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Winnetka campus readies for Porter Ranch students relocated due to massive gas leak

On Monday morning, the parents and students of Sunny Brae Avenue Elementary School in Winnetka came back from winter break to find a second school on their campus.

The staff of Castlebay Lane Charter Elementary in Porter Ranch worked on one side of the campus, setting up classrooms. That school's students will be back on Tuesday, moving to their new location as a result of the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak.

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As the Sunny Brae students returned, things looked different. On a chain-link gate lined with green wooden planks, two signs hung. One read "Temporary Home of Castlebay Lane Charter Elementary," while the second welcomed Castlebay Lane parents and students.

Manuel Villa walked up to the front gate on the other side of campus at about 7:30 a.m. to drop off his daughter Priscila.

Over break, the Villas received a letter and phone call telling them that their school would host Castlebay Charter Elementary for the remainder of the year.

"It's no problem," said Villa, whose fifth-grade daughter has been attending Sunny Brae since preschool. Putting Porter Ranch students in Sunny Brae made sense as a temporary solution to the gas leak, he said.

Priscila, sporting a blue sweatshirt, brown boots and a pink backpack, said she was sure the new students would adjust once they figured out where everything was.

"You'll meet them, you'll understand new things," she said.

Ingrid Sanches found out about the new students through an automated phone call from Sunny Brae's principal on Sunday, she said as she walked to her car after dropping of her son and daughter, in first grade and pre-K, respectively.

"Whatever works best for all kids," Sanches said. The phone call didn't say how many students would be added to the campus, she said -- and none of the several parents interviewed knew that number either. L.A. Unified has said to expect about 700 more students at Sunny Brae, which serves students in pre-K to 5th grade.

Ninel Avila watched her second-grade son and kindergartener daughter walk into school on Monday morning. She did not know about the new school on their campus, she said, because she had not received a letter or a phone call.

"The school's not very good at telling us anything, anyway," she said.

Vivian Ekchian, the L.A. Unified district superintendent in charge of Porter Ranch, said that while she can't speak to Avila's comments specifically, "I think we have actually attempted to over-communicate."

Avila's children used to attend Ivy Academia Entrepreneurial Charter School, a charter school that was at the back of Sunny Brae, so she knows what it's like to have two schools on one campus. The two schools functioned separately before, and she doesn't think her children will be affected, unless their after-school program needs to move locations.

"I don't think they'll really even notice it," Avila said of her own children. Parents will experience the change though, she said -- more students means more buses and traffic getting children to and from school.

Apart from the Castlebay Lane students moving to Sunny Brae, students from Porter Ranch Community School will be moved to Northridge Middle School. The district is providing buses to bring Porter Ranch students from their old schools to the new ones. To help the traffic flow, the district has trained staff to provide "valet service" at the schools, she said. Instead of having parents park and walk their children to the front gate, parents can drop children off at the front of campus and staff or safety officers will do the walking.

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Minako Le, whose son attends kindergarten at Sunny Brae, thinks the school is equipped to host Castlebay Lane, she said, because it has coexisted with another school on campus before. She found out about the move from a letter about a week ago, and plans to attend a meeting the principal is having for parents on Wednesday to learn more.

She understands why the district would put the relocated students on her campus. "They can't go to their home school," she said. "We're all in the same community."

After dropoff, Ekchian and acting L.A. Unified Supt. Michelle King toured the school, and held a meeting with the staff of Castlebay Lane. "You guys are models for commitment and diligence," King told them.

Ekchian thanked the staff in advance for their "flexibility" and "resilience." If teachers are missing supplies, she said, she'll work to find them. And she brought back a troubleshooter to help oversee the transition: The district has rehired Neal Siegel, a retired principal who led Hale Middle School (now called Hale Charter Academy) through a major lockdown after the daytime shooting of a police officer near campus in 2011.

Ekchian added: "My commitment to you is, we will make it work for you."

Twitter: @Sonali_Kohli

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