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Adobe school district starts a new chapter

Published: Friday, September 14, 2012 at 9:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 3:16 p.m.

Despite the continuing challenge of “the lack of consistent and stable funding from the state,” Old Adobe School District Superintendent Cindy Pilar sees many positive changes ahead for the 1,700 students in her district with the recent launch of three charter school conversions and the start of a long-awaited facility improvement project made possible with last spring’s approval of a $26 million bond measure.

Her primary concern when she first arrived at the fiscally troubled school district in July of 2011 — as the Sonoma County Office of Education was studying the potential benefits of consolidating the Old Adobe District with Petaluma City Schools as a financial survival strategy — was how to best meet the needs of its students, parents and teachers. The idea of consolidating the districts, which was never popular for Old Adobe, was scrubbed earlier this year when the district decided on three charter school conversions, followed by voter approval of the Measure G bond measure in June.

“It is not about me … it is about we … and what we accomplished as a district,” this last year that makes it possible to focus on “high quality instruction and innovative programs” for students at all the district schools, Pilar said.

District schools include La Tercera, Miwok Valley, Old Adobe and Sonoma Mountain elementary schools. Bernard Eldredge elementary school was closed two years ago as a cost cutting measure, but is still used for preschool, after school care, and gifted and talented programs.

La Tercera remains the district’s only “traditional” school, because they have a new principal and needed a little more time to consider the potential transition to becoming a charter school, Pilar said.

Conversion to nearly all charter schools has allowed the district to put more money into the funding pot and to exercise more control over how it is spent, Pilar said. “There was no downside to it, so why wouldn’t we do it?” she asked.

This year, the district aims to create science labs on each elementary school campus by January, making it “one of the only ones in the state” to do so, and giving elementary students more access to “hands-on” education in science.

Depending on how the charters are written, converted schools will be able to restore many popular educational programs that have been cut over the years, Pilar said.

With a charter focused on the arts, Old Adobe will add an “artist in residence” program that will bring a local artist in to teach this year.

Sonoma Mountain will expand its popular upper level (fifth and sixth grade) music programs to the lower grades.

Dual immersion Spanish/English language programs will expand at Miwok School to include all students with the potential for adding other languages in years to come.

The district may open a new charter school for seventh and eighth grades at Bernard Eldredge next fall, Pilar said, depending on finances and interest.

As the charter school conversions are helping the district cope with rocky funding challenges, the passage of Measure G, a general obligation bond, will fund repairs and improvements to school buildings that were constructed 40 to 50 years ago, allowing the district to take care of health, safety and code issues at three district schools this year, Pilar said.

It is up to the board to set priorities, Pilar said, but the major areas of concern include infrastructure improvements such as solar heating, along with replacing old roofs, rusty pipes, gas lines and outdated heating and cooling systems, while modernizing classrooms and multipurpose areas.

For the future in the district, Pilar said, “We need classroom space that supports different learning modes and allows for more incorporation of technology and changing teaching models to prepare students for the twenty-first century workplace.”

Yet such planning requires financial security, Pilar added, noting, “We are on hold on many things depending on the outcome of Proposition 30,” she added.

Proposition 30 on the November ballot is estimated to generate about $6 billion annually in new state tax revenues to maintain existing educational funding plans.

“If it fails,” Pilar said, “we will cut school days and look at budget cuts.”

(Contact Marsha Trent at argus@arguscourier.com)

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