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January 6, 2010

Walnut Creek will probably lose Del Oro, its longtime alternative high school


Del Oro, the 43-year-old alternative public high school that has served Walnut Creek and Lamorinda students "whose needs are not being met by comprehensive high schools" will possibly be closed, due to really scary budget news likely to come down from Sacramento in the coming weeks.

The Acalanes Union High School District staff has recommended that its board, at its meeting January 13, consider closing Del Oro High School, which currently has around 60 students.

I've been told by school administrators that it costs a lot of money to run a smaller, alternative high school. And even the Acalanes district, with its strong history of community support in the form of parcel taxes and generous parent fundraising, is facing some very tough choices. The district also covers Walnut Creek's downtown campus, Las Lomas High School, as well as Acalanes in Lafayette, Campolindo in Moraga and Miramonte in Orinda.


At that same meeting, the board will also discuss a likely shortfall of more than $5 million in the district's budget over the next two years and the possible layoffs of 16 teachers. 
 
The district must include a plan for achieving budget cuts," Superintendent John Stockton said in an e-mail sent out to parents before the holiday break. "In addition to the $2.6 million cut for 2010-2011, an additional $2.6 million in budget reductions will be necessary in 2011-2012. The bulk of these budget reductions require personnel releases."

With these budget cuts looming, the district will hold a series of parent meetings on January 20 and 21, to explain the challenges coming.

As for Del Oro? From what I've heard from administrators, it sounds like those students will end up returning to the regular high schools. And that could mean students, who have a difficult time fitting into a regular high school--especially high-achieving schools like those in the Acalanes district--and who are falling off track to graduate, might wind up struggling a lot more.

Just last February, Del Oro was named by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell as one of California's 14 Model Continuation High Schools "for their programs designed to help struggling students stay in school."

According to the state Deparment of Education, California created the concept of continuation high schools more than 90 years ago. "These schools focus on school-to-career education, individualized instructional strategies, intensive guidance and counseling, and flexible school schedules. Continuation high schools serve students aged 16 years or older who lack sufficient school credits and are at risk of not graduating. More than 71,000 students in the state attended 523 continuation high schools in 2007-08, the latest data available.

Del Oro says its mission has been "to provide an opportunity for all students to develop intellectual, social, physical and psychological skills necessary for life-long learning and success in a technological, global society."

Its course of study has offered "an individualized approach to the basic programs in English, math, science, social science, physical education, along with supplemental coursework in personal development, life skills, and work experience skills."

"Whether your goal is to return to the comprehensive program or receive a diploma from Del Oro, we are here to assist you in accomplishing your goal," the school says on its website.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

IMO, this is a very bad decision. The last thing the school system needs now is the reentry of a bunch of students who are struggling with "mainstream" education and don't want to be there.

When will we learn that not all people do well with academics but have valuable skills in other areas, which should be encouraged?

Anonymous said...

So we can look forward to the reduced quality of education provided at the mainstream schools. The students at the alternative schools will take 80% of the resources from the mainstream students.

Way to go California!

Anonymous said...

well, maybe they can add 2 portables to one of the other campuses and still keep them separate, so others committed to high school clonage do not warp these oddball, but often creative sparking, kids completely!

Anonymous said...

Las Lomas is out as it has already absorbed all the English Language Development students. So that leaves Acalanes. Perhaps one portable at Acalanes and one at Campolindo.

Litterbury said...

I know that this wasn't intended to come across as condescending, but I actually graduated from Del Oro after having completed an independent study course quite a few years ago; I have a high-school diploma to prove it.

This makes it sound like the kids at Del Oro are a bunch of tweaking head-cases who can't get it together to fit into the Contra Costa rank and file. Which, of course, could be true to a certain extent!

However, I was completely miserable at one of Lamorinda's finest and went through a massive depression. Having the other kids/teachers at school realize that I was gay before I did with some colorful commentary, plus the fact that my home life was crumbling with my parents epic divorce, made Del Oro a welcome relief. I almost dropped out of high-school completely, but Del Oro kept me with it long enough to graduate. It may very well be the only diploma I can ever call my own, but when I look at it I beam with pleasure.

For many other kids and teens who feel a threatening sort of menace to the suburban landscape, who don't feel that they fit in, or who feel that they're just another meaningless statistic in the system, I have often recommended going the independent study route, with a follow-up stint at DVC.

So few kids don't even know that they have options out there for success, even if it doesn't fall within the cookie cutter outlines that appear to shape and mold the rest of their respective peers. Stuff happens at home: divorce, difficult coming-outs, depression, fights. Perhaps, even abuse.

What happens on the side can seemingly derail an entire educational career without much trouble at all, and the school system, by and large, doesn't appear prepared (or all that eager) to bring up the dreaded dialogue of mental health that covers angst and deep-rooted depression, or to provide a supportive outlet in between sports scores and standardized testing. Independent study through Del Oro offered that.

You see, sometimes being crazy in suburbia really happens (mugging businessmen and desperate housewives), but it's a truly awful thing to contend with when you feel as though your world has gone just a bit crazy itself, and you're just bracing for the next hideous little low in between lunches and lockers, and that last-ditch effort at making it through yet another day.

Anonymous said...

Litterbury,

I posted the first comment. I hope I did not sound condescending. I really believe that we overvalue academic achievers and seriously undervalue people with other skills who don't fit into mainstream education.

I am strongly in favor of providing alternatives at the high school level, but unfortunately we seem to be moving away from that.

Anonymous said...

This is an outrage for more than one reason. Litterbury has already testified to the need for a safe haven for some students who don't do well in the suburban pressure cooker.

What I find outrageous about this is that every parcel tax and bond measure passed for the Acalanes school district INTENTIONALLY excluded Del Oro because there has been some grand scheme for years and years to develop the property to be financially self-sufficient. Plans aren't worth much without being acted on, though and to date no developer has been found and no real plans have been made - it's just been a great idea.

I'm just disgusted by this as had the needs of Del Oro been included in the Parcel tax and Bond measures it would be funded just as the 4 other chi chi schools are.

And while we're at it shall we talk about how football fields were renovated and theaters built in advance of taking care of HVAC issues and new electrical systems thereby necessitating a second bond measure? Maybe not. One outrage at a time, right?

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear Litterbury,
I am very appreciative that you commented on this topic. Your comment is extremely powerful, honest, and to the point. I am both appreciative and honored...

A confession: I am a product of this school district, and I remember thinking of the stereotype about those Del Oro kids: that they were not smart enough or had discipline problems.

Well, I know much better now. Being a parent, and having done reading and research on educational issues, including the concept of the small school or the independent school.

The popular model of the "comprehensive, mainstream school" doesn't work for everyone. It just doesn't. Isn't that one of the initiatives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? To fund organizations that study and promote the benfits of small schools?

Anyway, I'm sorry I grew up with a certain stereotype of Del Oro students. Graduating from Acalanes, even back when I graduated: there was something pressure cooker and potentially counter-productive about it. At least for some kids who didn't fit into its model.

Litterbury, you provide a compelling argument, from a personal perspective, why Del Oro is a valuble educational resource.

Again, thanks for adding your voice to this discussion.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear Litterbury,
Sorry, I re-read your comment again.

It really is eloquent. I'd love to post something along those lines as some kind of guest commentary...

As I said, I was one of those kids who stereotyped Del Oro kids. I'm ashamed to admit that.

I can't say I fit that cookie-cutter image either. Academically, I did just fine. But socially?

Why do you think I'm Crazy in Suburbia?

And, now, having a child growing up in these amazing schools of ours, I worry... If he doesn't fit in...

And, you're right. Mental illness, depression. My sixth grade son recently told us he felt "under pressure" because of grades and homework...

Yes, as I re-read your comment more, I'm in awe. Thank you so much for adding to this discussion, and please feel free to add more...

Or email me at crazyinsuburbia@gmail.com

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear Litterbury,
Sorry, I re-read your comment again.

It really is eloquent. I'd love to post something along those lines as some kind of guest commentary...

As I said, I was one of those kids who stereotyped Del Oro kids. I'm ashamed to admit that.

I can't say I fit that cookie-cutter image either. Academically, I did just fine. But socially?

Why do you think I'm Crazy in Suburbia?

And, now, having a child growing up in these amazing schools of ours, I worry... If he doesn't fit in...

And, you're right. Mental illness, depression. My sixth grade son recently told us he felt "under pressure" because of grades and homework...

Yes, as I re-read your comment more, I'm in awe. Thank you so much for adding to this discussion, and please feel free to add more...

Or email me at crazyinsuburbia@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

There is an alternative, private school in Orinda. If parents can afford it, (I believe they have a sliding scale)it does wonders for those who just don't fit the system. It is above the hill from Safeway, operating from the Methodist church, I just can't remember it's name. It worked well for a neighbor of mine and i recommended it to my friend. There are options!

Anonymous said...

The problem is that the school district is so small and the population served by the continuation school is even smaller. Numbers have dwindled down into the 40s over the years (if you look at the statics online) What would most likely happen is that those kids that 'don't fit in' would be given the option to do an independent study program (which they are not considering getting rid of), or be able to attend the much larger neighboring continuation school Del Amigo in Danville. Del Amigo is also a model continuation school as I understand it. From my understanding the educational code supports this and it's not that far away.

Adam said...

I graduated from del oro in 2007. I spoke at my graduation. Nothing has ever made me feel more proud. Del oro changed my life and made me who I am today. I am currently one of the youngest hairdressing assistants for a famous stylist. When I heard this news it broke my heart. Kids need this school, I did. Independent studies don't work the same way. You're forced to be alone, which isn't what these kids need. They need friendship! Good luck!