Talk turned into reality after the Montebello Unified school board voted March 1 to officially end Laguna Nueva School’s run as a kindergarten through 8th grade school. The last day of classes will be June 27, 2012.
Some saw the writing on the wall as the district’s budget shrank and student enrollment dropped. The school, located in the city of Commerce, is now at half of its capacity this year with 378 students, down from last year’s 764.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: MUSD Cerrará Escuela en Commerce 
Many of the students and their parents made the decision to leave after learning last year that the district was seriously considering closing the school to save money. The school managed to stay around another year by eliminating its kindergarten classes, bus service, and one campus security guard.
“I understand there are other forces at play, such as a budget crisis … but it’s definitely a sad moment for us,” said Jose Cuevas, a teacher who has taught at the school for ten years. Teachers and parents have been the most vocal against the school’s closure in the last year and were instrumental in keeping the school open a little longer.
Laguna Nueva School was opened sixteen years ago to relieve overcrowding in nearby schools, but “about five years ago we saw the first signs of a [trend in] declining enrollment,” said Art Revueltas, the district’s assistant superintendent of instructional services.
At one time there were plans to turn the collection of temporary bungalows into a full-fledged, permanent school, but after district enrollment dropped by 7,000 students during the past seven years, shutting down the school seemed to make more sense, he said.
At its peak, nearby Suva Elementary had over a thousand students, but now has only 800 students. “We have seats available at other schools,” Revueltas said.
“This is the appropriate time to move our Laguna Nueva students into the other MUSD schools in the community,” Superintendent Robert “Bo” Henke said, adding students will be moving on to schools “with more amenities and resources [than Laguna Nueva], such as a more comprehensive library and computer lab, a gym, physical education facilities and a cafeteria.”
Shutting down the school would also result in half a million dollars in savings, Revueltas said, and the district would save another $150,000 once they begin running adult education, community classes, and other programs out of the bungalows.
Cuevas points out Laguna Nueva is one of two schools in the district with a kindergarten through 8th grade structure, the other being Rosewood Park School. “I think one of the biggest losses is the unique setting, because it provides a … nurturing environment where we have teachers continuing to see their students up to eighth grade … continue to check in and care for the student, continue to want to know what’s going on,” Cuevas said.
Next year, students will disperse to other schools of their choice throughout the district, though many would “realistically” go on to attend Suva Elementary and Suva Intermediate schools in Bell Gardens, close to where many already live, says Jose Franco, the school’s principal.
Many of Laguna Nueva’s teachers will also follow the students to the Suva schools. Based on where they currently live, students could also choose to go to Cesar Chavez Elementary, Bandini Elementary, Rosewood Park School or Bell Garden Intermediate.
Franco said the decision to repurpose the school is not a reflection of their school’s academic performance, a concern that some parents had when talk of closing the school surfaced in recent years. Last year the school made the district’s highest jump in API test scores, an increase of 42 points from 703 to 745.
“We will work to make this transition as seamless as possible,” Franco said. “Our hope is that we can make this last year one of Laguna Nueva’s finest by working as a team to maintain our strong academic standards and collaborative working environment.”
Cuevas thinks if Laguna Nueva had better facilities, it would have gone on to become a very successful school. “It all boils down to money, what’s out there … right now that’s what they feel is best. We move the students to schools where we have better facilities for them, and also provide
teachers with security as well,” Cuevas said.
Parents will have an opportunity in the next few weeks to start applying for their children to attend other schools. The school is also setting up a committee to plan activities to mark the closure of the school, and will likely invite alumni to participate.