This is the first of a series of articles on the seven school districts serving the Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard, Buellton, College — Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Solvang, Vista del Mar, all which feed into Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.
This first article will focus on Buellton Union School District (BUSD).
Many people ask why Buellton is called a union school district. The reason is in 1922 four small ranch schools, Jonata, Nojoqui, Chiquero, and Santa Rosa, consolidated into Buellton Union Grammar School.
The original Jonata School was established on the Buell Ranch in 1889, and was located at what is now the corner of McMurray Road and Hwy 246.
The new Buellton Union Grammar School originally had two rooms and was housed in what is now the Buellton Post Office.
In the late 1940s, two barracks buildings from Camp Cook — now Vandenberg Air Force Base — were added and housed grades 1-4, while grades 5-8 stayed in the original building. These added buildings currently house the Buellton Library and City Council Chambers.
Due to growing enrollment, in 1959, a new Jonata School opened, serving K-8.
In 2002, the district opened Oak Valley School which currently serves 415 elementary students from grades K-5.
Jonata School then became a junior high school, now serving 216 students in grades 6-8.
Since Vista del Mar School District is facing severe financial challenges and declining enrollment, Jonata has enrolled all junior high students, 6-8 grade, from Vista de las Cruces school.
In an interview with Dr. Randy Haggard, the superintendent of both Buellton Union and Vista del Mar school districts, he discussed the goals and challenges of the 2019-20 school year.
One of his first goals, he said, was to make the shared services between Vista del Mar and BUSD as smooth as possible.
To help with this transition, BUSD hired an assistant principal to help with the administrative duties of both campuses.
So far, things are going smoothly, he said, and sees this integration as potentially positive for both districts.
A second goal is to help the 14 Vista de las Cruses junior high students feel welcome at Jonata.
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Haggard explained that it is no easy task to transition from a one-room, one-teacher junior high with the same small group of classmates they had since kindergarten, to a much larger school with different teachers for each subject, and meeting hundreds of new classmates.
To give these new students the support they need as well as to assist all Jonata students, a full-time counselor was added to the staff.
A third, and on-going goal, is to help all students not only achieve academically, but to grow socially and emotionally as well.
BUSD has been involved in a program called Second Step, according to Haggard, which is a K-8 program that helps students to develop empathy, conflict resolution skills, emotional regulation and coping mechanisms.
For decades, parents were drawn to Vista del Mar's unique educational opportunities and small class sizes. A financial downturn spurred by the 2015 Refugio oil spill and a change to state funding may force it to merge with the Buellton Union School District.
Second Step is a nationwide program that includes a full student curriculum as well as teacher materials and training. It deals with topics such as how to recognize and deal with child abuse, bullying, student stress, anger management, etc., which are taught and discussed at both the teacher and student level.
The superintendent said in this day and age of student challenges and stress, this is an important program to help students be successful in both the classroom and in life.
As far as challenges are concerned, Haggard states that district finances are the main challenge.
The way the State of California funds school districts has been a disadvantage to BUSD since it is located within a prosperous area.
Schools in the district are not funded at the same level as schools in less prosperous areas despite its students needing extra academic help or having special needs, he said.
With more funding, Haggard said BUSD plans to add music and art programs, as well as a dual language program. Right now, there is an elective music program at the junior high level, but none at the elementary level.
Also, the Parent and Teachers’ Association (PTSA) funds many supplemental field trips and programs for students, which varies from year to year, and is dependent upon volunteers and donations.
In summary, Buellton residents can be very proud of their schools, as academic achievement is far above state levels at all grade levels and in all subjects.
With the philosophy of educating the whole child, students coming out of the Buellton school system can look forward to success in high school and beyond—not only academically, but also socially and emotionally.
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