May brings a Paradigm Shift in California Education


Email Sandra Nichols

"Here's the cheer: What do we want?
When do we want it?
How do we want it to be?

ere we are in the middle of May, one of our favorite months. Flowers coming into bloom, developing warmth, gophers, calves and sunshine.

My students like May. They like the anticipation of the year end festivities. They look forward to vacation, with the chance it offers to begin again next year with a clean slate. The horses are happily munching away in the pasture, in the only sunny month before the arrival of the flies. We are full of hope.

Also, lurking in the background of our consciousness is that expression, "May Day, May Day!" A threat. Distress. An unknown danger. Be on guard. Important things will happen in May.

May calls out for a paradigm shift, where we step back and assess our positions and see if we should alter course, adjust our path according to new information, rethink our personal master plans.

This past Tuesday an historic local event took place. The City Councils of county neighbors Watsonville and Santa Cruz met together, for the first time. I see this coming together as our hope for the future. As a 30 year resident of this county, I've been observing that our two main population centers are not twin sisters. But they both have some beauty to share with each other. I congratulate whoever conceived of the idea to meet together. Juntos podemos mejorar el futuro. Let's share the wisdom.

Another event anticipated in May is your next School Board Meeting, on May 23, at 7:00pm. This is an important one. The Board is expected to vote on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) of the new high school. Hopefully, all interested parties can attend. IMPORTANT NEWS: the meeting will be held at the Rolling Hills Middle School multi-purpose room to accommodate the large crowd anticipated!

Before Wednesday evening, you may wish to visit the proposed site. If you've never done so, now is the time! Take Harkins Slough Road west, crossing over the freeway. Don't stop until you get to the place where Lee Road intersects with Harkins Slough Road. Face north. You are there. Look, listen, observe, imagine.

You may have noticed that I have not been opining much publicly about the high school site, and I wish to explain why. I am part of a team. I want a new high school to meet our students needs. I am not neglecting my priorities, student and staff safety being numero uno. I am working to see that we get the school our kids deserve. A beautiful school, with easy access, and no avoidable dangers! Getting one may require a paradigm shift.

Here's the cheer: What do we want? A NEW SCHOOL! When do we want it? NOW! How do we want it to be? GOOD!

If you want to talk about the high school and the SEIR, I invite you to email me. Please do it now. On Wednesday night the vote will be cast. Please visit the site. I am going to visit it again tomorrow. Sunday, at high noon. Join me if you'd like. I will have the SEIR with me.

Here's some relevant news to throw into the mix about our new school which is planned to accommodate 2200 students. In the May edition of "California Teacher", a teacher's union publication, there was a short blurb entitled, "Small School, Big Vote". On April 18, the Education Committee of our state Assembly, passed AB 1447 out of committee on a 13-0 vote. Looking on the California government web page, I found out the details.

This bill establishes maximum student capacities for school due to research which has shown that students perform better in small schools. The bill which would affect schools built from 2004 on, would limit school capacities as follows: elementary schools, 600 students; middle and junior highs, 800 students; and high schools, 1500 students. This is the wave of the future. It is being ridden by those in the know. Let's consider this news and take it into account. Our paradigm regarding school size may be due for alterations.

Happily my own paradigm shift is very upbeat. My youngest is graduating from Sonoma State. Here's to her! I will no longer have a son or daughter in the California public schools for the first time in 28 years! Does that make me less of a stakeholder in our schools? Certainly not!

The public schools are our future. On our schools' shoulders is an incredible burden and responsibility. We want educated people here! We want civil behavior! We want problem solvers and creative thinkers! We want to talk out our differences with honesty, trust and the faith that a peaceful and positive solution can come into being.

Not everyone can get their way. But everyone can be a winner when the goal is excellent schools. We are all on the same team. We are all heading in the same direction. We've got our eyes on the prize. Let's go for it!

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and sits on the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, May 19, 2001. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily reflect those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2001

See other essays regarding PVUSD's effort to build a high school in the slough:
Something Fishy is going on (4/23/00)
The Coastal Commission bows to political pressure (3/26/00)
Community priorities and a new high school (1/9/00)