Early arrival

Oak Park students first to go back


YOUNG MINDS—Kindergartner Navya Matada, 4, stays close to Dad as father and daughter walk onto the campus of Oak Park Elementary School this week. Officials say starting the year earlier and ending thefirst semester before winter break helps student performance. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

YOUNG MINDS—Kindergartner Navya Matada, 4, stays close to Dad as father and daughter walk onto the campus of Oak Park Elementary School this week. Officials say starting the year earlier and ending the first semester before winter break helps student performance. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

Oak Park wasted little time putting an end to summer vacation. Early.

Starting two weeks sooner than Las Virgenes and almost three weeks before the Conejo school district, Oak Park began classes on Tues., Aug. 7. The early start allows schools to end their first semester before winter break begins. Oak Park Superintendent Tony Knight said the change in calendar will have a “positive effect on student stress loads.” One byproduct is little to no homework over the winter holiday.

The district’s six campuses opened amid a variety of innovative changes, including a melding of education and the environment, and programs to keep kids better connected to their teachers and to each other.

Oak View, the district’s alternative high school, will present all subjects—math, English, science, art and technology—with an emphasis on the environment by taking students on trips to Yosemite and the Channel Islands to study plants and animals and to gain hands-on experience rehabilitating native habitat.

READY TO LEARN—Kindergartner Wenning Dong, 5, gets some reassurance from kindergarten aide Lisa Solny during the morning drop-off Aug. 13 at Oak Park Elementary School. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

READY TO LEARN—Kindergartner Wenning Dong, 5, gets some reassurance from kindergarten aide Lisa Solny during the morning drop-off Aug. 13 at Oak Park Elementary School. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

Oak View—which normally focuses on students at risk of not graduating—is now open to any teen interested in the new curriculum.

In addition to Oak View’s new principal, Kent Cromwell, two new administrators have taken the helm at elementary schools in the Oak Park district. Erin Vranesh was welcomed as principal of Brookside and Stacy La Frenz came on board as principal of Red Oak.

District enrollment is up

“We expect to be around 4,600 (students) this year,” Superintendent Tony Knight said, adding that the district has 41 more students than last year.

About 40 percent of students enter the Oak Park school district through the District of Choice program. Children are allowed to transfer to the district without permission from administrators in their home district. Each year OPUSD conducts a lottery for students wanting to enroll.

As for new school programs, Knight said teachers are continuing to use the Reading and Writing Workshop for language arts.

“Trainers from Columbia University in New York were here in late July,” he said. “We consider the program to be a major success.”

Changes in child care

A new child care program, Club Oak Park, opened last week.

“It is off to a great start with over 700 children participating,” Knight said. “The previous program run by the parks department had about 400. The children are helping to design the program by decorating rooms, deciding on games and equipment they want, and we are in the process of building their program.”

An updated homework policy has also been introduced.

“After nearly two years of studying current practices and research, the updated policy is aimed to improve homework practices in two ways,” Knight said.

“First, an overall reduction of homework at the elementary level, especially in grades K-3, where the research is conclusive that too much homework works against the academic progress of students. Secondly, the new policy aims to ensure that homework is more targeted to individual student needs, which mirrors our progressive classroom approaches.”

Engineering and computer science classes have been added to the middle and high school curriculums.

New and improved

Facility improvements include a new roof on the Medea Creek Middle School gym. A new kitchen has also been installed at the school, which Knight said will allow the school to “move to a new level of food preparation.”

“This is allowing us to offer an even more comprehensive menu filled with many natural, home-cooked, healthy options for our students,” he said.

The district created a new outdoor art court at Oak Park High School. The court will include new and advanced kilns for student use.

Words of encouragement

At the Camp Medea middle school orientation program on Aug. 1, Knight shared some comforting words with incoming sixth-grade students.

“It was clear that they were all a little uncertain about starting middle school,” he said. “I told them that they had come to a place where they will be loved and cared for and that part of their job was to do the same for each other.”

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