Piece of Mind: Lately, it's all about our schools

A casual observer of La Cañada affairs taking a glance at the Valley Sun might wonder what it is about our public school system that draws so much community interest. Indeed, a host of stories in recent weeks has centered on our lauded school district.

One of the most lively discussions lately concerns the revived effort to bring into the LCUSD those students who live in the west side of town but are educated in Glendale schools. If this year's attempt fails, as previous ones have done, there will no doubt be another — and another — as homes change hands and new families move into town who would like to be embraced by La Cañada's school system. It's been a decades-long struggle. The warriors may have different names during this skirmish, but their battle cry is essentially the same: Unite the community.

It's a tangled, complex situation at best. The good news is the folks at Glendale Unified have said they do not want the conversation to turn ugly, as it has in previous attempts to wrestle “Sagebrush” properties out of GUSD's base and into La Cañada's. So we have a promise of civility, if not the outright gift of that sliver of Glendale's district. Even if it is tamed down for prime time, this is a drama that will be worth watching.

By the way, although I have heard over the years some of the people residing in that section of town take umbrage at the words “Sagebrush area,” it was dubbed that by a previous group that banded together for the cause of being brought into the LCUSD. They called themselves the Sagebrush Committee. And so it became a part of our community vernacular. There are worse nicknames, one could argue.

We have more good reason to focus on our schools: This week, one of our heralded campuses, La Cañada Elementary, was awarded the distinction of a National Blue Ribbon School. Principal Christine Castillo and her staff are understandably elated by that news. And the recent API scores, while still not placing us in the No. 1 slot for California unified districts, kept us comfortably in the second position, not a bad place to be. With the new Common Core standards being implemented, teaching and testing methods will change and outcomes may be different, but we can be confident that this district will sort it all out and maintain its solid reputation.

Of course there are money concerns, as there always seem to be. While the La Cañada Educational Foundation continues to shine as a fundraising machine for our public schools, raising a very impressive $2.25 million this past school year, the district is mulling a seven-year parcel tax in a range of $450-$550, we report this week. This would be a significant increase to the existing $150 parcel tax and it will be interesting to see how the community responds.

Amid all of these matters, there's also a school board election coming up. In fact, there's an election forum at LCHS on Oct. 1, at 7 p.m. Eight candidates are vying for three open seats. One of those candidates, incumbent Joel Peterson, is finding himself in the position of defending both his residency and his new business, which offers educational planning services. This, too, will be a compelling story to watch. Will voters think Peterson is being unfairly targeted and give him the nod, or will they cease to support him? All will be revealed in coming weeks.

La Cañada High School is turning 50! This reality draws a gasp from those of us who can remember watching the campus take shape. I was going to wax on about my Spartan days but I've reached my assigned word limit. More's the pity, as I've been humming the alma mater all day and feel primed to burst forth. Maybe next time.

CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. She can be reached at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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