Students share perspectives on upcoming consolidation through survey

By Amira Beck, SoCoNews Intern, SoCoNews, June 10, 2021

el molino

El Molino students head back to campus following over a year of distance learning.

In the next year, the Analy and El Molino high schools are expected to consolidate into one school. The consolidation plan for the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) moves El Molino to the Analy campus in Sebastopol, and Laguna High School to El Molino’s campus in Forestville. While years of declining student enrollment and financial instability created the conditions for this decision to be made, many students and community members felt like their voices were not sufficiently heard by the school board.

We sent out a survey to the district community, with some questions directed specifically towards students, in hopes of getting an insight on what the feeling on consolidation is. Students from each campus were interviewed to get an understanding regarding their experiences with consolidation so far.

Out of the 91 people surveyed, 77% responded that they attended El Molino and 22% said they attended Analy. Only seven people said that they felt that the school board sufficiently listened to student voices when deciding on whether or not to consolidate. For some people, the entire process felt like it was done behind closed doors, and came about abruptly.

However, talks of consolidating the high schools to treat budget and programming issues have been going on for years. The district is in a longtime budget deficit and had to make choices in order to solve it.

Tara Adhikari, a junior at Analy High School stated, “My biggest concern with the consolidation is the El Mo students feel out of place and uncomfortable.”

Similar concerns were echoed throughout the survey — 55 students said that their biggest concern with consolidation was school culture. Both Analy and El Molino students expressed they don’t want to lose the things that make their school special. Many El Molino students favor a rebrand, while Analy students had more apathy to the idea. Trustees directed district Superintendent Toni Beal to move forward with “West County High School” as the working name for the consolidated high school, as of the May 12 school board meeting.

What students have suggested is an event which would allow both schools to meet.

Some Analy students believe that the best thing to promote unity would be to create community events. Sienna Bertacco, a junior at Analy said, “community activities to bring the two schools together and encourage a combined culture would be nice to see. There isn’t much being done in terms of welcoming students that I have heard, and it would likely help ease the transition for El Molino students.”

Meanwhile, one El Molino student felt that there was little that could be done to ease the transition. Sam Ferrera, a junior at El Molino stated that “nothing can be done by Analy students to make us feel more welcome, but they should try to include some El Mo traditions.”

From the information gathered in the survey, both Analy and El Molino students appeared hesitant about the consolidation. However, the consolidation onto Analy’s campus affects El Molino students more than Analy students, and a number of El Molino students expressed more negative views regarding consolidation.

Rylee Bello, a senior in the leadership classes at Analy, stated that the Analy and El Molino Associated Student Body (ASB) groups have been meeting together, but other than that there has been very little communication between the two student communities. There have been a number of committees and processes involving both campuses at a staff level this year.

Ferrera stated, “Analy students are generally lacking an understanding of our school’s struggles. It can feel like a fight for tolerance.”

Ava Grech, a sophomore at El Molino, hopes that the lawsuit against the school district goes through, which she believes will save teachers’ jobs. The lawsuit against the district challenges the way the board went about getting exempt from an environmental review in order to proceed with consolidation. Notably, other students that were interviewed had little to no knowledge about the lawsuit.

Mia Del Prete, the district’s human resources director, said seven teachers received preliminary layoff notices along with 10 classified positions, although since then, only one teacher layoff remains final.

Bertacco stated that consolidation has, “caused much more conflict and chaos than unity.” While Grech agreed, she stated, “it’s (going to) be more conflict when we’re together, but it will cause unity.” She believes that while at first the transition will be hard, consolidation will ultimately create a unified campus.

Meanwhile, Laguna High School students also face great changes in the consolidation process because their program will be relocated from Sebastopol to El Molino’s campus in Forestville.

Vivian Grace, a junior at Laguna, stated that she believes that saving money and unity between the schools are two positives that can come out of the transition. When it comes to how the move will affect Laguna students, she said, “Make them feel welcome to their new campus and be patient.”

Despite the conflict billowing from consolidation over the past year, students also considered the bright side of merging schools.

“I get to be with my friends next year,” Grech said, while Ferrera looked forward to “meeting new people.”

Adhikari talked about “better sports, bigger community, more people to meet, bigger school events.” Many parents, teachers and students have voiced their concerns about consolidation. Only time will tell how it comes about.

A Breakdown of the Survey

The survey that informed this article was made as part of a student reporting project on consolidation impacts by three students from El Molino and Analy high schools.

The community survey was sent out via Instagram and received a total of 91 responses. There were options to respond to the survey in English and in Spanish, and a section of questions which were geared only toward students. Only 22% of the students responding went to Analy, the other 77% represented El Molino.

Students had numerous concerns about consolidation when asked, and many students responded that they were concerned about everything. Fifty-two percent of the respondents were juniors in high school, while 19% were sophomores, 14% were freshman and 14% were seniors.

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