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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 23rd, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 15, Issue 7

Orcutt Academy's K-8 school is looking for a bigger home and shopping in Los Alamos


Orcutt Academy’s students in kindergarten through eighth-grade played on the playground after lunch. As early as next year, the kids could be playing on a new campus.

Palomino horses gallop and rear along the barbed-wire fence adjacent to the lot that Orcutt Academy’s kindergarten-through-eight-grade-school occupies in Casmalia.

April 17 was the last day before spring break. Every student at the school was screaming, running, swinging, leaning, or climbing on the playground and field that take up the majority of campus. That’s 81 students—the school has nine children per class—in some form of playtime excitement after eating lunch and a cupcake.

Everyone was waiting for movie time; they were going to watch The Lorax in honor of Earth Day. Earlier in the day, children broke up into their school families, which are made of one student from each class, and cleaned downtown Casmalia. The school is rural and tight-knit, and its three teachers like it that way, but it would be nice to have a little more space, said Stacey Lowell, who teaches a combined class of third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders.

“There is something special about working out here; it’s very, very family oriented. I truly know every single student here,” Lowell said. “And we don’t want to lose that.”

Right now, Orcutt Academy K-8—which includes the elementary and junior high school segments of the Orcutt Union School District’s charter school—is trying to figure out how to gain classroom space. Unfortunately, the school is at capacity on the lot in Casmalia. To get more space, the district will have to relocate the school.

Though there is plenty of room for the kids to move around outside, space becomes more of a commodity once students go inside. On April 17, teachers were setting up the movie in the multi-use room, which is where students had just eaten lunch.

“Anything we do [in the multi-use room] has to be taken down, because we have to use the space,” Lovell said. “Within the classrooms, we are wall-to-wall.”

A hinged partition separates the cafeteria/movie room/art space/science lab from the school library, which also serves as a kindergarten classroom and a resource center. Between the shelves of books in the back of the library are tricycles, beanbags, and bags of balls. There are circular desks set up in front of the shelves and art projects plastered on the windows. Also in the building are two classrooms, and a third classroom is in a portable next to the play structure.

Lovell said she and Orcutt Academy’s other teachers, Shauna Wilson and Michelle Clayton, are the ones driving the hunt for more space. During the 2012-2013 school year, the three teachers took a field trip to look at two other K-8 charter schools—Bellvue-Santa Fe Charter School in Avila and the International School of Monterey in Seaside.

“In looking at those schools, we learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work … but also what you can do,” Lovell said. “We do the best we can with what we have, but we just started thinking about what we could do if we had, say, a science lab.”

They toured dedicated science labs and art classrooms and saw the potential to further education through hands-on activities in specifically tailored classrooms. What they saw most of all was space—more space than they have—and the things they could achieve if they had just one extra classroom.

The wheels started turning, both at the school and the district.

Within the Orcutt Union School District, there is another school that has the space to take on 81 more students and to give the Orcutt Academy K-8 a home. Olga Reed Elementary School in Los Alamos has 130 students, a rural charm similar to the campus in Casmalia, and nine extra classrooms. While that’s the direction the charter school’s wheels are turning, it’s not a sure thing yet. The district is still working through the logistics of what it would take to move one school to a second school’s campus.

“We kind of brought it to the parents and the students, and they were all like, ‘yeah!’” Lovell said. “As long as we went with them.”

As it happens, the principal for the Casmalia school is also Olga Reed’s principal and director of the district’s charter school program.

“Those visits made the teachers feel like they needed more facilities to go to the next level,” principal/director Joe Dana said. “Just to have a bigger classroom would make a big difference.”

Dana is a tall man. The morning of April 17, he had run two jog-a-thons on the Olga Reed track and was wearing a blue zip-up hooded sweatshirt with the school’s broncos logo on the back. He thinks it’s a great idea to pool the two schools onto one campus; they’re both rural, have small student and teacher populations, and would benefit from the interaction.

He pulled his keys out to open Olga Reed’s gym. As he reached for the door, he said, “This is the kind of thing that Casmalia simply doesn’t have.

“I mean, look: it’s awesome,” Dana added as he gestured toward the basketball hoops. “Kids could play basketball here or have rainy day P.E.”

Folding chairs surrounded a center table and faced the stage, which contained a set of bleachers. The night before, the gym was host to a student musical performance; something Casmalia’s campus simply doesn’t have the space for.

A track, soccer field, library, computer lab, science lab, bigger classrooms, a cafeteria, and an extra classroom are all things Orcutt Academy would have access to if it took up residence at Olga Reed. The school would also have its own parking lot, entrance, and offices. The infrastructure, some of which is sitting empty at the moment, is already in Los Alamos.

“The idea would be to have the two schools operating side by side,” Dana said. “They’d each preserve there own identity.”

The schools could operate separately, but share recess, lunch, physical education, special education services, speech and resource therapists, and the school counselor.

At the moment, though, nothing is set in stone. The district and Dana are still working out details such as transportation, budgets, and other logistical considerations.

Orcutt Union School District Superintendent Bob Bush said so far things are moving forward in a positive direction. The district recently held two informational meetings, one in Casmalia and one in Los Alamos. Response to the suggestion from parents and students has been positive. The district is also distributing surveys to solicit more input, and once all the concerns are addressed, the issue will come before the district’s school board for a vote.

Bush said the goal is to get things in place for the 2014-2015 school year.

“It’s a unique opportunity,” he said.

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