The West Sonoma County Union High School District held another special meeting on March 30. The meeting, online by Zoom and YouTube, was their continuing effort to keep the community informed on opening schools this year and consolidation of the high schools planned for 2021-2022. The agenda and links to the video recording of the meeting can be found on their website at: West Sonoma County UHSD (wscuhsd.org)
The first three items pertained to approval of the COVID-19 Safety Plans for Analy, El Molino and Laguna High Schools. These are a required step in the reopening process under state guidelines. Each school principal reviewed their plan – all of which were similar using a common template from the state. The main difference between the plans were the number of stations for entering or exiting the campus. Analy, the larger campus with the greater number of students has three. El Molino has just two, and Laguna, the smaller continuation high school has but a single entry/exit point. All the plans were approved by the board. They must be posted on the district’s website five days before school reopening, which is currently planned for April 12.
The district will be using Parent Square, and application currently part of their Student Information System, for communications and possible contract tracing if necessary. Each school plans to hold a webinar so that parents can understand how to download and use the application. Check with your school site for dates and times of those webinars which will be held the first and second week of April in the evenings.
Superintendent Toni Beal then gave an update on the consolidation progress. The board had voted on March 10 to consolidate by moving El Molino students to the Analy/Laguna campus in Sebastopol, and to move the Laguna students and the district office to the El Molino campus as part of the required fiscal recovery plan required by the Sonoma County Office of Education. On March 16, the board also voted to begin a rebranding process for the combined schools. Items such as school name, colors, mascot and uniforms are part of that process.
Beal continued with an update to the board and the community on the Unity Process which is underway. The purpose of this effort is to unite the students, staff, and community since the consolidation decision hasn’t been universally well received. The El Molino community remains opposed to the decision, even if they acknowledge consolidation is necessary sometime in the future. They continue to ask for more time to find alternatives, to at least delay the consolidation until 2022-23 school year, and to give them additional chances to find ways to avoid consolidation at all. The previous efforts to meet those desires, with a parcel tax and the transient occupancy tax votes in March, failed when those taxes were not passed by the community.
Beal said the initial meeting was held on February 22. The committees also met on March 15 and 29. They will continue meeting every week on Mondays through the end of May. There are three committees. One comprised of students from all schools are meeting to decide school name, colors and mascots. These will then be used in a branding process in the future. The second one is composed of staff from all school sites. They are working on culture and curriculum issues. The final committee has alumni, parents, and West County residents for their membership. They are tasked with looking at how to preserve the unique history of Analy and El Molino after consolidation into a new high school.
Beal then introduced three partnerships working with the district to assist in making this consolidation as smooth as possible. For branding, the partner is Varsity Brands. Rebranding is what they do – for new schools, consolidations and on controversial mascots being changed. They only work with schools. Taking input from the student committee working on name, colors and mascot; they will provide an initial branding product to the district at no cost. They are the current uniform provider via Varsity Sports for uniforms to the district and will likely be the source for new uniforms purchased for the consolidated school. The second partner is being funded by a grant from the Sonoma County Office of Education. They are Leadership and Design consultants who will aid the district office on communications and how to rollout and welcome students to the new school.
The third partner was working with the district even before the consolidation decision had been made. They are the Career Technical Education Foundation. Initial discussions started back in November 2020. West County applied in December 2020 and received a grant award in February 2021 which also includes Santa Rosa’s Elsie Allen and Petaluma’s Casa Grande High Schools. 2021-22 will be a planning year for this partnership centered around the concept of “Portrait of a Graduate.” The foundation will then work with funders to role out the approved plan for the 2022-2023 school year. In closing, Beal said we’ve “done a lot in a short amount of time to move forward with the Unity Process.”
Chief Business Official Jeff Ogston then provided an in-depth overview of expected funds coming to the district from various state and federal legislation. There are four different pots of money. These are restricted funds, meaning they can only be used for specific purposes as stated in the law. For example, they can’t be used to support existing programs or personnel. They also can’t be used a replacement for operational costs. They can only be used for new programs and personnel related to COVID-19, In-Person Instruction, and Expanding Learning. The focus is primarily on special student populations or at-risk students such as foster or homeless youth, special education or students at risk for not graduating on time.
All have spending end dates that range from the end of 2021 through the fall of 2024. Combined, the total if all expected funds are expended for authorized uses would be near 3 million dollars. Because of those restrictions, these funds could not be used as hoped for by the El Molino community to delay consolidation for another year. Nevertheless, they continue to advocate for a revote on the consolidation decision and plan to hold a protest rally at the district office starting at 3 p.m. on Thursday April 8.