New high school needs community support

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After too many years of delays and missteps, our city is on the threshold of realizing the dream of opening a new state-of-the-art academy high school and a 700- seat performing arts center to serve Camarillo and surrounding communities for decades to come.

The City Council recently voted to begin annexation application processing and to hold a public forum on the project. We support this plan to further involve the community and hope all Camarillo residents will contact their council members to urge them to work with the Oxnard Union High School District so that this education and performing arts complex will be built without any unwarranted delays.

Camarillo is blessed with an historic high school that has done an outstanding job of educating its students. Adolfo Camarillo High School is a California Distinguished School and is named one of the top high schools in the country by Newsweek. It deserves the accolades that it has earned—and to be given upgrades and enhancements equal to all the other schools in the district. In addition to the proposed academy high school, Camarillo residents should demand fair treatment regarding maintenance and upgrades to our existing high school campus. Unfortunately, because it is boxed in by the 101 Freeway and major city streets, Adolfo Camarillo High School can’t grow big enough to accommodate all of Camarillo’s students today, much less in the coming decades when limited growth resumes.

Currently more than 1,100 high school students attend public high schools outside of city boundaries. Adding high school capacity in Camarillo will serve the needs of tomorrow’s growth and will attract those who might consider transfer to other districts to stay in Camarillo for their education. That’s one of the key reasons that this new high school proposal is so critical. The Oxnard Union High School District is ready to make a commitment to serve all of Camarillo’s current and future high school students. The school district owns the necessary land, bond money is available for full funding of the construction and the Oxnard Union High School District board enthusiastically supports proceeding with the design and construction as quickly as it can be accomplished.

Since last April, a diverse committee of Camarillo residents and education professionals collaborated to identify the needs of Camarillo and its future high school students and to give initial definition to the academy high school concept. The district advertised and solicited members of the community to participate.

The diverse committee consisted of past district superintendents, current high school teachers, PTSO presidents, current and former school board members, the founding principal of the Foothill Technology High School in Ventura, parents of elementary-school-age children who will be eligible to attend the new high school, as well as a number of Camarillo residents who simply care about improving our educational system.

The committee recognized the long-held Camarillo tradition of parent, teacher and community engagement and recommended that a new academy high school focus on engineering and design, health and biomedical technology and visual and performing arts fields.

The committee also recommended that the curriculum be rigorously academic and satisfy California’s requirements for college admissions for all of its students, while providing practical skills that are immediately useful in the workforce whether a student chooses to advance to college or enter the workforce directly.

Camarillo and Somis residents will be given enrollment priority. Academic standards will be high and enrollment will require a continuous commitment of its students to achieve at the best of their abilities. The phase I of the academy high school is designed for 700 students, and will embrace the idea of small learning communities. Full buildout on the entire site is master planned for 2,250 students. This expansion isn’t expected to be required for at least a decade and will need to be reevaluated to accommodate future educational and population changes.

Just as exciting for Camarillo’s future is the Performing Arts center. Frankly, our city is lacking in facilities for performing arts. Students in Camarillo often have to stage productions in Thousand Oaks or Oxnard because those cities have facilities to accommodate performances. Not only are we losing artistic opportunities for our students, but we are losing the jobs, revenue and community enjoyment that a performing arts center can provide.

Additionally, the design concept for the school will include community-accessible facilities for recreation and sports.

Now is the right time to build a new high school and performing arts center in Camarillo. Today’s elementary school students will be the first graduating class of the new academy high school. However, this vision can only be realized if we come together as a community to support and demand this project in parallel with equitable support for Adolfo Camarillo High School. A vision of 21st century high schools where our children are anchored in the community and supported by Camarillo residents is within reach.

Camarillo has waited decades to get its new high school, and the time to realize the dream is fast approaching. We urge you to support the process and become involved.

Busse and Little are members of both the new academy high school educational concepts committee and the community design collaboration committee. Little is also a former city manager of Camarillo.

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