Many Terra Linda neighbors are concerned about safety when a school for troubled youth will relocate to 1111 Las Gallinas Ave. in the coming months and are peeved at the Marin County Office of Education’s lack of outreach regarding the issue.
In a meeting Wednesday evening, Marin County Community School representatives discussed with Terra Linda neighbors the relocation of their 160 San Pedro Road campus to Las Gallinas Avenue. The school, which serves between 30 and 40 students throughout the county with high truancies or behavioral issues, lost its lease in June.
When looking to move, the Office of Education needed a central location in the county that it already owned. The 1111 Las Gallinas Ave. address was the place, but many neighbors were left in the dark about the school’s plans.
The program served kids since 1982, and was in the San Pedro location since the early 1990s. The majority of the students who attend are high schoolers with some middle schoolers from San Rafael City Schools and the Novato Unified School District.
“This is not a destination school,” Marin County Assistant Superintendent Luke McCann said at the meeting. “The goal is to return the students to the district.”
Kids are referred to the program from the Student Attendance Review Board, a state agency that is composed of school and community members who meet regularly to diagnose and resolve persistent attendance or behavior problems. Probation officers also can make referrals if the student is already in juvenile hall.
“Most of these kids haven’t had the best experience with schools. They haven’t had the best experience with adults,” Community School Principal Karen Allen said.
The school focuses on a “restorative model” that gives troubled youth additional support to resolve their issues and earn enough credits to graduate or re-enter their district, according to Allen. “We don’t want them to be the same student they were before they came out,” she said.
From the 2010 -11 school year, 39 percent of the program’s students re-entered their district, 23 percent are still in the program, 8 percent got their diploma, 8 percent received their GED and 22 percent dropped out, according to Allen.
Eduardo Silva, a 27-year-old graduate of the program, told Terra Linda residents that the school always maintained “a deep connection with the community and businesses.”
Silva received valuable job shadowing shortly after entering the program which eventually turned in to a internship. After spending over a year in the Community School program, he re-entered his local high school, graduated, attended college and is now working for technology company Cisco.
“I have friends from the program who followed a similar path,” he said.
Many of the neighbors who attended the meeting recognized the value of the school for the county, but were irked that they were not aware of the issue until a Jan. 6 article in the Marin Independent Journal and a notification for the construction of two modular buildings on the site.
Ayn Cimino said that she approved of the program, but was outraged that the superintendent and school officials chose the location without talking to the community first. “I feel like you took advantage of Terra Linda residents,” she told McCann at the meeting.
Other residents worried about safety and the supervision of the students. “Some kids have troubles but good intentions and they succeed. Others don’t,” said Lisa Sanchez-O’brien, who has a 10-year-old son and lives across the street from the new location.
Since her kid and other sixth, seventh and eighth graders arrive home from school around the same time as the teenagers are out of their program, Sanchez-O’brien asked if the students would be supervised during the time they get out of class to when they travel home and what would the repercussions be if students disturbed the community. “Do I want to expose my 10-year-old son to that,” she said.
Over the years, many of the issues at the Community School involved school fights or coming to class under the influence, according to Allen. “These are typical issues that any high school has,” she said. “What we have not had are issues with our neighbors.”
There are eight to 10 staff members on site and supervising the students at all times. Minors with weapons offenses do not attend the program. Students are escorted to public transportation after their classes end, and the school remains responsible for them until they arrive at home. School officials also have the right to search a student’s belongings as soon as any suspicion of their behavior arises, Allen said.
“They know our eyes are on them all the time,” she said.
The construction of the site’s modular buildings, where there will be room for classes and a computer lab, will end in approximately five months. Until then, the school has organized two neighborhood forums in the coming weeks to engage nearby residents.
“This community of Marin is a privileged community,” McCann said. “When our students get off track, we have responsibility to help.”Want to attend one of the upcoming neighborhood forums? They will be held at 1111 Las Gallinas Ave. on Jan. 30, from 7 - 8:30 p.m. and Feb. 7 from 3:30 - 5 p.m.
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