Santa Paula Times

In response to Santa Paula Times Article on School District To Study Possibility Of Unification

February 23, 2003
Mercedes Ramirez, Assistant SuperintendentCurriculum, Instruction and Assessment.Santa Paula Elementary School DistrictAs a fairly new member of the Santa Paula Elementary School District, I can understand the smaller districts’ and schools’ fear of “being lost” in a larger system. However, it is my experience that even in a large, unified district, schools can maintain their uniqueness. Through the magnet school concept, small school climates and educational programs can be preserved. This is the beauty of having a seamless education system throughout the grades - bringing curriculum, while still preserving a school’s individual and unique focus.I experienced this personally as principal of a K-8 magnet school in the second largest unified school district in the state. My school had a diverse student population. Our K-8 status was unlike the other schools. Our magnet focus and educational program was unique to our site. Decisions to guide and monitor our educational program were made at the site level by our governing boards (i.e. School Site Council, Governance Team, Site Leadership Teams). Yet, we benefited from being a member of a large school district. We were able to share central office resources such as, having access to district wide professional development and district wide exceptional programs to better meet the needs of our special student populations. As a school site, we were able to focus our resources back to: the classrooms, where our students are directly impacted; our school library, which was accessible to all our students and their families; and our school community’s individual needs, as far as counseling and other support areas.
Change is difficult, and it is natural to fear the unknown. It is understandable that approximately 130 years ago a number of separate schools were needed to provide services to students in rural locations resulting in each separate school determining how it would fund the hiring of teachers and the provision of services to students.In 2003 we need to seriously question the need to continue having five separate (Briggs, Mupu, Santa Clara, Santa Paula Elementary and Santa Paula Union High School) districts located within a geographic area of less than 7.5 miles. In Ventura County we have numerous examples of small schools that exist successfully within unified school districts. Therefore, it does not follow that small successful schools and their respective programs would be eliminated should there be a decision to unify Santa Paula districts. Creative thinkers can work together in an effort to maintain individual school uniqueness, while providing a higher level of service to students, parents and staff.In addition, times have changed and with the budget deficits we are all currently facing, change is of the essence. A unified district could make it possible to reduce administrative overhead, central office costs, and direct more resources back to the classroom.