Saugus Union School District governing board approves closure of the oldest school in the district
The verdict is in: Santa Clarita Elementary School’s days are numbered.
The Saugus Union School District governing board approved a resolution with a 4-1 vote at Tuesday’s regular meeting that will see the oldest school in the district close at the end of the current school year.
“There’s nothing good about closing a school,” said board member Christopher Trunkey, representative of Trustee Area No, 5. “Students are displaced, teachers are displaced and there are staff members that may lose their jobs. And every school has a unique culture in the eyes of the school community. But as governing board members, we sometimes have to make tough choices.”
The last day of instruction for the school, according to the district’s calendar on its website, is scheduled to be Friday, June 7.
The lone “no” vote was cast by Anna Griese, who represents Trustee Area No. 2. After listening to public comments contending there has been a lack of transparency — and noting that two current board members were not part of the initial discussions that took place starting in 2021 — Griese questioned why the process seemed so rushed.
District Superintendent Colleen Hawkins responded by saying that multiple discussions have been held in open sessions at meetings over the past year where the possibility of closing a school was brought up.
“While the word ‘closed’ or ‘closing’ was not used, it was inherent that the buildings need to be rebuilt, and we had discussions about that,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins was referring to Assembly Bill 300 requirements, essentially ensuring that all buildings are updated to 1976 standards for earthquake retrofitting. Trunkey said that, to his knowledge, the cost to retrofit Santa Clarita Elementary would be approximately $25 million.
Santa Clarita Elementary opened in 1960, according to the state Department of Education.
Al Reano, who has seen three children graduate from Santa Clarita Elementary and has one more who is currently in fifth grade, said that he has seen eight AB 300 presentations, 14 ParentSquare messages regarding AB 300 and one special board meeting without any mention of the school closing.
“Not until Oct. 6 through a ParentSquare message regarding consolidation and, finally, that dreaded Oct. 17 meeting when we were told the school would close,” Reano said.
Claudia Ortiz, who has served on the Santa Clarita Elementary PTA, made sure to thank the teachers and staff of the school.
“I do want to thank everyone who is part of Santa Clarita Elementary,” she said.
She moved on to say that students should be placed in the school of their choice and in classrooms that their friends will be in, a promise that she said the board previously made to her.
“I would like to ensure that as my child is forced to transition to another school, that she and all students have priority to whichever school parents decide to enroll their children, not only the priority to attend the school, but also to ensure that they are in the same classroom as their friends,” Ortiz said. “In 2021 when I first raised my concerns, this was the promise that was made to alleviate the concern and frustration, and I will hold the board accountable for this promise.”
In a letter sent to parents via ParentSquare on Nov. 1, Hawkins outlined how parents can choose the next school for their children should the resolution be approved.
In the letter, parents were given a deadline of Jan. 15 at 4 p.m. to tell the district their preferred school choice, with the district requesting both a first and second choice. Those requests can be sent as soon as Wednesday and are to be sent to Elizabeth Krueger, part of the district’s student support services staff and “concierge” for Santa Clarita Elementary families, at [email protected]. Parents can also drop off their transfer request to the district office at 24930 Avenue Stanford.
Tour dates for schools in the district were also provided in the letter. Most of the tour dates have already passed, though Helmers Elementary has a tour scheduled for Wednesday at 4 p.m. and West Creek Academy has one scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m. Emblem Academy has tours scheduled for Thursday and Friday, both at 4 p.m. Those wishing to tour a school that is not listed in the letter or need a different tour date can email Krueger to make arrangements.
Parents of Santa Clarita Elementary students should have received the letter containing the paperwork necessary to submit the transfer request. Those who do not meet the Jan. 15 deadline are subject to the regular intra-district transfer criteria, meaning the district has the right to send a student where space is available, which may not necessarily be where a parent requests the student to be sent.
The letter states that space has been set aside at Helmers Elementary School for fifth-graders who would like to be grouped together with their peers in order to graduate together.
Families in the preschool program were told in the letter to follow information in ParentSquare dated Oct. 12.
Any questions regarding transfers should be directed to either Krueger or Rose Villanueva, the principal of Santa Clarita Elementary.
The letter states that school sites in the district may need construction in the future to align with AB 300, but that “no other sites are scheduled to close at this time.”
A 7/11 committee — one that is made up of between seven to 11 community members of varying positions within the community — is set to be created to decide what the district will do with the property. Hawkins said at a previous meeting that the hope is to keep the campus in the hands of the district.
Reano said after Tuesday’s meeting that he is planning to put his name down to be one of the members of the 7/11 committee. He said that the area that Santa Clarita Elementary is in would not benefit from it being transformed into a private business, such as a Starbucks or an apartment building, and he would rather see it remain a learning institution, such as a STEM school.
“I will definitely try, because this time, I will not believe anything that the board says, and I want to be a part of the process,” Reano said. “I want to be in the know-how. I want to be able to communicate to my community members, to my neighbors.”
He also said that the plan for having the fifth-grade class be enrolled together at Helmers is a “saving grace” by the district. His plan is to enroll his child at Highlands Elementary due to the current construction at Helmers that he said has been ongoing since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Parents are gonna go in different directions at this point,” Reano said. “Tomorrow morning, first thing when that link goes up, I’m gonna sign him up for Highlands, which is the closest school. Yes, it is uphill, and it will be very disruptive to us as a family, but that’s something that, just like they were prepared, I guess I was a little prepared myself.”