The electorate in the Nov. general election will decide two important issues for Madera Unified School District. The voters will determine whether the district will be able to build three new schools it says it desperately needs and whether it will be able to modernize old ones.
The voters also will decide who is going to replace former board president Al Galvez in the race for the Area 5 seat on the board.
The board has placed Measure M, a $120 million bond issue, on the November ballot for a number of reasons, according to Deputy Superintendent Sandon Schwartz. Madera’s older elementary schools are housing many more students than they were built to handle, he said.
Madera has 18 elementary schools — 14 K-6 schools and 4 K-8 schools. Ten of those 18 facilities were built in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Each was designed to house between 500 and 600 students. Today they have from 700 to 800 students.
Over the years, the district has had to resort to portable classrooms to accommodate the increase in student enrollments. At present, several MUSD campuses have more portable classrooms than they do permanent classrooms, said Schwartz. He said that almost 40 percent of all elementary classrooms are currently portable.
According to Schwartz, the large number of students on the same campus also magnifies other problems such as parking lots, cafeteria sizes, and bathrooms.
Over-populated campuses also present another problem, he said. The current facilities were designed for services that schools provided in the 1950s and not what schools provide currently. Today’s schools provide music programs, structured PE programs, social/emotional support staff, and facilities for academic and behavioral interventions. These services require space, and this means crowded facilities from classrooms to staff rooms.
Schwartz maintains that “the only way to solve these overcrowded conditions is to build additional schools designed for the 21st Century student and lower the enrollment at older sites to allow for them to be modernized for the 21st Century student.”
According to Schwartz, “our elementary schools on the West Side of town are far over capacity. Specifically, the district needs to provide relief to Adams, Lincoln, and Howard. These sites are over capacity and could not accommodate any future growth.”
All three middle schools are also at capacity; therefore, a new concurrent enrollment middle school is being proposed. Schwartz says this school, while helping with the capacity issue is also an opportunity for the district to develop a new type of student. “Through a hands-on, project-based curriculum that is designed to focus on student interests and real world application, students understand 'why' learning is so important. These students will be interacting with a much more innovative curriculum that challenges their creativity and will be more inspiring as they leave with the skills necessary for future jobs.”
The new middle school is being called a “concurrent enrollment” school because it would have two shifts of students, one in the a.m. and one in the p.m., and each group would have approximately 750 students, 250 from each of the other three schools.
The morning contingent would come from their home schools of Desmond, Jefferson, and MLK, and then return just before lunch.
The afternoon students would arrive from the same home schools and return at the end of the day.
Since the students would be coming to the new school from a “home” school, a gymnasium, cafeteria and other buildings normally found on a middle school campus would not be necessary at the new school, which would reduce its construction cost dramatically.
Students who attend the new middle school would find the instruction to be just as innovative as the campus configuration. According to Superintendent Todd Lile, an “innovative, real world curriculum would be offered.”
The school would offer approximately 10 labs of 65 to 75 students each. Three teachers would staff each lab. Classes would be based on “career technology pathway skills such as agriculture, engineering, robotics, health careers, etc.” Electives such as the performing and visual arts, music, culinary arts, etc. would also be offered.
Lile insists the new concept would present a “world class education program for our kids.”
School board race
Although the names of candidates for four seats on the Madera Unified School District board of trustees were scheduled to be on the ballot in the Nov. election, only one incumbent will appear.
Incumbent trustee and acting board president Ed McIntyre and trustee Brent Fernandes drew no opposition for their seats, therefore, they will not be on the ballot. McIntyre represents Area 2 on the board, and Fernandes represents Area 7.
Philip Huerta, who was appointed to the board to replace Maria Velarde-Crist, will face retired teacher Joetta Flores Fleak for a full term to represent Area 4.
Two candidates have emerged to replace former board president Al Galvez, who resigned in July. Steve Duncan, local businessman, will face Lucy Salazar, a small business owner.
The outcome of the Area 4 and 5 races is particularly significant because of the impact it could have on the cohesiveness of the board.
After two or three years of internal strife, Madera trustees have been working harmoniously to move the district in a unified direction. Observers credit this to two factors; the astute leadership of board president Al Galvez who was chosen president three times consecutively. Additionally, the selection of Madera native Todd Lile as superintendent has brought a renewed sense of cooperation between the school board and the administration.
The community’s confidence in MUSD trustees has been reflected in the fact that no opposition has been forthcoming in Areas 2 and 7. All eyes are now on the races in 4 and 5 to see if the spirit of collegiality will continue among school trustees.