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Meetings Set to Discuss Toyon Closure

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By John Hall

Administrators and trustees of Calaveras Unified School District continue to look into whether to keep the district´s middle school, located at Toyon, or to revert to kindergarten-through-eighth-grade (K-8) schools in its pre-high school programs.

“Recently there has been a national trend toward restructuring school grade levels to a more traditional model of kindergarten through eighth grade school structures,” district Superintendent Jim Frost wrote in an Aug. 19 letter announcing the scheduling of a series of community meetings to discuss the pros and cons of the issue, and to get feedback from parents and community members.

“Toyon is a very smooth running middle school, which is both well organized and well disciplined. We are proud of the increasing achievement of Toyon students, as reported by academic testing measures. In spite of this, and because of this national discussion, the board of trustees and the Calaveras Unified School District administrative team are seeking input from our community, as to their feelings on this issue,” Frost said.

The meetings, each starting at 6:30 p.m., will be held at West Point Elementary School, Sept. 7; San Andreas Elementary School, Sept. 12; Valley Springs Elementary School, Sept. 13; Mokelumne Hill Elementary School, Sept. 14; Jenny Lind Elementary School, Sept. 21; and Rail Road Flat Elementary School, Sept. 29.

“This is something the district is looking at because there is research out there that indicates children do better in K-8 schools,” Toyon Principal Jan Matson said. “We feel Toyon offers an excellent program, but we need to be open to other ideas.”

“I have not talked to one teacher who favors it (restructuring), but of course I haven´t talked to all of our 200 members. Teachers I have talked to n elementary, Toyon, high school n like it the way it is,” said Teresa Fasola, president of the Calaveras Unified Educators Association (CUEA), the California Teachers Association bargaining unit for CUSD teachers.

“The smaller schools are not able to offer as much variety as Toyon, where we have art, home economics, music and drama, choir, two levels of band and other electives,” Matson said. “In some cases, in the smaller schools, they would have more students on campus, but that could also mean there would have to be some combination classes. At the smaller schools n West Point, Rail Road Flat, Mokelumne Hill n they wouldn´t have enough seventh and eighth graders to have separate classes.”

“At an elementary school, teachers might be teaching all the subjects n especially at the smaller schools n and not necessarily our strengths. If the K-8 schools have a lot of seventh- and eighth-grade students, we probably would be able to continue teaching what we are now,” Fasola, who teaches seventh-grade English and social studies at Toyon Middle School, said.

Fasola and Matson both said there could be some advantages to students with a return to K-8 schools.

“The main one we´re hearing is that each school would be more community-based,” Fasola said.

“They get to stay with the same group of kids for a longer time; it keeps them younger longer,” Matson said. “Some research shows that their test scores may be better. Our test scores have been up there, so that is not necessarily true for our district.”

According to the state Department of Education, Academic Performance Index (API) scores for all Calaveras Unified schools have improved in each of the latest two reporting years (2003 and 2004), with the exception of Mokelumne Hill, which fell 11 points in 2004 n after exceeding the statewide performance target of 800 in 2003. In 2004, API scores for all of the district´s elementary schools were higher than the middle school´s score of 723 by a minimum of six points.

“I have heard a few parents talking about (going to K-8) and they like the idea,” West Point Parent-Teacher Group President Sarah Rose said. “Personally, I think it´s a great idea n it´s such a long bus ride down there for (the kids).

Rose said it might take a bit of effort to accommodate additional children on the West Point campus.

“It would make it a tight squeeze, but I think it would be good for them to stay here,” she said. “There is room n they could put up more portables for them n and, as long as all the kids are not on recess at the same time, they would fit.”

“I teach here (at Toyon),” Fasola said. “I love it here. It´s a successful program; our scores have gone up. Teachers love teaching here, and the students seem to love it, too. Also, it´s great as a transition to the high school, especially for the kids from the smaller elementary schools. The change for students transitioning from eighth grade at various elementary schools in the district to the high school would be major.”

“The CUEA Executive Board believes that the issue is being driven by a small but vocal group of parents who have students at lower grades,” CUEA Vice President John Walsh said at the district´s Aug. 16 board meeting. “We believe that the vast majority of parents of Toyon students are satisfied with the Toyon staff, the curriculum and the Toyon administration, past and present.”

Printed with kind permission from:The Calavereas Enterprise