Thanks to recent changes in programs and administration, Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer told the Board of Supervisors that Inyo County’s schools are in good shape despite financial challenges and declining enrollment that is threatening one school.
Owens Valley High School, with only 11 students this year, may be facing closure due to a lack of enrollment.
“We all have declining enrollment, but the Owens Valley High School is nearing lapsation. If it goes into lapsation, it will face disposal of school territory and property,” McAteer said.
McAteer said he and Owens Valley School Principal Joel Hampton have been looking at ways to increase enrollment to save the school.
One idea, McAteer said, would be to unify Owens Valley with another local high school, most likely Lone Pine, to keep it open.
If Owens Valley High School is unified, it would be able to keep its Independence campus open to residents there, rather than going into lapsation and being shut down, forcing students to travel to either Lone Pine or Big Pine for class.
Owens Valley Superintendent/Principal Joel Hampton was unavailable for comment at press time.
On the upside, McAteer opened a workshop with county leaders last week by saying he is proud to report that Bishop has successfully transitioned into a unified school district, opening up more than $900,000 in new revenue.
“Things have gone smoothly,” McAteer said. “We were able to use that money to give teachers raises, and we didn’t have to lay anyone off.”
Also, there has been the launch of Youthbuild Charter Schools, a classroom-based program offering students between the ages of 16 and 24 the opportunity to earn a high school diploma through leadership activities and community service programs that prepare them for careers.
McAteer said there are approximately 1,000 students enrolled in the program, pumping more than $1 million into local school coffers.
In addition to unification, McAteer said Bishop schools are realizing additional revenue through the Mt. Whitney Virtual High School, an online program designed to tailor instruction to the needs of each student to help them graduate.
The online program allows the Bishop Unified School District to enroll students from across the state. The state government, in turn, funds schools based on enrollment.
McAteer said the virtual high school allows the Bishop school district to generate revenue even though the students who are enrolled there are not necessarily Inyo County students.
All local school districts, McAteer said, showed modest gains across the board in STAR testing scores.
“I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with the scores, but we’re improving,” McAteer said.
Looking to the future, McAteer said local schools will be retooling their nutrition and sex education programs.
He pointed out that all of America is struggling with obesity, and one way to keep younger Americans healthy is to instill good nutrition habits early.
Likewise, he said that Inyo County has an above-average rate of teen pregnancy. He said he hopes a better sex education program will bring local teen pregnancy numbers down, and keep those students in the classroom.