Beginning this fall, 1,131 students will be enrolled in Montecito’s five public and private primary schools – Montecito Union (421), Cold Spring (197), Crane (233), Lower Laguna Blanca (95) and Our Lady of Mount Carmel (185). As teachers readied their classrooms last week and put the finishing touches on their curricula, we discussed with faculty members and administrators their respective educational philosophies, their goals for the next nine months and recent additions or improvements made to the academic institutions. In short, we asked: “What’s new for this school year?”

Tech Support

For Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the kindergarten through eighth grade Catholic School, the bustling summer brought structural additions that should modernize and enhance the school’s academic outlook. The school’s principal, Karen Regan, says first on the list was a new technology center that replaced an old school hall and was funded by student parents. The center was outfitted with 30 new Apple computers for student use. Regan and the rest of faculty also received new iMacs.

Additional renovations include a new art studio for the students in the church garage. The art center, equipped with arts supplies and a new kiln, will be a welcome teaching and project unit for the school, says Regan. In years prior, art teachers and students had to “borrow” the church hall for classes.

A donation from the Berlitz Language School will provide Carmel with language instructors and textbooks for learning Spanish. Thirty-minute Spanish classes will be incorporated into the daily curriculum, twice a week beginning this September.

This fall, faculty member and Carmel alumna Kyla VanWingerden will switch to kindergarten after two years teaching fifth grade at the school. “I know that Kyla is competent, and can teach any grade,” Regan says.

For her part, VanWingerden says she recognizes that kindergarten is a student’s first ever educational experience and should be regarded as “fundamentally very important.”

She says her educational philosophy has always been “equal access for all learners” and she will incorporate this tenet in her teaching by utilizing different learning methods and by addressing individual student needs and learning styles. New for kindergarten this year, VanWingerden is introducing a new reading series to provide students with a foundation in reading; one of her primary hopes is to increase the school’s overall literacy level. The new reading series begins with the alphabet and progresses to letter and sound identification in words placed in sentences.

Cold Spring’s Core, Credo

At Cold Spring School, the core educational philosophy is to provide the experiences that enable children to take their place as useful members of society.

Superintendent and principal, Dr. Bryan McCabe, says the school has instituted new developments that tie into Cold Spring’s credo. The first is the goal to strengthen the use of technology in the classroom rather than in the computer lab, where for the last six years students have absorbed the majority of their technical knowledge. From now on, grades three through six will be using laptops. Every fifth and sixth grade student will have their own laptop computer as part of a project called “1:1.”

In addition to students, the faculty will utilize computer technology in their lectures, such as PowerPoint presentations and streaming video in the classroom. “The children today are so immersed in technology that we need to enhance that,” McCabe says.

The project is so attractive, McCabe says, that it sparked the return of Christian Garfield, who had been Cold Spring’s computer technology specialist and instructor and had set up the original computer labs six years ago. Garfield had left to be at Crane School for three years before coming back to Cold Spring for the 2006-07 school year.

McCabe says one of the most significant upcoming projects is the update of the campus – a full renovation of the existing buildings and construction of new academic buildings. To realize this endeavor, at least 55% of voters will have to approve Measure K, a $14-million bond that will appear on this November’s ballot.

The November election could have also included a run-off between Cold Spring School Board hopefuls. But because all three incumbents chose not to run, and because only three people ran to fill the open seats, there won’t be an election. The three new trustees will be: Ann Tro, Michael Hieshima and Darren Caesar.

New Faces, Technology

Head of Laguna Blanca Lower School Susan Naretto says she’s added two new teachers to her faculty. Teaching Spanish will be Travis Manach, who was recruited from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Teaching second grade will be Cheryl Burciago, who previously taught as an instructional assistant and resource specialist for the Lower School.

On top of new faces, there will also be new technology. The school is integrating new technology by “Light Speed” called the “Red Cat,” a voice amplification system for use by teachers in the classroom. The teachers will wear a small adjustable microphone that amplifies their normal tone of voice to speakers in the classroom via infrared light waves. The device is intended to transfer the teacher’s voice into an equally amplified sound throughout the classroom so all students hear the teacher at an equal sound level.

Naretto says she’s also busy interfacing with her faculty and their assistants in the school’s ongoing meal project with Transition House in Santa Barbara. The project consists of students tending to the school’s vegetable garden and using those items in various meals for donation to Transition House.

The key faculty member involved in the project is fourth grade teacher Kim Valentine, whom Naretto says is a leader at the school, is the Faculty Representative to the Board and “has been instrumental in integrating the gardening project to our curriculum as a ‘key to citizenship.’”

In the classroom, Valentine says her educational philosophy is child-centered and is based on the individual needs of each student. “I balance two aspects,” she says. “Always respond to your students and teach what is required.”

‘Green’ With Envy

Crane Head of School Joel Weiss says the private San Leandro Lane academy is continuing to develop Crane as a “Green School” that supports sustainable environments within that framework. The initiative is based on the requests of parents and students. Currently, Crane has a recycling and gardening program, but aims to expand on those disciplines by placing solar panels on the campus, by changing meal receptacles from paper goods to reusable plastics, and by reducing the amount of administrative paperwork through the use of electronic data and forms. Weiss says the goal is to model a sustainable environment for the students and establish an “environmental footprint at Crane.”

Crane’s Educator-In-Residence this year will be renowned male child psychologist, Dr. Michael Thompson, author of eight books, including “Raising Cain.” Dr. Thompson will meet with faculty at various times throughout the school year.

Last year, Weiss was directed by Crane’s School Board to conduct research on current trends in education throughout the United States. The goal is to filter out the best information and integrate the most pertinent ideas in Crane’s system by the year 2020. Among the highlights of Weiss’s travels so far was the “Index Tuition” program at a San Francisco school. This “sliding scale” program is meant to determine the amount of tuition and appropriation of tuition grants based on income. Weiss says Crane is examining the value of this program as it tries to ramp up its services for low-income students. Currently, 12% of the tuition income is allocated for grants to low-income students.

Crane has always carried a reputation for its science and theater departments, and in the past couple years has strived to augment its literature and art services. These wishes came to fruition after the completion of the art and library buildings last year. One teacher at the school has even resolved to combine those two teaching elements. Aaron Haddock, who teaches fourth grade, developed a creative writing project where students are instructed to write a story about themselves, and then illustrate it with drawings, kind of like a self-portrait.

Haddock, who studied at the University of Vienna on a Fulbright Scholarship and received his Master’s degree from Columbia University, says his primary teaching philosophy is “to see these children as individuals and how they learn differently, and have the student become passionate about what they are learning.”

The Crane experience, Haddock says, fosters these opportunities “to make the learning developmentally appropriate for the students so that each subject connects with them personally and the education can be hands-on, fun and experiential.”

Weiss calls Haddock “the most gifted natural teacher I have ever seen.”

A Portrait of Consistency

“Our philosophy, which some would call a mission statement, is that kids come first,” says Kris Bergstrom, Montecito Union’s principal. “That never changes.”

The elementary school has always been an exemplar of consistency. Montecito Union’s test scores rank in the top 1% of the county every single year. It has an unusually low turnover rate in its faculty, a stability that has produced a close-knit group of teachers who all share in the commonality of the school’s culture. And, each school year brings a new flock of active, hands-on parents who stage fundraising efforts and bolster teachers’ every move.

The main challenge for the school, if there are any, “is to try and fit so much into a school week,” Bergstrom says. In addition to the standards of the typical curriculum, the school tries to incorporate all the ancillary aspects of a well-rounded education – art, music, physical education, Spanish, computers and library research.

“We’re committed to the mission that our kids get a complete education,” Bergstrom said.

Few additions are occurring this year at the school, but administrators are eager to settle one important issue: the YMCA land swap. For five years, the school, the across-the-street club and residents have collaborated on a deal that would save the YMCA and secure a three-acre parcel for Montecito Union. The agreement could be finalized by the end of this year. School Board trustees have bandied about several ideas of how to use the new property, from a science building to a performing arts center or even an organic garden.

Montecito Union received news of one sudden personnel change. School Board member Jim Cody announced his resignation. Bergstrom said because Cody’s son, Kelly, had graduated from the school, the trustee felt it was best to step aside and allow a Montecito Union parent to participate.

Because Cody resigned after the August 16 November election deadline, no one will be vying for the open seat. In coming weeks, the board will select a replacement.