The Santa Barbara Unified School District’s plan for a future without El Puente Community School is beginning to take shape. On Tuesday night, the board approved memoranda of understanding with the Westside Neighborhood Center and the Community Action Commission, each of which will offer space for expelled students. Officials will not yet publicly confirm it, but the district is also making arrangements for a third site at La Casa de la Raza.
These three settings will not, however, be separate schools; they will become satellite campuses of La Cuesta continuation school and, as such, will be accredited high schools from which students can graduate and immediately attend a four-year college. “As a parent, I would think that’s a better situation,” schools Superintendent David Cash told The Santa Barbara Independent. Cash said he does not expect more than 10-15 students at each site, which will allow students to attend school in their own neighborhoods without the complications of gang rivalries.
El Puente, which was operated by the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) and served students who had been expelled or were otherwise struggling in a traditional school setting, closed for good at the end of the academic year due to budget concerns. While some foresaw that eventuality, the announcement seemingly came out of the blue in March. Of the former El Puente students, 55 are expected to attend La Cuesta in the fall, and some have already enrolled in summer courses. (Seven have chosen to attend traditional high schools.) To help accommodate the new students and facilities, the district hired a new assistant principal, Brian Jaramillo, a Westmont graduate who previously taught math and worked as an administrator in Ventura.
Mark Alvarado, who provides outreach services for the City of Santa Barbara at the Westside Neighborhood Center (recently renamed from Westside Community Center), said that former SBCEO employee and just-hired Goleta Valley Junior High assistant principal Fred Razo initiated the idea of serving students there. Preliminary plans are in place to create a culinary arts career pathway at the center — already home to a garden and a sparkling new commercial kitchen. It would feed into the City College culinary arts program. “My goal is create a comprehensive and holistic approach toward education,” said Alvarado.