Just between Farragut Elementary School and Culver City Middle, the new Culver Park campus is beginning to take shape into a robust environment for its students. Principal Veronica Montes is excited about the prospects of the new campus and its close proximity to the high school for teacher collaboration and ease of student transition.
Positively glowing with enthusiasm, Montes points out the benefits of the new campus in which the enclosed courtyard has a perfect view of Ballona Creek while she also talks about her plans for a student-planted garden area.
“We now have the ability to integrate more and not be that ‘cast off’ group,” she said. “Everything here is clean and nice. We have matching equipment. We can use the high school/middle school field for PE. We have bicycle connectivity. This is going to be a great new home for our students and our teachers.”
Moving the school from its old location adjacent to El Marino Language School has been the subject of some concern, but Ajay Mohindra from CCUSD’s Business Office said the new campus will be safe and secure and will provide an excellent learning environment for Culver Park’s 64 students.
He said the classroom bungalows housing the students has been approved by the Division of the State Architect (DSA), which provides design and construction oversight for K-12 schools across the state.
“Safety of students and staff is the number one priority for the district.,” Mohindra said. “We are taking every precaution to ensure that the campus is safe. We are currently acquiring all the necessary approvals from the fire marshal and DSA for the temporary office space that will house administrative offices, a teacher’s lounge and restrooms.”
While new carpet, banks of computers and large white boards highlight each of the school’s four classrooms, Montes said the success of the school will be determined not by the amenities, but rather by the work done inside each classroom.
“My job is to make sure I give everyone the support and the tools they need to do the most important job, and that’s teaching the kids,” she said. “The principal creates the culture, but the hard work happens in the classroom with kids and teachers.”
Montes, who has spent the last 29 years with LAUSD, including oversight of the West Valley Occupational Center, said Culver Park’s students represent a unique opportunity. Though some think of continuation schools as a place for students who cannot be successful in traditional classroom environments, Montes said she believes all of her students can be successful.
“I’ve never in my life met a bad kid,” she said. “Really. Maybe, they’re misguided or trying to make it through their lives without enough support or guidance, but once they get that, they can all be successful. The beauty is to watch that light bulb go on.”
Montes, who has two daughters, said she plans to set the ground rules early on and establish high expectations for everyone at Culver Park. She will expect every student to develop a graduation plan that includes their goals, a list of classes necessary for graduation and a timeline for achieving results.
“This is the opportunity to set the expectations for all of us,” she said. ” We have a nice, clean new home, and we want to keep it that way. We’re going to have respect for each other and our surroundings, and we’re all going to work hard to make sure all of our kids graduate.”
Montes added that the new location, closer to the bevy of ROP opportunities offered at Culver City High School, will give her students more educational and career options. The courtyard with tables, chairs, umbrellas and a view of the bridge and Ballona Creek will provide a spot of serenity. And, perhaps, equally important given the latest heat wave, the air conditioning in the classroom, in her words, “is amazing.”
“No one knew what to expect when the school was moved here,” Montes said. “But being here now and seeing it, they’re all going to walk in and say ‘wow!'”