Woodlake Unified considers K-5 schools


Woodlake Unified school board decides to table idea until after new superintendent is selected

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

WOODLAKE – Is it time for Woodlake Unified School District to split students in grades K-5 between two schools? Parents are unsure and the school board isn’t ready to make the decision.

At its April 11 meeting, the Woodlake Unified School District (WUSD) board of trustees decided parents and community members, including the board themselves, were not ready to make the transition and decided to table the idea. The proposed plan was to change the Francis J. White Learning Center (FJW) from K-2 to K-5 and Castle Rock Elementary School (CRES) from grades 3-5 to K-5. Superintendent Drew Sorensen said the board was hesitant to make such a sweeping change to the district before it selects his replacement. 

“The board didn’t feel that was a project they wanted to give a new superintendent,” said Sorensen, who is retiring in June after six years as WUSD’s superintendent and 38 years in education. “It was such a big decision and if you do it, you want it to work, so they decided to hold off and reconsider in a few years.”

Sorensen said drawing boundary lines was also a concern for the board members. Valencia Boulevard was the proposed boundary line for students. Students west of the main road through town would attend FJW while students east of Valencia would attend CRES. Sorensen said using the north-south arterial brought the schools within 20 students of balancing the population between the two schools but that two new subdivisions have already been approved east of the dividing line. One subdivision broke ground last December and some homes could be completed as early as this winter.

The school board first discussed the idea of K-5 schools at its Feb. 14 meeting. In March, the district drafted and mailed each parent a survey asking the following question: “I would be in favor of the WUSD having both FJW and CRES enroll students in all grades K-5, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ … please indicate your reason.”

The district only received 105 completed surveys with 57 in favor of K-5 schools and 47 against, with one respondent listed as undecided. Those in favor stated that they move would benefit their children because there would be less transitioning to new schools, easier to drop off children in different grades and that they would be closer to home for six years. The most popular answer in favor of the switch was that “the continuity will help my children perform better academically.”

“There definitely wasn’t an overwhelming support for against the idea,” Sorenson said. “I think that also played a factor in their decision.”

Most of those opposed to the idea were concerned with “older kids bothering and/or bullying the younger kids.” Other concerns were that students who are friends will be split up until middle school, creating cross-town rivalries and that the student population will not be as tight-knit as they are now going to the same schools from kindergarten through high school. 

Exeter switched to K-5 elementary schools for the 2012-13 school year. The transition went smoothly as many parents enjoyed having multiple children at the same school. Lindsay Unified School District converted all of their elementary schools and middle school campuses to K-8 schools in 2011 with similar results. The difference is the size of the student population. Exeter Unified has more than 2,800 students and Lindsay Unified has more than 4,000 students while Woodlake has just over 2,000 students. 

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