News

At long last, Mountain View Whisman's new Vargas Elementary School opens its doors

 
Frida, 5, walks into her kindergarten classroom with a big smile on her face on the first day at Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School, the Mountain View Whisman School District's new school, on Aug. 19, 2019. Photo by Magali Gauthier

Excitement hung in the air Monday morning as hundreds of kids and parents streamed into the new Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School, capping off a long-fought community effort to bring a public school campus to the neighborhood.

Families lined up at the gates of the school to take photo right up until the first minute of class, with a few of them getting gently nudged to their classrooms to avoid being tardy. Some children showed up to school already sporting the school's green t-shirt with a picture of the Vargas Elementary mascot, the golden owl.

Principal Vern Taylor, outside navigating foot traffic and handing out high-fives to every kid in his path, said it's the first time he has been to a school on its opening day. He said it's a little more frenetic than usual, but that it's been a positive experience so far.

"It's a whirlwind, but it's a good whirlwind," he said.

Vargas Elementary is the result of three years of planning and two years of construction to bring a public school to an underserved area of the district, roughly bounded by Central Expressway to the south and Highway 85 to the west. The area previously had two schools -- Whisman Elementary and Slater Elementary -- but both were closed due to declining enrollment and financial problems.

Without a neighborhood school, families in the area were rezoned to attend Huff, Landels and Theuerkauf elementary schools, fracturing neighborhoods in the area and making it nearly impossible to walk to school.

Despite worries that the first day of school would bring a traffic and parking nightmare, the majority of families arriving Monday appear to have walked. Getting to Vargas on foot will only get easier with time -- the plan is to install a traffic light at North Whisman Road and Pacific Drive, making it less tempting to jaywalk across a busy thoroughfare.

Though construction at Vargas was largely complete this week, there were signs of missing plants and play structures, and the future field is still an active construction site with large trucks and mounds of dirt.

The school is also contending with a dispute between PG&E and a nearby homeowners association over a utility hookup to the school, forcing the district to rely on a gas generator to keep the school powered. Several classrooms on the second floor of the campus remain dark and empty, pending a PG&E power hookup that will allow use of the elevators and make the second floor comply with ADA accessibility requirements.

Bringing the community together under the banner of Vargas Elementary has been a top priority for several months, said Sarah Reginaldo, Vargas' first PTA president. Juggling the first-day photos, managing PTA membership sign-ups and hastily shuffling around a small utility cart with supplies Monday, Reginaldo told the Voice that she jumped on the opportunity to bring together the previously fragmented neighborhoods under the banner of a new school.

"I said let's try to make it the best it can be on day one," Reginaldo said.

Leading up to the first day of school, Reginaldo and founding PTA members hosted play dates aimed at uniting the area, kicked off by a "May Fest" social on May 4 when more than 300 people showed up. Besides in-person meetups, she said they used postcards, snail mail and word of mouth -- pretty much everything short of door-to-door solicitations -- to prepare families for the new school, she said.

Fundraising and financing school programs through the PTA is still a work in progress, and will likely include a mix of new and existing programs from schools like Huff and Landels, where a majority of parents came from. It may take a while to emulate programs that have been established for decades at other schools, she said.

"They're going to want what they had at their schools, and I'm not sure we can get there yet," Reginaldo said.

Though the school has a lot of new staff members-- six new teachers and one re-hired teacher -- five teachers from elsewhere in the district volunteered in March to reassign themselves to Vargas for its first year. Sean Dechter, a third-grade teacher at Vargas who switched from Monta Loma, told the Voice he was excited to be a part of the new school.

"As a child, I started as a kindergartner at a brand new elementary school in Oceanside, (California)," he said. "I thought this was a great opportunity for me as a teacher to start at a new school."

Last Thursday, the district hosted a dedication ceremony at the new campus honoring Jose Antonio Vargas. A former Mountain View resident who lived a short jaunt from the school after emigrating from the Philippines as a child, Vargas went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker and an outspoken immigrant rights activist. Vargas was a teen when he discovered he was an undocumented immigrant, and announced his status in a 2011 New York Times Magazine story after hiding it for years.

Speaking to a packed crowd in the sweltering multipurpose room on Thursday, Aug. 15, Vargas stressed the importance of community and breaking down barriers through the power of storytelling, which has helped him communicate with people across the country with different points of view. He said he effectively has two families in the United States -- direct family members and the thousands of friends and acquaintances he's built over the years.

"I wouldn't be the human being I am without community," he said. "The school, our school, represents the power of community."

Vargas was on hand Monday morning, greeting new students and parents.

Big changes across the district

The 2019-20 school year has been marked on calendars for years as a critical moment for the Mountain View Whisman School District, setting in motion plans to open Vargas and completely redraw school attendance boundaries. Aiming to accommodate a new school and bring relief to chronically overcrowded campuses south of El Camino Real, the school board agreed in 2017 on new attendance boundaries with a goal of keeping schools between 400 and 450 students.

It's still unclear how close the school district will get to those numbers, but it does mean Aug. 19 was the first day at a new school for hundreds of students who were relocated as a result of the new boundaries. Landels Elementary School, which took the brunt of the changes, was expected to lose 106 students who will now attend Vargas this year, according to 2018 estimates. In their place, an estimated 76 students from the Shoreline West neighborhood who used to go to Bubb will be at Landels this year.

Fall 2019 also means the end of several straight years of construction that has torn up, rebuilt and renovated every school site in the district. The original Measure G bond passed by voters in 2014 has been exhausted, putting an end to the near-constant presence of hard hats, dust and fencing. The 2019-20 school year brings improved portable classrooms to Bubb, Huff and Landels elementary schools as well as the district's three preschool sites, and an expanded playground and new furniture at the shared Castro and Mistral elementary school site, according to a district staff report.

Although the original construction schedule shows everything was supposed to be completed by July 2019, a few things remain unfinished. Theuerkauf's expanded multipurpose room won't be done until October, and Vargas Elementary's field is tentatively scheduled to be done by March 2020.

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Comments

25 people like this
Posted by Greg Coladonato
a resident of Slater
on Aug 19, 2019 at 3:12 pm

Greg Coladonato is a registered user.

Thank you for this very nice coverage of this momentous day, Kevin. I was pleased to read that so many families walked to school. That's a big change from before, when the vast majority of the kids in those neighborhoods needed to be driven to school, sometimes several miles away.


20 people like this
Posted by Myla
a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 19, 2019 at 3:15 pm

What a peaceful first day in Vargas! My kids were well attended and teachers are really nice! We LOVE Vargas!


Like this comment
Posted by AParent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 19, 2019 at 4:20 pm

AParent is a registered user.

Does anyone know the situation with water at the school?

I understand they forgot to install drinking fountains (a repeat of Stevenson's), but why can the kids not refill bottles from the on class sinks?


24 people like this
Posted by Standing Ovation
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 19, 2019 at 6:35 pm

The school never should have been opened. It's still an active construction site. Did any one see a Board Member, our illustrious superintendent, or any of his district office cronies on the new campus today? Where were they hiding? Is there any word when electrical power will be supplied to the school? What's all this about no drinking fountains?


21 people like this
Posted by FeelingBasForTeachers
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 19, 2019 at 7:19 pm

FeelingBasForTeachers is a registered user.

@Standing Ovation
I agree entirely. Most of the teachers were working both Saturday and Sunday (with no power) and not a Bord member or Superintendent anywhere around.

The poor teachers at Vargas are being shafted and ignored by the district.

- Working without power (meaning no AC) on the weekend
- No drinkable water
- Minimal supplies - not much furniture or rugs
- YMCA isn't certified, so Kinder teachers have to give up their prep time
- 5th grade teachers have to share classroom with YMCA and then move at some point in the year
- Large classes: 30+

It's just a mess.


29 people like this
Posted by so sad
a resident of Castro City
on Aug 19, 2019 at 8:03 pm

I feel so bad for the entire Vargas community, students, parents, teachers and staff.
However I’m not surprised that the district being run by a inexperienced superintendent who keeps making costly blunders and yet the school board still stands back and applauds his work and even rewards it with huge raises while in the the same breath let staff go due to budget cuts.
When is enough enough?
Teach to One forced on staff and community.
Firing experienced administrators and hiring friends.
Friend who took the money worked for a year before Vargas was opened and quit suddenly padding his own retirement pockets before taking a tech job.
Loosing money, laying off staff and then finding the money.
Tearing apart the dual immersion program.
The learning gap has not shrunk....and yet he continues to get praise at a job well done.
Stevenson no hot water.
Now no electricity for Vargas.....once again the buck for all of these things stops at Dr. Rudolph
Stand up, stand for the students, do something


7 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 19, 2019 at 8:13 pm

Gary is a registered user.

Yeah but the glass was half-full - at least for the opening day.


36 people like this
Posted by Jaime
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 19, 2019 at 8:40 pm

As a parent of children who now attend Vargas, we are THRILLED with the new school. Will there be growing pains? There sure will, but that’s to be expected. I encourage the readers of this article to not get wrapped up in the negative comments from those who do not have first-hand knowledge of the situation there. I normally don’t like to “feed the trolls” but I can tell you that I was personally on campus with my family last Saturday, helping teachers move into their classrooms. The lights and the A/C were on, so no... they weren’t sitting there in the dark trying to organize their classrooms. And yes, I saw Dr. Ayinde on the blacktop, breaking down cardboard boxes and helping other community members fill a giant truck full of it as new furniture was brought in. Not that his whereabouts on the weekend need to be justified, but it bothers me that there are false accusations from a few people trolling this article and breeding negativity. This community will thrive with positivity, people! If you don’t like something, then BE the change. Lend a helping hand, offer to do something, offer to use your personal resources to HELP, rather than to sit behind your computers and spew negativity. Now is the time to come together, not to sit back and point fingers because that’s not productive. Let’s work together to make this the best school ever. Go Golden Owls!!


6 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 19, 2019 at 9:06 pm

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


8 people like this
Posted by WhatsInAName
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 20, 2019 at 3:52 am

Well, "Grace Hopper" would have been a better name, since she was a one of the mothers of Computer Science, and also an Admiral in the Navy (and hence would pull in Moffet Field as well).

But, luckily for Vargas, he gets two schools named after him to assuage the liberal guilt around being in the US with Trump and his policies.

Let's just hope he doesn't have a #metoo moment in the next 50 years. Luckily, he's not much of a public figure, so it's unlikely anyone will notice if he does.


4 people like this
Posted by Green Nude Eel
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 26, 2019 at 4:54 pm

Green Nude Eel is a registered user.

Agreed, WhatsInAName. Instead of choosing a school naming tribute that would have been a very unifying symbol of the area, like a Grace Hopper, they instead opted for a ridiculous political statement. Heck, at least name the school after Alberto Vargas. That dude could paint.


2 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 27, 2019 at 4:01 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

Admiral Grace Hopper certainly deserves the different named honors the Navy has seen to. Did she ever work at Moffett? Vargas is a former Mountain View resident and public school student. Is there something wrong with his Pulitzer? Vargas has been to the school, and is a relatively young person who relates well with elementary kids and their parents. The district did run a naming exercise in the community, Vargas was not imposed by the district.

Maybe some folks have other issues with the Vargas name about which they are not transparent. I certainly do not, and I am proud of Vargas and all our students.


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