The local high school district has decided not to relocate students from Terra Bella -- a county-run "community school" for struggling high school students -- to a building which currently houses a popular preschool program next door to Mountain View High School.
After strong community backlash at a Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District board meeting earlier this month, Superintendent Barry Groves has announced that the district is no longer recommending the closure of the Parent Observation Parent Education Preschool to make room for the small group of troubled high school students from Terra Bella.
"I will recommend to the MVLA Board that we not create a community school classroom on the MVLA district office site," Groves wrote -- in bold font -- in a press release sent to local media outlets and other interested parties, Feb. 23.
The announcement came 10 days after parents of children who attend the preschool, along with residents of the neighborhood surrounding Mountain View High School, packed the Feb. 13 MVLA board of trustees meeting to voice their opposition to the district's initial plan. Those who spoke at the meeting expressed opposition to closing the preschool and to bringing more "at-risk" students into the area.
In a conversation with the Voice, Groves noted that the board of trustees had reservations about the plan all along, and that after the meeting, the board instructed him to search for more options to deal with the situation.
According to Groves and county board of education officials, which runs Terra Bella, it is possible that the community school will actually remain on its current site, when all is said and done.
Reasons behind the move
The district initially proposed moving the 25 students currently attending Terra Bella to the location of the Parent Observation preschool after the county asked the district and the other districts to share more of the costs associated with running the community school.
The county's lease on the Terra Bella facility is due to expire at the end of the school year, and the landlord is hoping to get more money for the site, according to Linda Aceves, chief schools officer with the county.
In the interest of keeping the county's expenses on the Terra Bella site "cost neutral" -- meaning that the Office of Education would not pay more than the money it takes in from the state for each pupil at Terra Bella -- the county proposed that the district contribute more money to the program.
There are about 25 MVLA students attending Terra Bella (most of them high school freshmen and sophomores) -- along with a handful of other students from two other north county school districts, Groves said.
According to the superintendent, his district would contribute an additional $250,000 to $300,000 to the program, under the county's original proposal. Initially, Groves said, the district administration decided that it would be more cost-effective to educate the students on its own, and proposed terminating the preschool's lease to make room for those students.
However, after the community backlash and further conversations with the county, the district is now looking at a variety of other options. The district may end up settling on an acceptable cost-sharing arrangement with the county, it may find another site within the district (away from the Mountain View High School campus), or it could ultimately end up busing the students to another site outside of Mountain View, Groves said.
"At this point, both the district and (the county) are very interested in trying to find a solution," Aceves said.
What is Terra Bella?
Terra Bella is not technically a continuation school, like The Alta Vista High School at MVLA. It is a county-run "community school," that educates a small number of students from Fremont, Palo Alto and Mountain View school districts -- all of whom have had problems with attendance, truancy, behavior, academics, or generally assimilating in a traditional high school environment. The school serves about 25 MVLA students, Groves wrote in his release; there are a total of 31 students in the program. It is located at 1012 Linda Vista Ave., just off of Terra Bella Avenue in Mountain View.
Following the district's now-retracted proposal to move students from Terra Bella to the site of the Parent Observation preschool, many alarms were raised over the specter of "at-risk" youth bringing trouble to the neighborhood around Mountain View High School, and to the high school students themselves
Alice Cota, who lives less than a block from the high school, said she opposes moving the district's highest-risk students to the site.
"We already deal with what I believe is a higher number of incidences by living next to a typical high school and a continuation high school at this point," Cota said, referring to Alta Vista, which is located next to Mountain View High School and the district's administrative offices, at the end of Bryant Avenue.
According to Cota, she sees lots of litter on her street and there have been three recent daytime break-ins in her neighborhood. While she can't be certain that high school students are to blame for all of it, she worries that if more teens -- especially teens struggling with behavior issues or academically -- are added to the mix, these problems will only get worse.
Cota is not alone in her perception of Terra Bella. Many others at the Feb. 13 board meeting stressed similar concerns about the students from the county school.
This point of view is concerning to Brigitte Sarraf, associate superintendent of educational services for MVLA. "The kids at Terra Bella are being painted like they are villains," Sarraf said. "They aren't bad kids. They are kids who have made poor choices, who need a smaller environment and a different environment."
Sarraf stressed, just as Groves did in his email announcing the district's decision not to move the Terra Bella students to the Parent Observation building, that none of the teens from MVLA in the county-run school have been expelled from any school within the district.
She noted that some presume the students who attend Terra Bella are "juvenile delinquents" -- the worst of the worst -- unfit to attend even the district-run continuation school, Alta Vista.
On the contrary, Sarraf said, the students from MVLA who attend Terra Bella are largely there because they are too young to legally attend Alta Vista.
"Terra Bella is a county-run community school," Sarraf explained, and as such it operates according to a different set of rules than Alta Vista -- a district-run continuation school.
The education code stipulates that students who attend a district-run continuation school must be juniors in high school or older, Sarraf explained. County community schools, on the other hand, can accept students that are younger. She said almost all of the MVLA students attending Terra Bella were too young to attend Alta Vista.