OUHSD leader building support for new high school

Dr. Soumakian, headshot.
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Leslie Pilkington Pillado has two children who’ve walked the halls of Adolfo Camarillo High School. Her daughter Erica, 18, graduated last year and is now a freshman at UCLA. Her 14-yearold, Brandon, is currently a freshman.

“We are very happy with the teachers and the curriculum at Camarillo,” Pillado said.

Erica excelled at Camarillo High and earned enough college credits through her Advanced Placement classes to be considered a sophomore in her first year at UCLA.

But in spite of the college prep courses available at ACHS and campus upgrades over the past few years, Pillado said the campus could use a face-lift.

“Of course my kids always complain about the bathrooms, but the football field is a mess and we want a pool,” Pillado said.

Brandon is on the swim team and commutes to Rio Mesa High School and the Pleasant Valley pool for practice. The district is expected to build a pool at Camarillo High in the future.

Pillado, a mother of four, said she plans to send her son Michael, 12, to Camarillo High, but looks forward to what a new high school will offer her kindergartner, Steven.

The Oxnard Union High School District board of trustees continues to move forward with plans for a new magnet high school and performing arts center to be built in Camarillo on a 77-acre property next to the Camarillo Library on Las Posas Road.

“ This high school is long overdue. I’m excited because it sounds like it’s really going to be different,” Pillado said.

A new learning environment is exactly what the leaders of Oxnard Union High School District plan to create with the new high school.

Spreading the word

Last week, Gabe Soumakian, the superintendent of OUHSD, stood before a full house of Rotarians to share the district’s vision of the new high school during the Noontime Rotary Club’s weekly lunch.

Soumakian said his presentation at the Rotary Club was part of a wider campaign to better inform Camarillo residents about the new high school.

The district chief recognizes the need for community support for the new high school and said he has made it a point to meet with a variety of organizations to ensure transparency in the district’s progress with the school and its programs.

Soumakian told the luncheon crowd the district wants the high school to be an academy—not a trade school—with three special programs: biomedical, engineering, and performing arts and digital media.

“It really reflects the needs of our students,” Soumakian said. “We’re focusing on students first and what they need.”

The new academy will have a large performing arts center, a facility the city has lacked for decades.

While the district plans to have physical education fields at the new location, the school will not have an athletic department. Students who want to participate in sports will have to do so on a team at their neighborhood school.

Rotary members at the luncheon questioned the size of a campus that would serve only 700 to 750 students.

Soumakian said the district hired an independent data company to analyze the city’s demographics.

“The company says that even considering 10 years in the future, the city of Camarillo won’t need a high school (that serves) over 700 students,” Soumakian said.

The superintendent said there have been a number of community members involved with the planning of the high school, and he believes the district is building a school the community wants and needs.

The high school will be financed through Measure H, a ballot initiative passed by voters in November 2004 that gave the district $135 million in bond money to renovate existing high schools and to build two new campuses—one in Oxnard and the other in Camarillo.

The district was required by law to create the Measure H Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, an independent board made up of volunteers from across the district, who will regulate how the district spends the bond money.

Approval needed

The high school is slated to open in 2015 and will start with freshman and sophomores.

Before construction can begin, the district will conduct several enivornmental studies and needs approval from the city and then from the Ventura Local Agency Formation Commission, an independent agency that must review boundary changes for cities and special districts.

The district currently owns more than 77 acres of land that sits behind the Camarillo Library.

The land is part of the county and not the city of Camarillo. The city will ask the formation commission to annex about 27 acres of the land for the new school. The rest will remain part of the county and be used for farmland.

The district will work with the city to study how the new school will impact the local environment, traffic patterns and the sewer system.

Kai Luoma, the deputy executive officer of the formation commission, said the study could take three to four months. He said his office is responsible for limiting urban sprawl and will look for alternative sites the city can rezone for the high school.

“If there are no other sites, we’ll ask how the school district can mitigate loss of that agricultural land,” Luoma said. “For example, agricultural buffers so students aren’t affecting the (agriculture) right outside their schools.”

The formation commission may have other requirements for the city, such as extending water and sewer lines to the area and providing emergency services for the new population.

“The district could start building if it proves to the LAFCo that it has the finances and plans to eventually build all those services the LAFCo asks for,” Luoma said.

The district cannot break ground until it has met all of the formation commission’s requirements.

‘Teaching for the future’

Although Pillado will be sending her children to Camarillo High for now, she knows of parents sending their kids to Newbury Park because of the smaller class sizes. She said every school has its issues.

“We felt very strongly that we wanted to support the community school,” Pillado said.

Soumakian said the goal of the new high school will be to offer a variety of cutting-edge programs intended to retain students—such as Pillado’s—who may consider leaving the district.

“This is teaching for the future,” Soumakian said of the new high school.

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