One-year countdown begins

William S. Hart School District Superintendant Vicki Engbrecht addresses the crowd on hand for the Countdown to Castaic High which marks the one-year countdown to the school's opening. Cory Rubin/ The Signalp

The future students of Castaic High School joined state legislators, district leaders, parents and Santa Clarita Valley stakeholders at the future school site to celebrate the countdown to Castaic High School, an event commemorating the one-year countdown until the highly anticipated opening of the school.

“CHS has been talked about since I came on the board,” said Steve Sturgeon, the current board president of the William S. Hart Union High School District who has been involved with the project for nearly two decades. ”Nobody would’ve expected that it would be 2019 before the doors opened,” but the progress the district has made in the last six to eight years has been tremendous.

“The building portion of the project alone has been, to date, a little over 228,000 man-hours of effort,” project manager Randy Wrage told the crowd of more than 400 people. “Most of that is skilled tradespeople bearing 110-degree heat,” in order to raise the white science building, which provided the background for Friday morning’s event, or the maroon metal beams that rise from the ground and will serve as the future site of Castaic’s performing arts center.

The grinding and sounds of machine work rung in the background on Friday, as children and adults, alike, attempted to guess the purpose of each building during their walk up the long road to the ceremony.

“Early on, Castaic High School was going to go in Northlake but that went belly up, so we finally landed here,” said Gloria Mercado-Fortine, a former Hart district board president. “We went through probably a good eight sites before coming to the most difficult site, but by then, there was no more land.”

“Since then, it feels like we’ve been travelling through this desert,” Mercado-Fortine said with a giggle.

At the podium, Principal Melanie Hagman agreed that the journey has been long, referring to both the mile-and-a-half journey up the access road to the construction site, as well as the opening of the seventh comprehensive high school in the Hart district.

Former Castaic resident Debbie Kelly believes the wait has definitely been worth it.

“This is like the icing on the cake,” Kelly said. “My children went to Live Oak Elementary and Castaic Middle School, and this was in the making from the time they’ve been in preschool.”

Today, Kelly said her children are 25 and 28 years old, nearly the same age as Kaitlyn Graff, who also expected to attend Castaic High School in her youth but now hopes to teach there in the upcoming year.

“It’s a little 360,” she said, before explaining her excitement for the school and its expected programs.

“Ultimately, I feel that this school is going to yield really wonderful students that are ready for their next journey in life,” Hagman said. Similar to every Hart district school, the academics will be rigorous and taught by highly dedicated and passionate teachers, she said.

Students will have the opportunity to complete up to two years of college credit, thanks to a partnership with College of the Canyons, Hagman said. “We are also going to work through a career technical education program,” which will ultimately offer classes that will prepare future engineers, welders, health professionals and chefs for real-world job opportunities.

“I’m really excited about the added focus (on CTE) because kids need to have alternatives,” Mercado-Fortine said. “Not everybody should be pushed into college because there are other wonderful careers that make even more money than a college education.”

“We want to offer everything,” including competitive athletic teams and performing groups, Hagman said. Castaic High won’t be able to offer every sport and class from the first day, ”(but) a survey will be sent out to make sure we’re right on the mark for our students.”

The survey will offer students a chance to select the school colors, a mascot and the sports they want on campus.

“I think the school colors should be a darker blue, white or yellow,” said eighth-grade student Aaron LaCore, who attends Castaic Middle School and is excited to have the opportunity to complete college credits in high school. “I think the classes will benefit a lot of people.”

As the ceremony came to an end, the current eighth graders who will comprise the first graduating class of Castaic High in 2023 posed for a photograph in front of their future high school, which they will return to next year as freshmen.

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