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HMG-LCCN Two-Part Series: THE CRUMBLING OF ABCUSD SCHOOLS

 

 

October 29, 2018
By Brian Hews

Measure BB is a $248 million general obligation bond measure that will provide ABCUSD students with improved and upgraded school facilities that are safe, secure and modern. ABC residents will vote on the bond in the upcoming election on November 6.

ABC is only one of nine school districts that has not passed a bond since the 1990’s, and it shows.

HMG-LCCN decided to tour some of the schools in the district and what we found was shocking; equipment that does not work, hazardous conditions, leaking bathrooms, outdated lockers, non ADA compliance, and so much more.

The first three schools we toured were Artesia High, and Ross Middle & Hawaiian Elementary Schools. The stories are below.

Artesia High School

Artesia High School, the oldest high school in the district, was built in 1955.  We toured with Brian Cota, the General Maintenance Director at AHS, and Principal Sergio Garcia.

There have been very few upgrades to AHS since its opening. In the late 1990’s some improvements were made such as removing asbestos and upgrading parts of the electrical infrastructure, but many things were left unfinished. 

The first thing we noticed was that many of the ceilings were still made of wood and visible wood rot could be seen.

Even the basic necessities, need to be addressed. For a school that sees 1,400 students on a daily basis, there are only two working bathrooms and only on one side of the campus.

“No improvements have been made to the bathrooms since the 1970’s,” said Cota, “The boys bathroom has three stalls and eleven urinals, but no privacy dividers, plus two of the urinals need to be replaced. The girls’ bathroom, although it has several more stalls, they are made of wood and need to be swapped out. Each bathroom has one handicapped facility, and all too often we have flooding in one or both of the bathrooms.” 

 

Bathrooms at Artesia High are broke and the area often floods in both the boys and girls facilities.

 

 

Principal Garcia did say that before 2005, there were bathrooms in each of the buildings, but they removed.

Other major issues include repairing stucco, completely replacing odd-shaped tiles, and replacing outdated lockers.

“Even though our kids have lockers, the company that made them no longer has the parts for this particular design, so if they break or need repair, we are out of luck,” said Garcia.

Taking a tour of the science rooms, it was noted that there were only four science stations to be divided between 30 students. 

The access to water or gas, which frequently does not work, allows only three students at a time to utilize the equipment; no apparatus exists at the teacher’s desk for demonstration purposes. 

It has been twenty years since the science classes have received new desks. The materials they are made from prevent Bunsen burners or any type of experimentation due to fire hazards. 

Temporary classrooms are still in use, “When I first came here, I was told that these classrooms were not functional and were actually condemned. After some renovations, we had to put them back into use because of the need for space. And these classrooms are where our special ed classes are held.” 

Automotive Instructor Marty Supple has been with the high school for 13 years, “We need independent seating for students, right now we have three and four students sharing a desk.”

 

1970’s era welder used in auto and metal shop at Artesia High.

 

Additional automotive tools, updated computers and equipment are desperately needed. Supple is teaching kids how to work on computerized automobiles without technology. 

“Students want to go Cerritos College but the lack of proper equipment makes it a real challenge,” said Supple. 

Gahr HS and Artesia HS share Artesia’s outdated pool, shockingly it is not an Olympic sized pool and it is only four feet deep. 

Water polo games are challenging as the goalie can actually stand up; there are no touch pads for swimming competitions; heating equipment has not worked in years and spectator stands are still made of wood and are in poor condition.

 

The pool heaters at Artesia High do not work.

 

Garcia commented, “Our teachers have to balance so many things, deal with a desperate need for working and upgraded equipment and still manage to turn out some of the best students  in the nation. We could do so much more, if we had the funding.”

 

Ross Middle School

Built in 1948, Ross MS is a performing arts school that produces and televises plays and shows. The main class room used for production is extremely small and is in need of new equipment.

Ross has 645 students and the room can only accommodate 300 students.

“A big need for us is updated audio and video equipment as well as sound equipment and a renovation of our multipurpose room,” said Principal  Priscilla Rodriquez.  The classroom is not only used for assemblies and plays, it is also an alternative in inclement weather.

Rodriguez uses the room during inclement weather because the school’s lunch area does not have shading or protection during rain, wind or heat, “it looks the same as it did in the 1960’s,” said Rodriquez.

 

The lunch area at Ross does not have shading, children have to eat in an overcrowded multi-purpose room during inclement weather.

 

Rodriguez has been at Ross for over two years and has managed to implement some critical improvements, mostly to make the school safer. 

As you walk into the front, there are three options, one door to the right, a set of double doors and another door to the left with an arrow saying “Office”.  The double doors, at one time, could grant access to anyone coming onto the school grounds  but Rodriguez changed that; students and visitors can exit, but no one can enter. 

The hallways adjacent to the staff offices were enclosed many years ago and do not  have heating or air-conditioning, it is basically an unusable space.  “I could really use that space for the front office, we could even have a waiting area for students, parents or visitors,” said Rodriquez. “There is no reason for outsiders to be able to enter the school property at will.”

Locker rooms for PE are a great concern for Ross. The showers are not utilized, and are now wasted space. “Even if we did use them, there are privacy issues and no curtains,” noted Rodriguez. 

The school lockers are very old, and, similar to Artesia High, if damaged or broken they cannot be repaired. Storage is also an issue due to the size of the locker, “Students cannot fit their clothes and their backpacks inside a locker at the same time, so the backpacks must be kept outside where teachers and students can keep an eye on them.” 

“The other thing that is a big mess for us is the technology infrastructure,” stated Rodriquez, “We are a one-to-one school, which means that every student has access to a computer in all of their core classes.” 

Although this sounds like an upgrade and modernization, the wiring and infrastructure has not been upgraded to handle it. 

 

Video and audio equipment must be tethered together to run the TV show at Ross MS.

 

“Because we are a performing arts school, students put on a news show every day and broadcast the show into each classroom. Each room is equipped with a television, however due to the lack of proper infrastructure most days the news announcements will drop, the WiFi cannot sustain the use.”

“Sometimes we just plug it and cross our fingers,” said Rodriquez. 

 

Hawaiian Elementary

Constructed in the 1950’s, Hawaiian Elementary School’s last modernization was in the 90’s. The daily wear and tear to the classrooms, inside and out, is evident. Windows are outdated and need insulation, furniture needs to be replaced and modernized so students can easily work alone or in groups. 

“The furniture is old,” Principal Myra Lozano told HMG-LCCN, “we have teachers that have bought their own furniture in order to store and equip their classrooms properly, some of the chairs wobble and the desks don’t have enough space for a student to work and store books.”

“There are some areas here that were never upgraded, several of our bathrooms are unusable,” said Lozano, “I have many parents that were students here, and they say it hasn’t changed at all.”

 

Bathrooms at Hawaiian Elementary. There are only two bathrooms in the school’s public areas. One for boys, with only one stall and two urinals, and one for girls with three stalls. Each bathroom is barely ADA compliant.

 

Hawaiian sits next to the Long Beach Water Department and the Coyote Creek, alarmingly, water bugs and roaches are a common problem in the offices and classrooms.

Security is also a problem. The school does have a perimeter fence alongside the creek, but transients occasionally hop the fence and sleep on school grounds having to be shooed away by school personnel.

“Security cameras across the school would be immensely helpful,” said Lozano, “we could certainly monitor things much better.”

Similar to Artesia and Ross, the school’s infrastructure is very old and outdated. To add WiFi to the school, servers had to be placed inside various rooms. Because servers need to kept at a constant temperature, these rooms run continuously cold. 

One server was placed in the nurse’s station and is kept behind a curtain. The server constantly emits a low rumble, like a motorcycle engine. “My poor nurse and sick students have to deal with the noise and the rumble everyday,” said Lozano. 

“On top of that if the WiFi goes out, we have to go back to the old way of teaching or looking up information, we keep a hard copy of everything, because we just don’t know when the WiFi  will go out.”

Another area that needs improvement is the parking lot and drop off area.  The flow of incoming traffic must be monitored at all times, and many staff vehicles have been damaged due to badly designed influx of cars creating a hazard to everyone at the school.

“The parking lot and front of the school have been mostly untouched. There had been some modernization with the first bond in 1997, however there were projects that were not able to be finished,” said Lozano.

Hawaiian Elementary School believes every child should succeed, “Bond Measure BB is important to us for several reasons,” said Lozano, “we could certainly be on our way to make sure all of our students DO succeed.”

 

Part Two

Whitney High School

According to US News Report 2016, Whitney High School is ranked number one in the state of California, and ranked 19th nationally. HMG-LCCN was met by Whitney High School John Briquelet and Dean of Students Craig Spratt to discuss how Bond Measure BB can improve the facilities. 

One of the areas that bond measure funds will be used for is to improve science class rooms. 

“Our classrooms are in rough shape,” says Briquelet,”they lack space; they lack equipment and sufficient technology. We are one of the best schools in the nation, but in order to continue to educate our students, we need to move into the 21st century.”

 

Termite damage at Whitney High.

 

Briquelet says that the school and the district have been able to offset some of this, but if the district cannot improve certain areas, they will begin to fall behind.

“I think the biggest impact is the science rooms. We are the number one school in the state, and we have done this with a severe lack of equipment,” added Spratt, ”think of what we could accomplish if we could offer our students upgraded and modern equipment. They could change quite literally change our world.”

The school has improved the technology, but what is greatly lacking throughout the district is the infrastructure to support it. ”We are fortunate to have the equipment;” said Spratt, “however when you have 1,000 students on a Wifi network all at once, everything slows down.”

By the end of next year Whitney will have 1,400 students and computers on campus. When that many computers work simultaneously, the band width slows. Another area that greatly needs attention is the multi-purpose and media room. The schools security measures need to be addressed, a back chain fence goes right up against Cerritos Park East with no constant monitoring.

“We are also looking at classroom finishes, many of the walls are nothing more than cardboard,” said Briquelet, ”we have restructured our Guidance Team and need to add additional confidential office space. However the walls are so thin, that private conversations are a great concern. You can literally hear what is going on through closed doors.”

 

WHS desks are deteriorating and breaking apart, aisles in classrooms are so thin students must turn sideways to walk down the aisle.

 

Many of the classrooms are severely cramped, with aisle space that is no more than three feet, causing students and staff to walk sideways. 

Touring one of the science classrooms was an eye opener; the sink was a large water container with a spigot over a trashcan, the room had very little storage space and although the rooms are equipped for 32 students, the classes continually has 35 students. Three students have to sit at the end of a row with desk space.  “We are really lucky to have innovative students, they seem to work around it, but still we really need more space,” says Michael Mustillo, Chemistry Teacher and Technology coordinator. 

“There are no gas outlets. We are teaching college level chemistry without any materials. Part of being creative is figuring out how we can get the labs done. It would be nice to have the proper materials to show students as they do in college. A lot of kids want to get internships and we want to give them the skill sets to do so. But our set up makes it difficult.”

Some of the lab rooms have sinks, but no gas, no chemical ventilation and the projector is still rolled around the classroom on a cart. One department chair has no storage space, so all of the novels for all of the students for the entire year are stored in temporary carts inside the classroom.

Bathrooms have dated sinks, towel dispensers and badly stained tiles. 

Lockers are in need of repair and need new locks, and the campus is in need of a permanent shade structure.

“I have been at Whitney for three years and it is a fun place to be,” says Briquelet,”One of the great concerns I have though, is if we cannot make the changes Whitney may no longer be considered the place to go.

 

Cerritos High School

By all measures, “the biggest need will be a new science wing. STEM careers are the acronym of the day and we are seriously under serving our students,” said Cerritos High School Principal Patrick Walker, “There are many areas that we can address however; I feel this is our priority.”

The initial design is completely outdated, not seeing any upgrades since the 1970’s. Touring one of the most prominent classes in the District, the pharmacy technology, was the first stop on the tour.  

CHS sink in the Chemistry lab, the class produces college ready technicians, yet students do not have the opportunity to practice.

Joel Duer, Pharmacy Technician Instructor stopped class to discuss the needs of this classroom,

“Every pharmacy classroom needs a sink, so that we can practice compounding, we don’t have one. Most pharmaceutical classrooms have laminar airflow hood where you actually practice making IV’s, we don’t. And in training to be a technician you need to know the importance of an eye-wash station, we don’t have one of those either.” 

Even though the class turns out certified college ready technicians, students very rarely have the opportunity to practice on everyday equipment that is found in a pharmacy.

Leonardo Perez, , parent and member of the Committee for Schools of Choice, has been in the medical field for over 20 years, “I have seen the transition from paper based charts to electronic medical records playing a major role in our health care. We have a top notch school district with highly rated programs but if we don’t have the infrastructure to keep up with what we are teaching than we can’t maximum the effect on these students and prepare them for real world experience. Because we do have an excellent school district and we want to maintain that, we need to make sure our students have the necessary equipment.”

Walker was correct in stating the biggest need is a science building. One science room is ‘boxed-in’ by three other classrooms; students literally have to walk into their class, by walking through another classroom, there is no outside door or passage way, making an emergency exit almost impossible. 

Chemistry classes have no lab tables, students participate in online simulated experiments, “With students not being able to have hands on experience, there is a curve of learning that is lost,” notes Duer. 

One class actually sits at lunch tables with folding chairs, there is no access to sunlight and only one door leading into and out off the room. There are only two lab rooms that have any type of working equipment, and then the equipment does not work all the time. 

Teachers must rotate the use of labs, the school has five more teachers than it has classrooms, so these teachers constantly rotate from room to room. 

Electrical outlets nave no GFI and several covers are loose making it an electrical hazard to plug in anything.

One of the Science co-chairs has been teaching for 21 years and has a Masters Degree. All the teachers and the department heads are crammed into a ‘boiler room’ type office, with bad lighting, no work space and no privacy walls. 

“If he were anywhere else, the department head would have an office or at least walls,” stated Walker. Even with cramped quarters and broken down office equipment, the gentleman said he wouldn’t teach anywhere else, “I love this district, the faculty and staff are remarkable. It is sometimes a hassle, because we have more teachers than rooms. But we do what we can. ”

The music / band room has a maximum occupancy of 58 people; however the band is 120 strong. Electronics take up half of the room, there is a serious lack of proper security or storage for instruments and the uniform closet space is maxed out.  Through the bond measure, new rooms could be constructed to accommodate this growing award winning music department. 

With a school that has 2,200 students, the lunch room only has four lines. “We hustle the kids through the lunch lines, but we are only able to accommodate 700 of these students, my concern is this – where and what are the other kids eating? We need to enlarge the facility to feed more students,” says Walker. 

ABCUSD Trustee Board Member Chris Apodaca joined on the tour of Cerritos HS. “Every classroom we saw was full, we heard teachers state how they have to switch classrooms, and we don’t have the facilities for proper chemistry labs. That is cutting our kids short in their education, not only that, we are asking professionals who have been in the field for twenty years to work in deplorable conditions.  Personally I feel we are failing not only our students, but our teachers and staff. It is disheartening and disappointing. Any one walking through our schools would not have a sense of pride. The facilities are faded and old and what we have seen today is just patch work.”

 

Cerritos Elementary

Constructed in 1969,  Cerritos Elementary School was next on our list hosted by Principal Kevin Amburgey.

The tour was almost cancelled, due to a lack of staffing. At the last minute Amburgey was called to be a substitute for a sixth grade class. However, this turned into an opportunity to speak with students and get their input into the condition of their school.

As in most situations of the schools we have toured, a student had come into the main office announcing that the WiFi was down, reemphasizing the need for expanded and improved infrastructure to hold a higher demand of band width.

When the school was conceptualized, it was built in an ‘open space’ concept. The entire “400” building of the school, that holds eight classrooms, did not have a single wall built on the inside. The inside walls were not included, with the idea of classroom sharing, “The idea behind this open concept,” says Amburgey,” was that you could share with other students, and improve learning. However it didn’t take very long to realize an open concept was noisy and distracting.” Thus inside walls needed to be constructed.

CES was an open space school, walls between classrooms are two inches thick; the noise disturbs all teachers in their own classrooms..

 

After a period of time, around 25 year ago, the District came in and added inside walls. The outside walls are made of brick and are permanent, however the inside walls are very thin and temporary, only about two inches thick, ”They are thin, do not keep the noise out, we can hear other teachers and what’s more is that many of the walls were put in place directly beneath lights.” 

“This peculiarity leads to confusion. If one room turns the lights out for a film, the lights will turn off in another school room, or just leave one light on that spans both sides of the wall,” said Amburgey noting the light in the ceiling that was half in his room and half way into another classroom. 

As he was demonstrating this, the teacher next door came in to inform him that her lights were turning on and off, “so some of the money from Measure BB would go to build permanent walls for our classrooms. This is similar to most of our buildings.”

The shade structure in the middle of the campus would have an upgrade, to include a solid covering and an extension for students during inclement weather. Depending on the season, the Principal and custodian will move the lunch benches into the shade, because the structure does not provide adequate covering.

Principal Amburgey asked the class for a show of hands,”How many of you have fallen on the wood chips in the play area?” Without exception every student raised their hand. It would seem that in the state of California that adding wood chips to play areas would be considered a drought tolerant solution; however, these chips are used underneath the playground equipment, “Many of our kids have received splinters, scraps or cuts from these wood chips, I have even pulled these chips our of shoes with pliers, because they have gone all the way through the shoe.”

The school also has two portable classrooms, which need to be changed to permanent structures, modernize the media center and library, provide a new music room and redesign the sand pit used for races.

Surprisingly several students had actually read the Bond Measure BB; they had questions regarding property tax increases, property assessments, and how much the school would receive. The conversation of ‘school being free’ came up. 

“School is free for you,” said Amburgey, “do you pay anything to go to school? No, but it does take money to run the schools, so where do we get that, from taxes.” 

He went on to ask students why someone would support Measure BB if they no longer had children in school. Students answered, “for their grandchildren.” 

“Yes that could be true, but if you live in a nice neighborhood with good schools, it increases your property value,” answered Amburgey.

 

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Brian: cerritos.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=15&clip_id=4251 Agree with most of the photos/ stories in your editorial. I did A Walk Thru at some campuses and found the same. My question first to the school budget, sold off part of Whitney High School, sold off adult education center on Studebaker, in 1997 we passed a school bond, and then in 2001, the board made a statement that all campuses have completed through modernization. District has gone thru a lot of money……..plus certified that modernization was completed. Most of the comments and photos in your editorial show ongoing maintenance issues, and those aren’t facility improvements, those… Read more »