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Families, Teachers Angry After Simi Panel Votes to Convert a Junior High

May 25, 1995|IRA E. STOLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sequoia Junior High School should be converted to a special new high school with a focus on technology and the performing arts, a Simi Valley schools committee recommended Wednesday.

The committee's decision to pick Sequoia over Hillside Junior High as the site for the new high school angered and frustrated students, teachers and parents at Sequoia, who vowed to fight to preserve their school as a junior high.

"I just think it was a mistake," said Manuel Lucio, a social studies teacher who has worked at the school on and off since 1970. "I'd say the staff is very demoralized at this time."

School district officials said converting one of its junior high schools to a high school is necessary under a plan to add the ninth grade to Simi Valley's high schools, which now contain only grades 10 through 12.

"In many cases, students do not take the ninth grade to be part of high school and they do not take the ninth grade very seriously," Supt. Mary Beth Wolford said. The school board will vote on the proposal next month.

Wolford said ninth-graders would be better served academically and socially under the reconfiguration plan, but she said she expects significant opposition. "The status quo is always easier for people," Wolford said.

The debate threatens to be a replay of the bruising emotional battle waged last month over the proposed closure of Sycamore School. Parents at that elementary school finally persuaded the school board to back off from the proposed cost-cutting measure.

"There's a pretty active group of parents that just went through it with Sycamore and are going to be just as active with this situation," said Richard Griffin, who teaches physical education at Sequoia.

Nan Mostacciuolo, the parent of a Sycamore first-grader, seventh-grader, eighth-grader and ninth-grader at Sequoia, predicted, "Parents are going to be upset."

She said the opposition will include not just Sequoia parents, but also parents elsewhere upset over the potential cost of the proposed magnet school or afraid that their ninth-graders will be corrupted by high school students.

"I don't want my 14-year-old daughter forced into a situation where she has to be in line with 17- and 18-year-old young men," Mostacciuolo said.

Other parents disagreed. Marlene Becker was waiting in the parking lot at Sequoia Junior High on Wednesday afternoon to pick up her son, a ninth-grader.

"Ninth-graders belong in high school," Becker said. "I think it opens more opportunities for them."

Lucio said he favors four-year high schools, but said it was too bad that a successful junior high such as Sequoia had to close to make way for them. Lucio said the school, which has more than 1,200 students, attracts more than 300 students from outside the geographic area that the campus is supposed to serve.

Griffin said Sequoia lacks the parking spaces, gymnasium and science labs that a high school needs.

Most of the students now attending Sequoia will have moved on by the time the proposed magnet school opens in the fall of 1996. Some said their sympathies were with their teachers, whose futures are uncertain.

"I feel sorry for some of the teachers," said ninth-grader Gail Crosier, 14. "All the teachers were really worried."

Leslie Crunelle, director of secondary education for the district, said Sequoia's location was an important factor in choosing it over Hillside. She said it is in the center of the city, with good access to public transportation. Hillside is in a more residential neighborhood, and its backers had warned that high school students driving there might run over elementary school students walking to school.

The school board will discuss the recommendation at its Tuesday meeting. A June 6 public forum is also scheduled, and the board's final vote on the matter is scheduled for June 12.

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