El Rancho Board of Education decide on name for opposed magnet school

Zackary Mejia, Staff Writer

The concerns of Pico Rivera’s community still persist after the El Rancho School Board’s last regular meeting on March 15, when the board confirmed Ellen Ochoa Prep Academy as the name of the magnet school.

The board also heard a presentation on El Rancho’s progress in acquiring the acclaimed International Baccalaureate program by the school’s principal, Jessica Kwek and several administrators.

Since the 2014 resolution and the meetings following, criticisms toward the board range from the choice of location, lack of data showing resolution to improve the decline in enrollment, the conclusive cost of the school and the board’s lack of transparency with the community.

Despite opposition from the community and teacher unions, the board believes that the magnet school will solve the district’s high school enrollment decline and turn a profit in three years after an investment of over $3 million.

They further cited the IB program as one of the main reasons the magnet school will be successful. Yet, by the board’s own admission, the IB program cannot be adopted at the magnet school until fall of 2018, at the earliest.

According to El Rancho’s school newspaper El Rodeo, the magnet school’s acquisition of the program would coincide with the estimated time that El Rancho will be getting the IB program.

After the presentation, however, Kwek stated that El Rancho may be able to offer the program to students as early as fall 2017, a full year ahead of the magnet school.

The high school has been in the process of adopting the program since December of 2014. The time and process that El Rancho underwent to acquire the program elicits doubt that the magnet school will obtain it at the same time. 

This revelation adds more questions to the growing list of concerns that the community has toward the success of the new school.

El Paisano contacted board members Aurora R. Villon, Teresa L. Merino, Jose Lara, Gabriel Orosco and Rachel Canchola for their take on the situation. Lara, Orosco and Canchola replied while Villon and Merino failed to comment.

Lara stated he had no comment and forwarded the request to Superintendent Galindo, who never answered.

Due to personal reasons, Canchola offered limited information regarding the previous decisions that the board made for the magnet school, the formation and advice of the Ad Hoc advisory committee and the extent of the board’s involvement with El Rancho’s IB program.

During the interview, she cited and provided a copy of the Dec 15, 2015 regular board meeting minutes and agenda, in which the board officially voted on the location of the new school.

The minutes show that the board approved the magnet school’s name, principal selection, designated facility, staffing and budget, but do not go into further detail about any of these subjects. The agenda for this meeting was even more vague about these the items, stating “Approve staff to develop and implement a process for the formation of a new school.”

Canchola stated that she was only able to get the details of the meeting from a sit-down conversation with Galindo, specifically, the decision that the magnet school will be located at Selby Grove.

If a concerned community member, who didn’t have access to a board member or the superintendent, was looking for public information regarding the Selby Grove decision, he or she would have a nearly impossible time finding it in a copy of the minutes, due to its cryptic nature.

To get a copy of the minutes, one would have to go the district website and click on the tab marked “Board,” followed by “minutes and agendas”. Depending on whether or not he or she knows the year that the decision was made, he or she may have to search in three different archives.

This is due to the district changing where they store the minutes and agendas in 2014 to a platform that holds the records between the end of 2014 and March 10, 2015 on a separate archive.

The location of meeting minutes changed again for meetings after March 10, as they are now stored in Agenda Online.

After finding the correct year, one could use the search bar to type in key words such as “Selby Grove” or “Magnet school” and would get at a minimum of three meetings that include the key word or phrase, but not the meeting that the board decided to have the magnet school at Selby Grove.

Even if one was to type in “Magnet school at Selby Grove,” the archives would find no related results, because these words are omitted from the minutes of the Dec. 15 meeting, even though it was discussed in detail.

A concerned community member would have to know that exact date to find the agenda and minutes.  This is information that El Rancho student Biane Arias didn’t have when she searched for the minutes of the meeting in which the board voted on the school’s location.

Arias brought this difficulty to the board’s attention at the regular meeting, stating, “In researching the board minutes and the videos of the previous meetings, we could not find when the question of selecting Selby Grove as the magnet school was voted on by the board.”

El Paisano was only able to obtain the minutes and agenda because Canchola provided a hard copy.

Based on copies of four of the ad hoc advisory meeting minutes, the origins of the decision to move the magnet school to a different location may have occurred as early as the first ad hoc advisory committee meeting on Dec 16, 2014.

In the recorded meeting, the committee discussed the possibility of running the magnet school in a separate location. The following is the discussion between Committee Chair Gregory Salcido and members Jose Lara and Ruben Frutos:

Frutos stated, “West Covina created a district charter. Rowland has two IB programs,” to which Salcido questioned if it was a good idea to create a separate school. Lara answered that it would give parents and students an alternative to bigger schools.

Salcido expressed that doing so would take resources away from established schools to give to a smaller number of students.

According to the copy of the minutes, later in the meeting, Salcido again voiced his opposition of an off-campus location, stating “A separate physical campus, then ERHS will become a stepchild and cause segregation.”

Henceforth, the committee explored options of having the magnet school off-campus and during the Feb. 25, 2015 meeting, Galindo presented a list of six possible locations for the magnet school, including Selby Grove.