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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Board OKs New Boundaries for Newhall Schools

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After months of neighborhood feuds, trustees of the Newhall School District approved new systemwide school boundaries that include sending students from one Valencia neighborhood to a new elementary school, rather than an older Newhall campus.

School board member Candace Fleece burst into tears as she cast the tie-breaking vote to allow children from the Valencia Summit neighborhood to attend Stevenson Ranch Elementary School when it opens in the fall.

Her vote came as the board’s four other members had just ended speeches showing the split. Two argued that the alternative plan, which would have sent Summit children to Old Orchard Elementary in Newhall, was better because it provided long-term school population stability by combining students from two already built-out developments.

The Stevenson Ranch area is still under development and its future growth will probably signal more boundary changes.

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“I can’t say with (assurance) that I am pleased with this vote,” Fleece told the hushed crowd, her voice cracking. “But I am voting to send the Valencia Summit to Stevenson Ranch.”

Fleece’s announcement was greeted with applause and cheers from many of the 200 audience members who crowded into the meeting at Wiley Canyon School. Many came up and hugged or congratulated her when the board took a brief recess.

“She just blew me away,” said Richard Rioux, president of the Stevenson Ranch Town Council, who expected Fleece to vote for the defeated plan. "(Winston) Churchill couldn’t have given a better speech.”

New boundaries were necessary to relieve crowding at the district’s seven existing schools and ensure that the new school in Stevenson Ranch, a large housing development west of Santa Clarita, has a sufficient student population. About 275 elementary school-age children live in the development, and district officials wanted an additional 200 to 250 students transferred to the new school.

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Residents in both the Old Orchard and Stevenson Ranch neighborhoods told the board that they wanted the Summit students because parents from that neighborhood tend to be more involved in school activities.

However, some have said the desire for Summit students to attend a particular school is rooted in racism and classism because the neighborhood is mostly white and is among the more affluent areas of the district.

Numerous parents--both from Old Orchard and the Summit--have said that the bilingual program at Old Orchard takes resources away from regular classrooms and that minority parents often don’t participate in school activities. About 40% of Old Orchard’s students are minority, the second highest total in the district.

Old Orchard’s sagging reputation is unwarranted, Fleece said, because its test scores are among the highest in the district.

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School board President Gonzalo Freixes had also argued that the alternative proposal would have provided better ethnic balance at all schools, which the board is required by law to strive for.

Board member Susan Edwards said the approved plan is likely to be short-lived. As the Stevenson Ranch area continues to grow, increasing the student population there, Summit residents could again find themselves the “swing” neighborhood in a new round of boundary changes, she said.


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