Woodlake Unified to move forward with K-5 split

Woodlake Unified School District will convert its elementary schools into two K-5 campuses

WOODLAKE – The Woodlake Unified School District board came to the decision to restructure Woodlake Unified elementary schools into two transitional kindergarten through fifth grade campuses on Feb. 15. The decision came after weeks of heated debate among faculty and community members, and then a special meeting to codify the board’s vote. 

Plans to shift F.J. White school, currently transitional kindergarten (TK) through second grade, and Castle Rock school, currently third through fifth grades, into two TK-5 schools were introduced to the school board by superintendent Laura Gonzalez in January. 

At a school board meeting on Feb. 9, votes were cast among board members which resulted in a 4-3 decision to not move forward with the shift. Boardmember Richard Rochin became the swing vote after he requested to change his vote in favor of restructuring the schools.

“After consulting legal counsel, we were provided clear steps on how to proceed and yes, Richard motioned to reconsider the vote which resulted in a revote in which 4 ‘Yes’ and 3 ‘No’ votes were cast in favor of moving forward with two TK-5 elementary sites,” said Gonzalez during a follow-up meeting held by the board on Feb. 15. 

The plans to realign the two schools have been a point of contention among Woodlake’s parents, teachers, and community members, many of whom are opposed to the changes. 

“The community is split,” Gonzalez said. “Part of the community believes that there is no need to move forward right now, and the other half of the community is saying that they are tired of having multiple drop offs and pickups. In addition, the community believes that we are not big enough yet.”

Gonzalez said the proposed plans for the changes are informed by her research and experience working as an instructional consultant for the Tulare County Office of Education and the State Department of Education.  

“According to the research, and in my experience in working and supporting many districts in Tulare, Kings and Fresno County, moving away from a split system with K-2 and 3-5 and into a K-5 or K-8 is ultimately better for students because of the continuity of programs, opportunities to build relationships and the continuity at one site,” Gonzalez said. 

According to Gonzalez, the district’s next steps include hiring a new elementary school principal and reaching out to architects regarding new facility needs at the two schools. If it is determined that the budget needed to make the changes exceeds the district’s means, they will not move forward.

“I will keep the community and the board informed at every step of the way,” Gonzalez said.

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