VACAVILLE — There’s new life at Elm Elementary School in Vacaville.
The sound of children at recess will once again permeate the Vacaville neighborhood where the 65-year-old school just off of Merchant Street sat largely empty since 2004 when it closed due to declining enrollment.
Kairos Public School Vacaville Academy, an independent charter school with transitional kindergarten through eighth-grade classes, will open the doors for its first year with 465 students and 300 on the waiting list.
“I’m excited about being in the charter school forum,” said third-grade teacher Irene Blancaflor, who previously taught in both San Jose and Vallejo.
Teachers, volunteers and administrators echoed the sentiment as they worked feverishly last week to get the school ready for its Thursday start date. First-grade teaching partners Christine Zadnik and Paula Washington prepared for orientation as they both talked about the excitement of setting up a new school.
“(We’re) laying that foundation for years to come,” Zadnik said. “The (difference) is we’re starting from scratch.”
“From scratch” is not an understatement.
The preparation work not only included the typical getting-the-classroom-ready scenarios that occurs at school districts across the nation but a deep cleaning that included weed abatement, bush trimming, power washing buildings and painting classrooms. It also includes ordering everything, since the campus was entirely empty, save for a few shelves in the library, when they moved in after the school inked a facilities use agreement with the Vacaville School District last spring to use the campus through 2018-19.
The agreement is a shared use: The Solano County Office of Education houses two special education programs on the site, as well as the district’s Independent Study Program. Buckingham Charter Magnet High School uses the play fields.
According to the agreement, much of the costs of operation fall to Kairos, including providing and maintaining all furnishings and equipment; various fees, utilities, major facility maintenance or replacement costs requested or caused by the school; and custodial services. The district will remain responsible for such deferred maintenance items as plumbing, heating, electrical, roofing and flooring.
“It was a blank slate,” Jared Austin, executive director and principal at Kairos, said. “All you had was carpet, some (classrooms) had whiteboards because of the independent study program. The portables still had chalkboards.”
In addition to teachers putting in unpaid time in July, friends, family and parent volunteers helped get the school ready by doing everything from hooking up phones to painting classrooms and painting game lines in the kindergarten playground. Some 250 volunteers also showed up for a school beautification day during the summer. Representatives from Travis Air Force Base were also scheduled to help get the school ready.
“We’re building a community, not just a school,” Austin said.
Last week, Austin and a large group of volunteers and teachers celebrated the last order of furniture that came in, leaving a portion of the campus sky high with brown delivery boxes filled with needed items. That delivery almost didn’t happen in time for school to start.
“This is all of it,” Austin said, as he stood next to boxes that towered over his head. “We were missing half of our furniture. They called us (two weeks ago) and they told us Sept. 20. I said, ‘No, no.no.’ ”
Austin, clearly relieved that the problem was resolved, grabbed another box, sliced it open with a box cutter and pulled out a brand new desk for a fourth-grade classroom.
“I’ve never ordered a whole school’s worth of furniture before,” he said, with a smile.
Technology will be a major focus for the fledgling school, Austin said.
New iMac computers stood in place in the media center and two new moveable Chrome carts with 72 Chromebooks plus an iPad cart with 36 iPads stood at the ready. The school will also use the Google Apps for Education program that gives each child an email account and access to Google Docs, allowing a student to do homework in the document program and the teacher to then pull it up in the program without paper exchanging hands.
The “dog ate my homework” excuse won’t really work at Kairos.
The school will use the Core Knowledge curriculum, which, according to the website, supports the new Common Core State Standards and allows for “knowledge to build knowledge.” Kairos students, along with district students, will take the new state standards Smarter Balanced tests that correspond with Common Core – the path to get to that test, however, will be a different one for Kairos students, Austin said.
As it gets down to the wire, Blancaflor, whose classroom is still a kitschy remnant of days gone by with its old-fashioned, wall-mounted, hand-crank pencil sharpeners and chalkboard, surveys boxes and bins of school supplies that still need to be put in place. Her husband begins to paint the wall a bright blue, representing the sky, to match her garden theme that took root from a book called “Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden.”
“Kids start off as seeds and with all the nourishment, they grow into healthy flowers and move on to fourth grade,” she said.
For more information on Kairos, go to www.kps-k12-pt.schoolloop.com.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.