Bear River parent asks board to consider school district switch
A Bear River High School parent is asking the Nevada Joint Union High School District Board of Trustees to consider a realignment that would make the school part of the Pleasant Ridge Union School District — a move she says would better connect the high school with its feeder middle school, ensure the high school's academic and extracurricular needs are met and allow the Bear River community to have "significantly more input" into decisions that affect the school. Sonia Delgadillo, a Bear River parent and member of the school's site council, presented the idea to the board at its Oct. 21 meeting. "Schools are at their most successful and popular when teachers, students, parents and administrators work together," Delgadillo said, adding, "but their voices have not always been heard, respected or acted upon over the 30 years of (Bear River's) history." The move to the Pleasant Ridge district — an approximately 1,200-student South County district that includes Cottage Hill and Alta Sierra elementary schools and Magnolia Intermediate School — would address several concerns that Delgadillo said have been voiced by Bear River parents at meetings, club gatherings and athletic events over the past several years. "This is something that people talk about down here," Delgadillo told the board. She noted that because Bear River draws students primarily from Magnolia School, one cohesive K-12 district would allow for a better alignment of course materials, the potential development of an International Baccalaureate program and shared school programs, including the high school's agriculture program and the Pleasant Ridge district's career technology program. Delgadillo said Bear River is often grouped with Nevada Union High School because they are both comprehensive schools. But she pointed out that Bear River is smaller and more rural than Nevada Union, and has unique needs that haven't always been met within the high school district. For instance, she said, when the board decided last May to approve a later start time for students at Nevada Union and Bear River beginning next school year, the only town hall meeting to solicit community input was held at Nevada Union. Delgadillo said Bear River parents and students asked the board why there wasn't a similar meeting held at Bear River, but weren't provided an answer. That's a common theme, Delgadillo said. As the school has endured staff and program cuts over the past several years, parents have begun vocally advocating for student needs, and they feel as though their input has often been met with "resistance, impatience and sometimes anger" from board members. "This is a representative government, and parents, teachers and students have a right to be heard and respected," Delgadillo said. "We can't do that if we don't have a warm, welcoming environment where input from all is listened to and thought about seriously." There are several ways that a school district realignment can take place under California education code, but Delgadillo said she is only interested in pursuing the method where the consolidation is initiated by a majority approval from school boards of both districts. She gave a similar presentation on the topic to members of the Pleasant Ridge district's board of trustees on Sept. 8. If both school boards decide to explore reorganization, the process would be lengthy, as it is carefully regulated by the state. There are nine criteria that need to be met in order to move forward, including proving that the reorganization will not disrupt educational programs or have a negative financial impact on either district. If the process were to progress, the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools would eventually convene a committee composed of elected members responsible for holding public hearings, formulating plans and analyzing proposals. In an email, Lauretta Muzio, the president of the Pleasant Ridge district board of trustees, called the curriculum alignment and continuity of programs that could result from incorporating Bear River into the district "attractive," but also said the potential impact on the district's financials, teachers and current academic programs would be important factors for the board to consider. She wrote the board has "expressed positive interest in moving forward with fact-finding," but it is "not interested in making unwanted advancements" on the high school district. High school district board trustees did not hold a lengthy discussion on Delgadillo's presentation at its Oct. 21 meeting. Board President Katy Schwarz said the board will discuss the topic if a board member puts the issue on an upcoming meeting agenda, but added "there doesn't appear to be a lot of enthusiasm about pursuing it." Schwarz said she believes both Bear River and Magnolia would benefit from a closer relationship, but "we can serve those needs with the way things are now." While she said board members "have tried really hard to reach out" to stakeholders from Bear River regularly, she also acknowledged "we could try harder." However, she doesn't feel the board needs to hold specific conversations around improving communications with the Bear River community, instead saying Bear River Principal Amy Besler, who was hired prior to the start of the school year, has made it a priority to reach out to parents frequently to let them know what is happening at the school. "I think she's really doing what she's supposed to be doing as far as getting the word out there and making the school feel important and heard," Schwarz said. Delgadillo doesn't plan to pursue the idea further if there is not significant support from both boards, or from Bear River parents or teachers; change, she said, should be driven by "collaboration of all stakeholders." She believes there's a way that the Bear River community can be heard by and work with the high school district board — but only if the board is willing to incorporate community input. "I hope the board will consider how to best meet the needs of Bear River students and will give great thought on whether it's prepared to actively engage with the community or whether it would be willing to consider another alternative," Delgadillo said. To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.