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Theatre project, student progress dominate school board discussion

CUSD has awarded the contract to renovate the Claremont High School Theatre to Paul C. Miller Construction, with work expected to begin soon after classes end this June. The news, 3 years in the making, was greeted with applause at the Thursday, May 3 meeting of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education. 

The $3 million project will include bare-bones renovations as well as much-needed roof repair. Should more money become available for the project in the future, CUSD has priced out other needs like improved seating and electrical upgrades. Paul C. Miller Construction comes with high recommendations for its work on schools in nearby districts like Etiwanda, Fontana and Chino.

The go-ahead comes in the nick of time. The $1.5 million matching fund grant was awarded to CHS for the Theatre Renovation Project 3 years ago, and would have expired on June 30 if the amount remained unmatched.

In the past few years, theatre boosters have rallied to get matching funds together, ultimately raising $300,000. Despite their best efforts, the renovation faced a gap of $1.2 million when the school board recently stepped in with a $1.5 million bridge loan.

Honorable efforts, deplorable funding 

After a brief closed session, the board reconvened, commencing a period of recognition for outstanding students and programs. In the outstanding student category, CHS soccer goalie Sam Newton was honored for winning Sierra League Player of the Year, Division 2.

Coach Fred Bruce-Oliver, head boys varsity soccer coach, lauded Sam, who had 14 shutouts this season, for his team leadership.

“Your goalkeeper is your second coach on the field. When you have a keeper like [Sam], you always have a chance,” he said.  

Sam, who announced that he’s heading to the University of California, Davis next year, brought his grandmother and father to the board meeting. He gave most of the credit for his on-the-field achievements to coach Bruce-Oliver.

“He’s the best coach in all of California—and in the country, if I’d have my say,” said Sam, who called the Player of the Year title “humbling.”

Recognition also went to the students and staff of the AVID (Advancement Through Individual Determination) program at Claremont High School, which seeks to help students at mid-levels of academic achievement prepare for college success. Also included was San Antonio High School, which has been selected as a Model Continuation High School by the California Department of Education.

San Antonio High School student TeVin Woods took a moment to attest to the strengths of the school.

“It’s small, I get interaction with my teachers and I’ve learned a lot,” Tevin said. “I bloomed at San Antonio. I decided what I wanted to do, what college I want to go to.”

Another public comment period saw Elizabeth Harris-Gifford, the parent of a Sumner Elementary School first grader, invite the board and community to a celebration held yesterday to mark the fact that the school has been designated a California Distinguished School.

“It’s an amazing place, and we all add to it,” she said of Sumner.

Then it was onto presentations by Principal Brett O’Connor of CHS and Principal Stacey Stewart of Oakmont Elementary School.

Principal O’Connor gave a report on how the school is looking to raise student achievement. Students with Ds and Fs have been improving since the introduction of a mandatory “Office Hours” intervention, he noted. These at-risk students are matched with teachers for 20 minutes 4 days a week in order to address problem subjects.

Other moves aimed at student success include a change in which standardized testing takes place in classrooms as opposed to in the gym. Data has shown that students test better in a smaller setting and with a known teacher present, said Principal O’Connor. 

If benchmark testing is any indication, Oakmont students are looking good as they approach next week’s STAR testing. Benchmark testing is used to predict how students will do on standardized tests. Ms. Stewart was pleased to announce her school has exceeded district benchmark indicators for math by 10 percent and those for English language arts by 20 percent.

“We’re pumped,” Ms. Stewart said of the impending tests. “Nervous, but pumped.” 

Board members congratulated Ms. Stewart, who is in her first year as principal of Oakmont, for her infectious enthusiasm and organization.

“The fact that [Oakmont] concentrates on the whole child is very Claremont,” said Jeff Stark, president of the CUSD board.

Next up, Lisa Shoemaker, assistant superintendent of business services, presented a compelling case for the board to be allowed to borrow money from various district accounts to supplement the general fund.

Not a month goes by in which the state does not defer the payment of allotted general funds by a month or even a year, Ms. Shoemaker said. This leaves the district unable to perform basic functions like paying staffers. 

In what all agreed is a sad turn of affairs, such inter-fund shuffling has become routine.

“This is like working for a month but getting paid next month, or [being told], ‘We’ll pay you next year,’” Mr. Stark said. “It’s stupid. We’re appalled. I hope you are as well and will let your elected officials know.”

—Sarah Torribio

[storribio@claremont-courier.com]

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