursday, trustees also voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding for Woodland Star Charter School to use Dunbar Elementary School campus facilities in the 2023-24 school year.|

Sonoma Valley Unified School District board trustees voted unanimously Thursday to approve a memorandum of understanding for Woodland Star Charter School to use Dunbar Elementary School campus facilities in the 2023-24 school year after its closure.

The move was made possible by the board’s decision last month to suspend enrollment at Dunbar Elementary School, largely due to steadily declining enrollment. Dunbar had 229 students in 2016-17, but was expected to have 81 in 2023-24, a 62% decline. By closing Dunbar, the district is expected to save $854,000 to $1.1 million.

The memo states that Woodland Star will have access to the site from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024.

Joshua Braff, associate superintendent for Sonoma Valley Unified School District, said that the memo is transitional and the board could extend it through the 2024-25 school year, which is when the district’s contract with the charter school expires.

Caroline Hopewell, executive director of Woodland Star, previously said the charter school’s board members are interested in relocating to Dunbar as early as September.

Dunbar Elementary School was established in 1857, making it one of the oldest elementary schools in California. At their board meeting on April 20, trustees voted unanimously to suspend enrollment at the school, but all five trustees and many Dunbar staff and community members expressed sadness over the end of the era.

Trustees, school staff and community members have also voiced a desire to retain Dunbar’s historical artifacts.

“Dunbar is historic, and needs to be preserved,” said Tracy Salcedo, the school’s librarian and media specialist, at the meeting. “All those things need to be preserved. They tell the story of Sonoma Valley.”

In response to a question from Trustee Celeste Winders, Braff said that the school district would retain ownership of the school’s artifacts, including historical photographs in the school office and hallways.

Winders, a Dunbar graduate, also requested that the photos be displayed somewhere in the district, rather than stored in boxes.

“I would like them to be available so that the public can access them in some way,” Winders said.

The memo stipulates that the metal signage identifying Dunbar above entrance to the school office will be retained and that the charter school cannot make alternations, additions or improvements to the facilities without consent of the school district.

“We would not be willing to allow the replacement of the Dunbar sign or the bell,” said Josh Braff, associate superintendent of business services.

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

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