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The El Mo in the Room
The WSCUHSD school board meeting for November was all about planning for the future while avoiding the politics of the past.
At every West County Union High School District board meeting, there is something in the back of the room. Big but invisible, there’s this elephant in the room, as one board member called it at the Nov. 8 meeting. The El Molino consolidation with Analy and the raw feelings it generates in the community are ever present and the politics are not just in the past.
El Molino is more than just the site of a high school. It’s a symbol representing the geography of parts of West County and their remoteness from other parts of the county; a distinct identity emerging from economic struggles and social status that comes with a stubborn sense of pride and a fierce desire to endure. It represents all the people who have been shaped by their experiences at that high school over many generations and now live as adults in the community.
Almost any decision that comes before the Board is likely to disturb the El Mo in the room.
Lease by SoCo Regional Parks for portion of Forestville campus approved
At the previous board meeting, we reported that a resolution was defeated to create a joint-use agreement and three-year lease with Sonoma County Regional Parks for use of a position of the Forestville campus. (One can try to avoid disturbing the El Mo in the room by using term Forestville campus.) The resolution was approved following a legal ruling after the meeting.
To recount this part of the October meeting, Debbie Ramirez moved to delay approval of the resolution, asking the District to conduct a study session to evaluate the amount of vacant space at the El Molino campus and assess community needs and priorities.
After further discussion, a motion was made to approve the use by the Parks Department. Ramirez joined with Shawn Chernila to oppose the motion while three board members voted in favor. Ramirez then challenged the majority vote, saying that any kind of lease required a two-thirds vote. Superintendent Meredith disagreed, and said that he would check with their legal team; he apologized for the confusion to the representatives from the SoCo Regional Parks. After the meeting, the District’s legal counsel agreed that a majority vote was sufficient to pass the resolution. Here’s the press release:
On October 11, 2023, our Board of Trustees approved a joint-use agreement and three-year lease with Sonoma County Regional Parks (SCRP). This agreement was to lease three classrooms, an office space, and a dedicated restroom at the Laguna campus to SCRP for $1250 monthly, increasing 3% annually. The space at Laguna will house their river maintenance team and Career Pathways Youth Crew Program.
In email, Trustee Ramirez was asked why she opposed the resolution. “My primary concerns about the lease with Regional Parks were around procedure and transparency,” she replied. “There was no community engagement to determine whether this is something that the community wants at the location. Particularly the increased truck traffic. The campus is owned by the taxpayers and a public process ought to take place to determine how the space will be used if they are not being used as classrooms.”
Sam Avalos retires after 17 years
The Board recognized the service of Sam Avalos, who has been a District employee for 17 years. He began work at El Molino High School and became grounds custodian, serving in Forestville and then at Analy before returning to Forestville in 2022. Sam’s supervisor, Denise Fisher, offered a warm appreciation of Sam and his work. Sam knows every inch of each campus, she said.
El Molino Memorabilia
Mary Fricker, retired journalist and friend of Sebastopol Times, regularly attends the Board meetings and often speaks about El Molino. This meeting was no exception. She cited a recent article in Sebastopol Living Magazine that mentioned the induction of new members to the Analy Athletic Hall of Fame. She wondered about the El Molino Hall of Fame and asked: “How will they be honored?” Mary’s son is a member of the El Molino Hall of Fame. She carries athletic plaques and awards in the trunk of her car, hoping they will one day find a home.
Later in the meeting, in a discussion about the Forestville campus, she asked what happens to El Molino memorabilia now or in the future. She wanted to know what happens to the pictures of athletes on the wall, the long shelf of yearbooks, and even the historic El Molino sign, which she had heard may be taken down. El Molino alumni, many of whom continue to live in the community, do not have access to this memorabilia. She said that while students have worked through consolidation in admirable ways, “many adults feel discarded by the District.”
Teacher and WSCTA President Lily Smedshammer said that there has been discussion of an on-campus museum to hold on to the history of the schools. A museum would make memorabilia available to alumni and a special place for them to visit during class reunions.
Mary spoke with deep reverence about what the El Molino memorabilia means and she wants it to find a place of honor in the community.
Holding Board Meetings in Forestville
A review of the schedule for 2024 Board meeting caused another stirring in the room. Trustee Chernila asked that the Board meet once each quarter in Forestville. The trustees argued back and forth, making the same arguments that were made last year, which resulted in a board meeting in Forestville in May. Jeanne Fernandes pointed out that the May meeting had fewer than ten people in attendance. Shawn said it was important for the meetings to be more accessible to those who live in that part of the county. Someone in the audience remarked that holding meetings in Forestville was a sign of respect. No decision was made but it seemed likely that Chernila’s proposal will be accepted.
A Community School in Forestville
Superintendent Meredith explained that the District had received a California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP) planning grant of $200,000.00 for two years. He introduced Sheila Richmond, the District’s new Wellness Coordinator, who was hired under the grant. She outlined the stages of a planning process for submitting an implementation plan by December 2024. An implementation grant could provide up to $3.5M over five years for operating a community school on the Forestville campus.
According to the CCSPP, community schools are said to have four pillars:
Integrated support services;
Family and community engagement;
Collaborative leadership and practices for educators and administrators; and
Extended learning time and opportunities.
The basic idea is that a community school campus offers wrap-around services on-site such as health and wellness programs for students and families as well as after-school and summer learning programs for children.
According to the Board agenda, the community school maps to “the current goal of developing an innovative, non-comprehensive educational program for students in grades 9-12. Developing a non-comprehensive community school will provide opportunities for students and families that are interested in a non-traditional and innovative high school educational experience. The development of a community school will provide the District with the opportunity to serve West County students as well as attract students from neighboring school districts which do not offer a non-comprehensive educational program.”
Analy is a considered a comprehensive high school in that it has a broad range of offerings aimed at helping students prepare for college. (El Molino was also considered a comprehensive high school.) Over the last year, Meredith has talked to the families whose students are transferring out of the District. The majority are “seeking a specialized learning environment or non-comprehensive school experience” that the District does not offer. Can a community school offer something that keeps those students in the District and also offer new community uses for the Forestville campus?
Trustee Ramirez asked whether students at this community school would not be prepared to go to college. Meredith replied that Analy already serves those students who are clear about the goal of going to college after graduation. He hears from students transferrng out of the District that going to college is not their primary goal. He added that the District would explore possible dual enrollment for students at the JC. The purpose of the community school is to offer an alternative to Analy and not compete with it for students.
The El Mo in the room was watchful but relatively quiet.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)
Anita Sandwina who is the DEI Coordinator for the District gave a rather frantic update on all that she’s been doing on campus. Here are a few of the highlights.
Coaching 12 teachers and meeting with them regularly
Organizing restorative circles for many different groups, including Hispanic/Latinx Boys, FFA students, and former El Molino high school staff.
Supporting efforts to establish a Jewish Student Union and a Black Student Union.
Empowering kids to talk to each other and mediate problems among themselves, as well as reporting any form of harassment.
Conducting mpathy interviews with those students getting multiple detentions to help understand what is going on in their lives. Sandwina is also looking for patterns among those getting detentions.
Gloria Mora, the District’s communication coordinator, and Katy Mamen, a parent, are members of the DEI committee and reported on its progress. There is a framework in development but delivery of it has been delayed for several reasons. There was some discussion that the DEI committee needed to be more diverse geographically and there were openings on the committee that needed to be filled.
Trustee Buchner, who has been the most vocal advocate for DEI, said that he appreciated what Anita is doing as well as the committee, “to understand all the different ways we separate from each other on the basis of race, gender, geography, class and more.” He raised what he said is “a weird issue” as a member of the DEI committee — both his wife and daughter serve on the committee, filling parent and student roles, respectively. He accepted the advice of other board members to continue working with the existing committee while trying to fill any vacancies, and deliver the promised framework. Recruitment for new members could begin in 2024
The other major item on the agenda was an update on the Local Control and Acountablity (LCAP) process. LCAP is a state-mandated three-year strategic plan that Superintendent Meredith will put together with the help of a consultant. “We have never looked more different as a District,” said Meredith, as a way of explaining the inadequacies of previous plans and the difficulties in executing them. The goal of the plan is to describe how the District will serve all of its students and what actions it will take to provide those services.
Like almost all the items on the agenda, the process to develop this plan includes getting community input and feedback. A community process can seem like a vague term, one that came up not just for LCAP but for the implementation plan for community schools, as well as the DEI committee. The process represents a desire for consensus.
Yet, getting a divided community involved and invested in a shared vision is a big challenge; one might say, it is as big as the elephant in the room and the elephant never forgets.
Karis Monasch, Analy’s Student Representative and exemplar student, said that the first winter dance will take place in January and it will be called “Snowco”. The dance will be organized by sophomores for the first time.
Music teacher Casey Jones has been doing outreach at the feeder elementary schools in West County. He hopes to raise awareness of the many programs that Analy offers, such as jazz band and string orchestra. Along with students, he created a brochure about the school.
Negotiations between the District and the teacher’s union (WSCTA) will begin this month.
Board meetings are now hybrid, meaning that anyone can attend remotely by Zoom and the meetings are archived on YouTube here. Six people attended this meeting via Zoom. The recording of the November meeting had not been posted as of publication.
The Analy Showcase took place on Thursday evening, where staff and current students highlighted the school’s program offerings for prospective students and their parents,
The Fall edition of West County World, the Analy student newspaper, is now available in print and it looks great.
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