After 10 years as a Program Improvement school, Mar Vista Middle School will be closing in June after a 4-1 vote by the Sweetwater Union High School District School Board on Monday.
When the school year ends June 7, half of the school's teachers will stay at the school, district spokesman Manuel Rubio said. The other half will leave the school—the main campus for young people in Imperial Beach—and be reassigned to other campuses within the district.
How teachers will be selected to stay or go has not yet been worked out, Rubio said.
New staff will be hired as part of a restructuring program to make what was Mar Vista Middle School a program or theme school when the new school year begins July 24.
A series of community meetings will be held for input on how the school should move forward and restructure, Principal Thomas Winters said.
"There's going to be three pillars to this theme/focus school: academic literacy, 21st century skills and problem-based learning," he said.
Mar Vista Middle School will be restructured because it has been labeled a Program Improvement school for 10 years, according to the district. A Program Improvement school is one that receives federal Title I funding for low-income students and has failed to meet all Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals in particular subject areas for two consecutive years.
AYP scores are a product of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Over the past month, parents, teachers and adminstrators held meetings to review surveys, exam scores, California Standardized Test scores, and attendance and suspension rates.
After three meetings, the District Site Leadership Team (DSLT) recommended that the school board get rid of ineffective teachers or close Mar Vista and start over as a theme or program school.
The change occurs as a new charter school opens nearby. On Monday the board also approved a charter school petition for nearby Southwest Middle School.
If approved by the state, the new charter school will be named the Stephen W. Hawking II Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math Charter School.
Linda Bennett is an early intervention coordinator at Mar Vista Middle School working with at-risk students. When her daughter attended Mar Vista, she said, "I had to handpick her teachers because there's teachers that I could not have her with."
Bennett was one of about 10 teachers who chose to participate in the DSLT.
Generally, she said, teachers felt they did not need any professional development to improve education at the school, but observations said otherwise.
"So in our group we decided that the barriers were the teachers," she said. "It's sad. The Imperial Beach community deserves better. We want teachers that will move our students forward."
Elizabeth Dixon also took part in the DSLT and wants to see the school change. Her son Daniel is an eighth-grader at the middle school.
An employee at nearby Mendoza Elementary School, Dixon said she speaks to parents in the community who hear bad things about the middle school and its teachers.
"Their parents do not want them to attend Mar Vista Middle because of all the horror stories that they have heard about the teaching at Mar Vista Middle. And I say enough is enough," she said.
People with a vested interest in the school, including teachers, had an opportunity to join the DSLT.
"If you have a grievance, if you want to get something done, you need to step up," Dixon said. "These parents and these teachers had an opportunity to step up and they did nothing."
Kara King, who also participated in the DSLT meetings, said reading the teacher surveys made her feel shocked and angry.
"Based on the information we were provided, it seemed like some people had given up on our children and our community in particular," she said.
The prospect of a new school gives her hope to do something that hasn't been tried in the past 10 years, she said.
Community activists who regularly attend board meetings said they felt the move is long past due.
"Who took their eye off the ball on this thing? Since 2003, this school has been under Program Improvement," Bernardo Vasquez said. "It's taken us 10 years to get to a point where we need to come up with a drastic decision to start over with this school? I think that's an absolute disservice to this community.
Kathleen Cheers of Imperial Beach sent one of her nine children to Mar Vista Middle School.
"Something is broken somewhere and it's not just Mar Vista, because if it was, Mar Vista would be the only school on the Program Improvement list. So we are not paying attention to the education of our students," she said.
Robert O'Keefe works at Mar Vista Middle. His son also attends school there. He agrees something needs to be done to change the school's performance, but said he feels any change to a theme or focus school should be delayed a year in order to lay out a plan.
He said he doesn't know if he will be one of the teachers that comes back, but the students and teachers who are part of the new school deserve a well-developed plan. A few months isn't enough time, he said.
"First of all, I haven't heard one thing yet as far as what model we're going to use specifically, where it's being implemented, what type of results it's gotten. We can't just change for change," he said.
"Don't rush into something. Not if you really want it to work. Not if you want it to last and have an impression," O'Keefe said.
Colleen Cook-Salas has taught math at Mar Vista Middle School for more than two decades and plans to reapply for her position.
"I have looked forward my entire career for Mar Vista Middle to be a school like I read about where the staff is onboard the same bus together. I consider Mar Vista Middle my home. I am thrilled this opportunity is coming to the Imperial Beach community," she said.
Cook-Salas urged those who say there isn't enough time to form a new school to "put away the shortsightedness and look at what it can mean to work in an environment where so many others are moving in the same positive direction."
A teacher speaking anonymously due to concern about getting her position back next year said she believes restructuring is a bad idea and the public has been misled.
Every profession has employees that don't do their fair share, but Mar Vista Middle has a lot of dedicated, hard-working teachers, she said.
"So you have a few teachers that aren't doing their fair share so restructure the whole school?" she asked.
Even if restructuring is a good idea, what's the plan, she asked.
"If you were in business and you were going to restructure your business, would you do it over a six-week period or would you do it over a couple-year period planning it, doing research?" she said.
To see data on the school's performance, visit the California Department of Education website.Base API Made AYP
# of AYP Criteria Met 2012 753 No 13 of 25 2011 767 No 23 of 25 2010 728 No 18 of 25 2009 722 No 15 of 25 2008 719 No 15 of 25
2007683 No 21 of 25 2006 694 No 22 of 25 2005 657 No 21 of 25 2004 615 No 25 of 29 2003 644 No
Should Mar Vista Middle School go through the restructure? What do you think needs to change at the middle school? Share in comments.
Correction: The original version stated that the principal of Mar Vista Middle School's name is Michael Winters. His name is Thomas Winters.
Also the previous version of this article stated that the school's entire teaching staff will be "let go" when in fact half the school's staff will be hired back and the other half will be reassigned to other schools within the district.