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Update on Sonoma school campus improvements

Construction at Woodland Star Charter on Arnold Drive underway
Update on Sonoma school campus improvements
Construction at Woodland Star Charter School on Arnold Drive.Photo by Paul Goguen


By Maite Iturri

In 2010 and 2016, under the direction of then-Superintendent Louann Carlomagno, the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) community passed two general obligation bonds to install solar panels and construct effective learning and community engagement spaces at local schools.

Installation of solar panels was intended to boost the district’s general fund by lowering operational costs during a time when funding was decreased for schools. The second bond was to build new spaces that could be used by the community at large, such as El Verano’s multipurpose room and Sonoma Valley High School’s Aquatic Center and new athletic field. In addition, classroom spaces are being improved to create optimal learning experiences for children.

The bond passage encompassed all schools. Plans were made by the then-existing administration, staff, and community; this planning was completed prior to the 2017 wildfires, the pandemic, and declining enrollment (enrollment was declining but not to the extent we are seeing now).

No one would have predicted where we find ourselves today. Still, students and school communities need safe and beautiful learning spaces. School campuses across the country and state are in need of upgrades and remodeling. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, technology, and learning spaces all need attention and modernization.

Locally, and most recently, Woodland Star Charter School is getting a makeover. Woodland Star is located on the Altimira Middle School campus on Arnold Drive. I recently connected with Director Caroline Hopewell and a parent, Jessica Deenan, to ask about the ongoing construction.

“There’s so much happening!” Hopewell explained. “Our main administration building is being replaced. With this new construction we will temporarily lose our small multipurpose room. However, we are super excited that over the course of the year a new, larger, multipurpose room is being built.”

In addition, Hopewell said two classrooms will be relocated, which will “create a more cohesive experience for our kindergartens, allowing our early childhood classrooms to share the same outside play space, and will assist us in establishing a dedicated four-year-old classroom.”

In the meantime, Hopewell said, a classroom will be used for a “Vintner Grant-funded parent-child Spanish story hour that is intended to highlight the importance of deep language knowledge, because we know that language comprehension is a foundational literacy skill.”

The other relocated classroom is dedicated to reading intervention and English language development. The location of this classroom doesn’t change the educational experience, but with the move, hopefully, comes a better internal layout so that teachers can more easily share the same area, Hopewell said.

The construction also includes an upgrade to the school’s fire system and a reconfigured dropoff and pickup area, which will “ultimately make for a safer experience for our students.”

“The project began many years ago,” Hopewell said, noting the renovation was initiated through the district’s master plan update for all schools, which started in 2011 and was adopted in 2017.

“Members of our Charter Council, faculty, and the administrator, Sheila Rielly, worked with the SVUSD architect to express concerns and to identify needed updates. There have been a few iterations of the plan and many of the smaller needs have been addressed over time, but the current project was fully developed upon my arrival at Woodland Star in July 2021,” Hopewell said.

In the short term, Hopewell said, the school “will be a little tight on space, but in the long run [renovations] will allow us flexibility on where we hold our speciality programs, which will ultimately improve our middle school students’ experiences. Having our early childhood classrooms nestled together will allow us to protect the younger children from the hustle and bustle of the upper grade’s program. It will also be great to have the new state universal pre-kindergarten in the same area as our kindergarten classes.”

What are people most excited about?

“I think most people are super excited about the multipurpose room,” Hopewell said. “We have been fortunate to have access to the Altimira multipurpose room for large assemblies, but having our own space for community events of all sizes will be an essential step towards bringing our community together after several years of pandemic restrictions.”

The initial moving of buildings, construction of the administration building, and dropoff/pickup area upgrades will be completed in time for the start of this school year, and the multipurpose room will be completed for the 2023/2024 school year, Hopewell said. But “bringing our beautiful green campus back will take some time. We lost a significant amount of fence greenery (grapes and jasmine), as well as some trees, one being a beloved pomegranate tree.”

From a parent and student perspective, Deenan said the excitement is mounting. The other day, as Deenan and her family drove by the construction, they observed her daughter’s classroom suspended in the sky by a crane as it was being relocated.

Deenan mentioned that the students love the garden, and there will be a need to recreate the space, which will take some time. She will lead the fundraising efforts for the garden and new greenery on the campus in the coming months.

Parent involvement on the campus is inclusive, and Deenan is very pleased with efforts to include families in the decision-making process. As Hopewell mentioned, many of the decisions were made prior to her arrival and both Hopewell and Deenan are pleased and excited about the new campus look.

Planning for the future

The current construction at Woodland Star, which began over a decade ago, is addressing the needs of the community and students today. The Springs Specific Plan is another initiative that began years ago, and it is currently in the environmental impact review stage. In these plans we see the impact of decisions made years ago on our community. I continue to wonder what decisions we, as a community, are part of making, or merely watching happen, and how they will affect our community’s future.