The expansion of El Marino Elementary School to accommodate a full-day kindergarten requires the relocation of CCUSD’s other high school, Culver Park. CPHS is the district’s continuation school and provides a program, now limited by budget cuts to 80 students, where high-schoolers, 16 to18 years old, have a supportive, productive place to make up lost time; time lost for as many reasons as there are students.
I’ve been a teacher at Culver Park long enough to now have the children of former students in my English classes, as well as teens I first met when they were El Marino grade-schoolers attending my after-school art program. My commitment to these students, past, present and future, goes way back. And my concern about this poorly planned, last minute push to shovel CPHS into a couple of degraded bungalows in the parking lot between Farragut and the middle school goes pretty deep.
The word “bungalow” needs clarification. What do you think of when you visualize the word? A rustic, cozy cottage maybe? If you are an educator or have school-age children, you probably think of a portable classroom, kitted out with the basics: clean walls, floors, proper lighting, ventilation and safe access to P.E., food services, restrooms and the other amenities of a real school. The structures in the parking lot cannot, by either definition, be called “bungalows”. They are decaying 30-year-old pre-fab portables that have been there long enough to have grown roots- and not in a good way. Plumbing inside the buildings? Not that I could see. Outdoor bathrooms with a septic tank? Asbestos? Who knows. There is evidence of vermin, the stench of mold and mildew. No windows, ventilation or proper lighting. These are deep structural problems that can’t be remedied by our maintenance crew, good as they are, painting, carpeting and punching out a few windows.
And why would the district spend all the money necessary to bring the structures up to minimal building, health, safety, fire and earthquake codes when the site itself is so detrimental to any school, especially one for CCUSD’s most vulnerable young people? Is it even possible to open a school in the middle of a parking lot, expecting teenagers to make their way in the morning rush through cars moving in all directions? How can this location support the hard work continuation students must do to make up classes, change their behavior and priorities? How can Culver Park kids feel any school pride? For their final school years, they will be fenced off behind a locked gate, a utility pole with power lines hanging overhead, a view of the parking lot on one side, the creek fence on the other, truly banished to the farthest edge of the densest part of our school district for all to scorn. Not a great message for our community, or about our community.
Students in every school will see Culver Park as a prison sentence, a punishment place, not an opportunity place. Please, go take a look at the structures and try to imagine sending your own child there. No parents ever think their beautiful kindergartener, first-grader, 6th grader will require the individualized support that Culver Park provides. But all kinds of things can go wrong- family problems, friends, learning issues, bad choices, terrible wrongs and burdens can all lead to the need for an alternative school, a fresh start in a healthy, safe place. For the sake of all our kids, we’d best hope our school board makes sure that they have one.