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ICOE breaks ground on sites for alternative Valley schools

August 13, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

Groundbreaking ceremonies were conducted in Brawley and El Centro last week at the sites of two future schools for Imperial County Office of Education's alternative education division.

"Obviously it's going to build a lot of pride in our staff," said David F. Schoneman, director of alternative education at ICOE, of the new schools.

That enthusiasm will spread to the students, too, Schoneman said.

Alternative education schools in the Imperial Valley educate students who, for a variety of reasons, cannot attend county school districts. Some have been expelled from traditional schools; others are truants, are on parole or have been removed from regular schools by the court, Schoneman said.

Del Rio Community School, on the northeast corner of Eastern Avenue and I Road in Brawley, will be a 27,000 square-foot facility on 8 acres.

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El Centro's Valley Community School will be a 40,000 square-foot facility on a 5-acre site at 203 E. Ross Road, near the site of El Centro's current alternative education school.

Expected to open next summer, Del Rio and Valley Community have nearly identical designs, though Del Rio's is smaller.

The designs, by San Diego-based HMC Architects, even won an award from the American Institute of Architects for their use of lighting and recyclable materials.

The current El Centro and Brawley schools call rented buildings home. Because ICOE doesn't have bonding capacity, it leases storefronts and other buildings to house community schools, Schoneman said.

Unlike ICOE's rental bills, the funding for the schools' construction is coming from the state.

Schoneman thinks the growing importance of community schools is part of the reason the state Legislature made funding available for the construction of schools like Del Rio and Valley Community.

"I think the state Legislature sees that we're more permanent in the continuum of education," Schoneman said.

Del Rio and Valley Community are the first community schools in California to be built with state funds.

ICOE will actually save money by constructing new schools rather than paying rent.

"It will save our program quite a large amount of money," Schoneman said.

"That means there will be more money to drive instructional programs and meet student needs because that's what we're here for," Schoneman said.

The new schools are coming at a time when the focus of alternative education is changing.

"Originally we drove behavior and attendance. Now we're shifting to become more academic," Schoneman said.

Besides Brawley and El Centro, ICOE's alternative education division operates community schools in Calipatria, Calexico and Winterhaven.

An average of 350 kids are in Imperial County community schools at any one time, although about 1,000 students will attend a community school at some point during the year. The eight-hour days include academic lessons as well as anger-management, decision-making and job-development training.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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