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A mostly calm school board meeting was held at the El Molino Library
The closing of ElMo keeps the board up late on this night
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On a cool night in a library that hasn’t been used in several years, the West Sonoma County Union High School District Board of Trustees held their monthly meeting on Wednesday night in Forestville, the first one held there since El Molino High School was consolidated into Analy.
Led by Board Vice President, Debbie Ramirez who lobbied earlier in the year for meetings to be held in Forestville, this meeting was unexpectedly calm, a break from storm that started with the resignation of three top administrators in April and was followed by a resolution from the teachers’ union last week that blamed Superintendent Chris Meredith for their departure. Perhaps Trustee Lewis Buchner’s letter in the Sebastopol Times, which acknowledged the concerns of the teachers while supporting the Superintendent in his first year, laid the issue to rest, for now.
Maybe, the Board Trustees and Superintendent were feeling a little like their seniors, sensing that the end of the school year is near. Last weekend’s Junior / Senior Prom held in Windsor was reported to be a success with over 650 attendees.
The meeting began with recognition of two retiring educators. Steve Sumner started as an English teacher and wrestling coach is retiring after many years at Analy and El Molino. Most recently, he headed up the Independent Study program. He was not present.
Kathy Thompson has been a teacher of 25 years, mostly in pre-school special education. She was present to receive a gift from Trustees Jeanne Fernandes and Shawn Cernila. “It’s been a pleasure,” said Thompson. “I loved teaching.” Lily Smedshammer, WSCTA President, presented Thompson with flowers.
Adam Bhat was also recognized for his contribution this year as a Student Representative from Laguna High School. Laguna Principal Greg Anderson said that “Adam’s greatest strength was his resilience.” Adam will be starting UC Merced in the fall. Superintendent Chris Meredith presented him with a gift.
During public comment, only two people spoke, signaling a quiet night. Like most school board meetings, only a handful of people show up and there did not seem to be a Forestville contingent at the meeting.
One of those who spoke was Mary Fricker (who produces our Sebastopol Police Logs). She wanted to call attention to the achievements of Analy students. In particular, Mary mentioned that six students were recognized for 2023 Sonoma County Youth Services Awards by the Press Democrat. The students were:
Alonso Vera Vera (Agriculture)
Adanna Okiwelu (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion)
Fiona Taganashi (Health and Wellness)
Teagan Hill (Journalism/Media)
Hannah Berkheimer (Social Services)
Rachel Cohen (STEM/Environmental Science)
Those six Analy students were half of those selected from all high schools in the county.
Superintendent Chris Meredith used his time to report on his first year accomplishments. Here’s a summary of some items from his report:
Established standing meetings with staff to share concerns, and problem solve together.
Regular one-on-one meetings with the superintendents of the District’s feeder schools.
Actively engaged with student activists and parents who had formed an ad-hoc DEI group.
Individual meetings with teachers.
Negotiated with WSCTA to clean up language in contract.
Pivoted bond project from full modernization of the main building to accelerated AC project.
Contracted for a full demographic study to help understand future enrollment.
Recruitment efforts to bring 8th graders to campus for tours have helped improve pre-enrollment of 8th graders to over 80%.
Contracted with Big Picture Learning to develop our Laguna program into a more dynamic continuation high school and promote graduation success rates and enrollment.
YouTruth Survey Summary
Alejandra Solis-Perez of the Sonoma County Office of Education presented a summary of the 2023 YouthTruth Survey. YouthTruth is a national nonprofit that “harnesses student perceptions to help educators and community partners accelerate improvements.” The online survey gathers responses from students, parents and staff. In the fifth year of the survey at Analy and Laguna High Schools, student and staff participation was high (above 3/4 of all) while parent participation was low (only 1/4 of all).
1,254 students in grades 9-12 (81% response rate)
364 parents & guardians (23% response rate)
116 staff (85% response rate)
The board was presented a high-level view of the results. There’s a PDF of the slide presentation below. The following individual slide shows the categories or themes of the survey on the lefthand column. Then, a summary of the results for Student, Family and Staff are shown. The shading (pink or purple) reflects how these results compare to YouthTruth’s national survey data. Purple shading indicates the most positive results; pink shading indicates relatively low scores.
The YouTruth data shows the different perspectives of each group surveyed. The percentage of students who say they feel positive about engagement (43%), relationships with adults (35%) and school culture (24%) is relatively low, and hasn’t changed much since the previous year. Students were more positive about the school challenging them academically (54%) and feeling a sense of belonging (46%).
The ratings by staff were more positive for engagement (72%), relationships with students (86%) and culture (61%). Moreover, the results for engagement and culture were much better than the previous year. Solis-Perez remarked that seeing such change year-to-year is unusual.
The survey does point out how students and staff each see the school differently. One specific example concerned the fairness of school discipline. Compared to other high schools, the highest-rated response for Staff was “Discipline in this school was fair.” For students, this was the lowest-rated response.
Trustee Debbie Ramirez proposed organizing a study group consisting of Board members and others interested in diving deeper into the results but no date was set for the group to meet.
Download a PDF of the WSCUHSD Presentation on YouthTruth Survey.
CEQA Discussion Stirs Up the Past
After a presentation on special education programs and the selection of nominees for the “Becky Hopper” Award, the Board appeared ready to move quickly through the rest of the agenda, approving various minor policy changes and other resolutions. I left about 8:15 thinking that calm would prevail and the meeting would soon end without much to report on. I was wrong. The following item on the agenda apparently caused a lot of discussion and a division of the board into opposing sides. Here’s the agenda item:
CONSIDERATION OF APPROVAL OF ADOPTION OF RESOLUTION #19.MAY.2022-2023 DETERMINING THAT THE ANALY HIGH SCHOOL 2-STORY CLASSROOM BUILDING AND PARTIAL RENOVATION PROJECT IS CATEGORICALLY EXEMPT FROM THE CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY (CEQA) ACT AND DECIDING TO CARRY OUT THE PROJECT
This CEQA resolution did not pass. Trustees Cernila and Ramirez voted against it while trustees Fernandes and Buchner voted for it. (There were only four trustees because Julie Aiello is out on medical leave — we wish her the best.) Why did this resolution not pass?
Cernila spoke up against it because “CEQA review” was a reminder of the past struggle to save El Molino. When a school is closed, a CEQA review is required. When El Molino was closed, a tactic used by a community group was to argue about the necessity of a CEQA review, which might have cost the District up to $100,000. The group sued the District to prevent El Molino from closing without a CEQA review but the District responded by moving Laguna High School to the El Molino campus, technically keeping the facility open. Eventually the lawsuit was dismissed by the court because it was filed too late.
The talk about CEQA caused the usually very quiet Cernila to speak up on behalf on his constituents and the loss of their school. Cernila did not respond to an email asking him to explain his position or whether he might re-consider it at a future meeting. Ramirez joined Cernila in voting against the resolution for technical and legal reasons.
In email, Director of Facilities Jennie Bruneman said “It's always a little disappointing when a board item doesn't get a quorum vote.” She said that she stands behind her staff report, which was reviewed by legal counsel, and said that the new building meets the criteria for an exemption for CEQA review. She added: “I look forward to clearing up any concerns board members have when we host a special meeting of the Board on Wednesday, May 17th. If approved at that meeting, I look forward to carrying out the October 12, 2022 Board prioritized projects and continuing to improve the facilities for our students, staff and greater community.”
Perhaps the negative vote was merely symbolic, recalling the efforts to keep El Molino open, and not meant to block work on the new building at Analy. However, to quote William Faulkner: “the past is never dead; it’s not even past.” I’m sure some of his books are on shelves in the library.
The meeting ended around 9:45 pm.