Opening its doors to students for the first time Wednesday, the new Vista 360 at Pueblo Vista magnet campus is firing up to take on its pioneer academic year.
Designed to attract students with specialized curriculum, the former dual Pueblo Vista Elementary and Alternative school campus is re-inventing itself as a magnet school as part of a district-wide effort to secure federal grant money, diversify local schools and expand parent choice.
School started Wednesday at virtually all of Napa Valley Unified School District’s 32 campuses, where more than 17,000 students attend school.
Specializing in environmental sciences, Vista 360 is one of a handful of elementary campuses converting to magnet schools this year. The others are Bel Aire, focusing on the International Baccalaureate program, Salvador, specializing in visual and performing arts and Alta Heights, highlighting math, arts, sciences and technology.
Vista 360 Principal Pack Warfield said he and campus teachers are in unfamiliar territory when it comes to running a new magnet school. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt if Napa Valley Unified School District secures federal magnet grant money. But in the meantime, he said, there is no shortage of enthusiasm among students, teachers and parents about the new and growing school, he said.
“We have some really fantastic families that decided they wanted to go on this adventure together. ... There’s a real pioneer spirit,” he said.
Warfield said Vista 360 parents want their children’s school demographic mix to reflect today’s increasingly diverse state demographics. Last year, about 90 percent of students attending the school’s elementary campus were Hispanic and about 70 percent of its alternative students were white, Warfield said. An undisclosed number of Pueblo Vista Alternative parents pulled their students from the school at the close of the 2009-10 academic year after learning that the school was closing its alternative program, creating one student body and becoming a magnet school.
Warfield said although Vista 360’s initial census reflects a predominantly Hispanic student population, one of the school’s goals is attracting students from other neighborhoods to help balance student diversity. He said word-of-mouth — coupled with district efforts to spread the word about the new school’s strengths — could do the trick in the next year or two.
“I think the more people know about it, the better off we’re going to be,” he said.
Vista 360 began Wednesday with about 280 students, but enrollment is expected to rise over the next three weeks as new students trickle in, Warfield said. Last year, about 350 students attended the dual Pueblo Vista campus and the school’s number of classrooms dropped from 18 last year to 13. Class sizes are larger now than last year district-wide because of teacher layoffs and retirements. But thanks to a state funding, student-teacher ratios in kindergarten- through third-grade at Vista 360 will average 24-to-1 through 2014 — five fewer students per class than other district students in the same grades. Shearer Charter School will reap the same benefit.
Moving ahead, teachers will lean on a coming campus science lab, Connolly Ranch and other area resources to infuse the environmental theme into core curriculum, Warfield said.
For her part, second-grade teacher Lu Kenmonth said change was in the air Wednesday at the new campus.
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “We are going to have a fantastic year with environmental sciences. I can’t wait to crack into that. ... The energy and commitment is incredible.”
Longtime Pueblo Vista teacher Jana Jack said she’s ready to take on her first year at the transformed campus and hopes the district secures federal grant money to bolster the magnet school program.
Sherry Vieira, a fourth-grade teacher, said although some instructors are bit leery of creating a new curriculum that meets state core standards and fits the new environmental sciences theme, the attitude is positive overall.
Vieira handed out green Vista 360 bracelets to her 24 charges before lunch Wednesday inside her classroom. Sharing the space with her students is a plethora of classroom pets, including rabbits, Peter and Beatrice, a corn snake and tortoise. A chattering parrot, Sheba, boasts a 300-word vocabulary, Vieira said.
Alex Voeller, one of Vieira’s students, said he started attending the school as a first grader, long before it became a magnet campus. He said he has one hope for the coming year — better cafeteria food.
Fourth-grader Jennifer Rawlins said she’s making friends quickly since transferring to Vista 360 from McPherson Elementary, which she attended last year. She even has a sibling at the new campus, with her younger brother, Daniel, attending first-grade. She said overall, she likes the feel on campus so far.
“I haven’t tried this school (before),” she said. “I like how everybody gets along.”
To learn more about Vista 360, visit www.vista360.nvusd.k12.ca.us.