New School Brings More Students, More Gripes : Newly merged P.V. Peninsula High School is crowded, but is hardly the disaster once feared
The cafeteria line is as long as those at Disneyland. Teachers complain about the inadequate number of faculty bathrooms. And the parking lot fills up long before school starts, forcing latecomers to search for spots off campus.
While not the disaster some feared, the first week of classes for 3,120 students at the newly consolidated Palos Verdes Peninsula High School shows the difficulty of merging three high schools into one.
“Some of the classes are kind of large, and parking is a major inconvenience,” said senior Dawn McAlister of Rancho Palos Verdes. “But it’s not as bad as people thought it would be.”
Many students, teachers and administrators met the new school year with optimism, trying to smooth over four years of lawsuits that followed the district’s adoption of the consolidation plan to save money.
For others, the first seven days of school were an emotional roller coaster, as critics’ worst fears blossomed into rumors about campus overcrowding, and worse.
Stories spread of students having nowhere to sit during lunch and being forced to line up at 2:30 a.m. to make changes in their class schedules. In both cases, the rumors were exaggerations, but they were evidence of the continuing discontent over consolidation.
“It’s horrible,” said one mother, among a half dozen who called reporters with complaints. “There’s no way you can have a conducive educational system with that many students. My friend’s daughter came home in tears.”
But despite talk this week from some parents about pulling their children out of the district, officials at local private schools including Chadwick and Rolling Hills Preparatory say they received only a few inquiries this year from parents critical of the new high school.
During lunchtime at the school this week, picnic tables quickly filled up. The grassy amphitheater became a sea of people. Music blared from speakers in the center of the campus where students lined up in front of sidewalk vendors selling grilled hamburgers and pizzas.
Several students said they are having trouble getting all of the classes they want, but the lines for schedule changes each day last week actually didn’t get started until after 6 a.m., students said.
There is no question the new campus offers many challenges, teachers, parents and students said. For students used to going to school with about 1,000 classmates, the crush on the new campus is overwhelming.
“There’s just no room,” said Dawn Henry, a parent who is also running for City Council in Rancho Palos Verdes. “It’s like putting 50 kids on the head of a pin.”
The site of what was formerly known as Rolling Hills High, the campus is packed with 3,120 students and 121 teachers, and each of the school’s five academic counselors is responsible for some 500 children. Eighteen portable classrooms were added to the campus this summer.
Nearly 200 students signed up for cross-country track, while the pep squad has more than 70 people.
Classes in everything from early morning aerobics to honors physics have 35 or more students, with several saying they are having difficulty getting some classes. Junior Mike Tang, for instance, said he was unable to get into honors English, physics and trigonometry because competition is so intense, while junior Mike DeCoster said two friends were unable to get into algebra or any English courses.
But Principal Kelly Johnson said that while some class adjustments are still being made, “every child is guaranteed every class they need to graduate.”
Johnson said students who were unable to get into honors classes either did not receive a recommendation for the course or scored too low on the qualifying test. He added that English classes are available to all students.
Besides some scheduling snafus, students also contended with the campus’ physical limitations.
Locker space is at such a premium, and the crowds make access so difficult that many students forgo using a locker at all. Many students say they are often tardy because the crowds make it difficult to make it to class on time.
“I’ve had to climb over benches to get to my locker,” 10th-grader Ryan Leckliter said. “I’ve only been able to get to it twice. It’s just too crowded. There’s too many kids.”
The student parking lot is so small that students have to ride three to a car to qualify for a parking space.
Meanwhile, teachers grumble that they have no quiet place to work on lesson plans and that only a few have classrooms they can call their own. The lack of faculty lounges or meeting rooms has made it “hard to get together before school or at lunch just to talk about what’s going on,” said Perry Lynn, who teaches U.S. history and is president of the Palos Verdes Faculty Assn.
“You lose a little contact with your colleagues in the disciplines because we’re scattered throughout the school,” he said.
But Johnson said much of the criticism is exaggerated. He said that he has received only four calls this week from parents who had gripes, while 276 adult volunteers came forward to offer assistance.
As a result of consolidation, students have a larger selection of classes to choose from, he said, and class sizes are no larger than they were in the district’s three high schools last year.
“In certain sports, like vasity basketball for boys, it’s going to be hard to make that team, " Johnson admitted. “It’s competitive, and you’re playing to win at that level.”
Despite the complaints, many students were enthusiastic about the social opportunities their new campus offers.
“It’s great,” gushed junior Pat Hubbard. “It’s like going to one big party on the hill. When you come, you don’t want to go to class.”
“It’s so much more fun,” agreed 17-year-old Tiffany Eslami. “The more the merrier. We’re making new friends. There’s no problems. And everything is turning out just as smooth as we thought it would.”