Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 3:15 am | Fair 52º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara School Board Votes to Close Open Alternative School at End of School Year

School on La Colina Junior High's campus has long suffered from low enrollment and the board of education decided to close it in spring

 

Before a standing-room-only crowd, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday evening to close the Open Alternative School at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Enrollment at the school at 4025 Foothill Rd., in the back section of La Colina Junior High, has decreased over the last four years from 149 students to 70 students, according to Superintendent Cary Matsuoka.

It offers classes for students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade.

The declining enrollment, the lack of dedicated elementary school principal, changes to a basic aid funding system, and board policy changes limiting inter-district transfers played a role in Matsuoka’s decision to close OAS, also known as Open Alternative School.

Basic aid funding comes from local property taxes and so SBUSD wouldn't get funding for out-of-district students. The district is ending most inter-district transfers, which account for nearly 40 percent of OAS enrollment.

However, OAS inter-district transfer students would have the ability to stay in the district until they have completed their current grade span (through sixth grade).

“The policy is generous to allow even those from outside of the district to finish your elementary years in the district,” Matsuoka said. “You get to finish elementary school in Santa Barbara Unified. We will do everything we can to help figure out the process.”

Matsuoka assured parents that he and Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent of student services, will “personally support” and advise the OAS community in “large and small groups, and one-on-one” during the transfer process.

“We have nine other elementary schools,” Matsuoka said. “We want to help find the best fit for you as a family. We will reach out to every family.”

Before a standing-room-only crowd, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday evening to close the Open Alternative School at the end of the 2017-18 school year in June. Click to view larger
Before a standing-room-only crowd, the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday evening to close the Open Alternative School at the end of the 2017-18 school year in June. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

According to Matsuoka’s report, an elementary school needs at least 250 students to maintain an appropriate level of staffing and instruction.

During the hour of public comments during the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday, community members unsuccessfully tried to persuade school board members to keep the school open. 

Parents, teachers, students and concerned alumni spoke in strong opposition to closing OAS.

OAS fourth-grade student Noah Vargas, 9, took to the podium. 

“I am begging you all to please, don’t take away my school,” Noah said. “I wake up every morning excited to go to school. I feel safe and welcomed. When I grow up, I want to be a police officer, and I think OAS helped me make that decision.”

Noah’s mother, Amanda Vargas, who is an OAS alumna, also spoke.

“Noah has been to three different schools in this district trying to find the right fit — due to the loss of his grandfather he struggled with anxiety — we walked into OAS and immediately felt he was home,” she said. “The staff at OAS helped him find the right coping mechanism.”

Open Alternative School at 4025 Foothill Rd. will be closed at the end of the current school year. Click to view larger
Open Alternative School at 4025 Foothill Rd. will be closed at the end of the current school year.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Vargas' son Elijah, a transitional kindergarten OAS student, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, she said.

“We are dealing with hard decisions,” Vargas said. “After our first phone call with OAS staff I knew it was the right place for him — OAS staff helped me contact the district nurse and help develop a care plan. These children are the future and deserve the type of school as special as they are.”

OAS was founded in 1975 to “provide a child-centered holistic educational experience that nurtures the mind, body and spirit of each child.” 

OAS alumna Sally Ruhl said her siblings and her own children also attended OAS. 

“They have gone on to be productive, amazing (and) beautiful members of society — I owe that to the teachings, the staff, the parents and OAS,” Ruhl said. “It’s hard to believe that 40 years ago I was in the same room thanking the board for giving us OAS, and now, there’s a possibility that we are saying goodbye to it.”

During the discussion among the board members, Jacqueline Reid recommended creating a task force to develop and co-construct a program within an elementary school that has similar foundational concepts of OAS.

District staff held eight public meetings with OAS parents and staff regarding the elementary school's future.

“As I look around the room I see familiar faces,” Matsuoka said.

“As I have assessed the situation, I look at the attendance, the enrollment, the quality of the instructional program, and it is my recommendation to close OAS. I do it with the degree of hesitancy and sadness.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Supporter

Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >