Pacific Grove Unified evaluates elementary school reconfiguration

Peninsula Premier Admin

The topic of elementary school reconfiguration arose at Pacific Grove Unified School District’s board meeting last week, a topic that the district has considered for years.

Superintendent Ralph Gomez-Porras explained that during his 16 years with the Pacific Grove Unified School District, the conversation of elementary school reconfiguration has come up multiple times.

More recently, the district has begun considering elementary school reconfiguration in the context of equity.

Last year, the community expressed concern that the district needed to better address the needs of diverse populations and create a more inclusive environment after a former Pacific Grove High School Associated Student Body president came under fire for social media posts in which he used racial slurs.

In response, Pacific Grove Unified School District committed to place diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of its goals in an effort to move past the incidents and create a safer environment for students, staff and families.

“When we began conversations around the whole issue of equity and equitable distribution of resources in the district, … it would come up occasionally that there was a disparity between the elementary schools,” Porras said. “If we have an issue of inequitable distribution of resources, would reconfiguration solve those issues?”

The district has two elementary schools: Forest Grove Elementary School — located on Congress Avenue — and Robert Down Elementary School — located on Pine Avenue.

An overview of the discussion included in the board agenda stated, “As we plan to deliver programs to students, the differing locations inherently create disparities for the same grade levels, which, in turn create inequitable conditions.”

Porras explained that Robert Down’s proximity to downtown Pacific Grove allows for more field trips, while Forest Grove requires transportation and the associated costs. Additional factors include resource disparities, differences in the diversity of student populations and socio-economic disparities in the two communities.

“Having two elementary schools produces two separate and unequal programs,” the overview continued. “Joining our grade levels at two sites that serve students from throughout the district will align with our current practice at the secondary level. With the implementation of Universal Pre-K and a full Transitional Kindergarten program, the timing is right to plan and effectively implement a reconfiguration of our elementary schools.”

Porras also pointed out that the implementation of transitional kindergarten and the district’s universal pre-kindergarten program play an important role in the discussion of elementary school reconfiguration.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 made transitional kindergarten available to children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2, targeting the children who narrowly miss the cutoff for traditional kindergarten.

As part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $124 billion pre-K and K-12 education package, California plans to provide universal transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds by 2025.

In discussions around transitional kindergarten, Pacific Grove Unified School District has proposed consolidating its TK program with its existing pre-K programs at the adult school facility for the 2024-25 school year.

Porras explained that the potential reorganization of early childhood programs to the adult education campus and the evaluation of equitable access to resources for students at the elementary schools has led to the district once again considering elementary school reconfiguration.

While the board emphasized that Thursday’s conversation was only the beginning of the discussion of elementary school reconfiguration, many of the trustees and attending community members had strong opinions on the idea.

In opening the discussion, board President Christy Dawson urged the community to evaluate reconfiguration separate from their child.

“I would like the lens to be, what’s the greatest good for the greatest number of kids,” she said. “Try not to think of ‘me and mine,’ let’s think of ours.”

Trustee Carolyn Swanson opposed the idea, stating that it seemed “extreme” and cited community concerns over transportation access, commute times for families and the separation of sibling support. Swanson urged the board to consider reconfiguring district resources rather than people.

“I’d like to know what problem (this) solves specifically,” Swanson said. “Equity does not equal that all the same children are in the same building necessarily.”

Community members voiced strong opposition to the idea of elementary school reconfiguration during the public comment period.

“Our district has known of the disparities between our two elementary schools for years, and you can see many of those inequities listed in the staff findings,” said community member Kari Serpa. “I don’t argue these things, I do, however, argue that disparity can be addressed with redistribution or reconfiguration of funds. Why wasn’t that done long ago?”

Another community member criticized the agenda overview of elementary school reconfiguration, stating that the findings read as a “list of pros without the cons,” and didn’t address any of the potential impacts to families or teachers.

“Reconfiguration has been brought up tonight for reasons of equity,” said community member Christina Luciano. “Reconfiguration does not begin to address the systematic practices and inequities that are woven into the cultural foundation of our district. … I would encourage us to put our energy and focus on intentionally improving our district culture and practices rather than causing a giant upheaval that will not address the issues at the root of our problem.”

Porras said the district will continue to have conversations on the topic of reconfiguration at future board meetings and with the community. But if the district decides to move forward with its universal pre-kindergarten program, a decision on reconfiguration could come sooner than later.

“If we’re going to create an early childhood education center for transitional kindergarten or possibly universal pre-kindergarten, we need to make that decision within the next couple of years,” Porras said. “If the board wishes to continue forward with reconfiguration, it would fall in that same timeline.”

Contributed by local news sources

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