Sonoma Valley considers a new K-8 dual immersion school

It is one of several options being considered to help address declining enrollment and related issues on the Valley’s school campuses.|

The creation of a K-8 dual immersion school was among the options discussed at the Sonoma Valley Unified District Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 9 as the board strives to optimize its portfolio of campuses beginning in the 2023-24 academic year, part of plans to address declining enrollment.

Flowery Elementary is currently the district’s dual immersion school, offering a nontraditional educational experience for K-5 students in which language is acquired through content instruction and is not taught as a separate subject area. The dual immersion educational model integrates native English-speaking students with native Spanish-speaking students.

Enrollment projections for a K-8 dual immersion school range from 540 to 720, or 60 to 80 per grade level.

“It’s an interesting scenario, but it’s a big jump to go from a K-5 to a K-8 campus,” said Josh Jackson, engagement specialist and planner for consulting Perkins-Eastman, during his presentation at the Feb. 9 meeting. Perkins-Eastman is collaborating with the district on its Facilities Master Plan.

“There are also additional enrichment rooms that need to be provided, as well as athletic and science facilities for sixth- to eighth-grade students,” Jackson said.

In addition to creating facilities for these students, he said a K-8 dual immersion school would need to be in a central location; include a larger library, larger multipurpose room, expanded sports program and facilities; and address increased transportation needs.

“So, adding three more grades is more than just (adding) students,” Jackson said. “That being said, this warrants a close look.”

He also discussed a scenario in which a districtwide K-2 and 3-5 school could be created. The K-2 school would have an estimated 572 students, ranging from 155 to 203 students per grade, while the 3-5 grades school would have 605 students, ranging from 191 to 208 per grade.

Jackson said that establishing the schools, which would need to be in a central location, would require larger rooms, integrated restrooms and dedicated play structures for kindergartners. He added that this would consolidate community resources and enable students from the same family to attend multiple schools.

“We also need to understand that changes would have real impacts on school communities: Neighborhood schools would be impacted by this scenario,” he said. “So, in addition to looking at the numbers (of students), we need to think about some of the qualitative impacts on communities, as well.”

Jackson also discussed the possibility of the district consolidating Adele Harrison Middle School and Altimira Middle School into a single 6-8 school site that would have an estimated 729 students, ranging from 216 to 262 per grade level, in 2023-24.

“This, in many ways, is a more straightforward course (than some of the other options),” he said. “It’s unlike adding an early childhood program at a school that isn’t focused on early childhood or needing to modify facilities to add a middle school program that isn’t serving a middle school.”

Jackson’s presentation at the meeting recapped developments from the Jan. 21 board study session that focused on portfolio optimization and previewed some of the topics to be discussed at a Feb. 11 study session concentrating on possible consolidation, grade reconfiguration, site optimization, usage of alternative sites and other possibilities.

“The board is still in the exploratory phase to understand viable options for consolidating our schools,” said board President Anne Ching after the Feb. 11 meeting. “No decisions have been made. After the presentation, we have a better understanding regarding the constraints with respect to restructuring models clustered around specific grade spans.

“The board is also in the process of analyzing facility conditions, age, upgrade requirements, prospects for expansion and capital costs, which will have an impact on final reconfiguration plans.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kaufman, acting superintendent of Sonoma Valley Unified School District, noted that the board is planning to make decisions that impact the 2023-24 school year at its regular meeting on April 20. Plans call for the board to enact facility restructuring plans for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 academic years by April 22.

“The process of optimizing will take multiple years, so we have short- term considerations to address for 2023-2024 while we also need to make long-term plans to address our declining enrollment and plan how to optimize resources for students for future years,” she said.

Jackson said that moving forward, Perkins-Eastman as well as the SVUSD board and its staff will continue to work collaboratively and with the greater community to find solutions.

“We’ll explain different ways to put strategies together into a unified portfolio,” Jackson said. “By April 20, hopefully we’ll be able to identify a scenario that accomplishes as many goals as possible with limited negative effects, and that provides a fruitful path forward for the district for years to come.”

At the Feb. 11 study session, Perkins-Eastman indicated that it will create a comprehensive website to enable the public to learn about plans under consideration.

“The site will allow the public to explore different options, as the user will be able to experiment with a variety of alignments of schools, and compare those strategies with the facilities available at different sites,” said Trustee John Kelly. “As a trustee, my hope is that the public will be able to use that tool to answer their questions and perform their own research.

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