Local high school students in need of advanced courses in math and science are getting shut out of Napa Valley College and for the first time are looking elsewhere for the classes.
For years, students at New Technology and Vintage high schools have relied on the local community college for calculus courses. Kids at New Tech also attend Napa Valley College for chemistry and foreign language classes.
Due to the budget crisis, state officials are cracking down on the colleges to enforce the enrollment priority given to high school students. High School students enroll during walk-in registration, which is the lowest priority registration date.
In the past, Napa Valley College allowed high school students to register before walk-in registration because there were more available classes, said Sue Nelson, vice president of instruction.
“It’s creating a real hardship for those kids,” New Tech principal Michelle Spencer said.
The lower enrollment priority is especially problematic for New Tech, because students must take 12 college units that are transferable to the UC or CSU systems in order to graduate. New Tech has required college courses instead of offering its own Honors or AP classes since it opened in 1996.
“It was always part of our plan to have access to Napa Valley College,” Spencer said.
Problems also are arising for students at Vintage High School, which doesn’t offer its own calculus course and has relied on Napa Valley College to fill the gap.
Lynne Fryer and David Levine’s son, Quinn, is a junior at Vintage. Earlier this year, they were told Napa Valley College would provide a math teacher at Vintage for a 7 a.m. calculus course, but Quinn would have to register through the community college.
On July 30th — the college’s walk-in registration date — Quinn was told the class at his high school was already full.
Vintage parent Noriko Bagley said classes like calculus are “fundamentally important” for college-bound students, especially those who want to major in science. Bagley’s son, Stephen, also a junior, found himself in the same situation as Quinn.
“These kids are academics,” Fryer said. “They’ve worked very hard and are working on their resumes for college. And they can’t get the classes that show that.”
Quinn and Stephen both got in to the 7 a.m. calculus course at Vintage after math teacher Stan Domezio chose to go over capacity by 11 students. Domezio said he has 49 students in the class this year, which includes 36 Vintage and New Tech students and 13 Napa Valley College students.
At New Tech, the trouble began last year when some students were unable to enroll in chemistry courses. But problems worsened this past summer when no New Tech students got into a foreign language course. And as the fall semester approached, students also were shut out of chemistry and pre-calculus.
With no access to required courses at Napa Valley College, a new trend is occurring at the school — students are relying on colleges outside of Napa County to help fulfill their graduation requirements. Online classes offered by Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo are a popular choice among New Tech students, because they are able to get right in, Spencer said.
While Spencer is glad students are finding solutions, she says it makes her “nervous” to have “scattered relationships with scattered colleges” across the state.
Before the start of the school year, New Tech and local school officials implemented some last-minute measures to help students graduate on time.
The Napa Valley Unified School District spent approximately $65,000 to upgrade a New Tech science classroom into a chemistry lab. The work included the installation of four chemical storage cabinets, installing retaining rails in a storage closet in case of an earthquake, purchasing chemicals, and installing a control button that shuts off all the gas pipes in the classroom.
All of the work was finished about two days before the start of school.
“It was a race at the end of the year,” said Don Evans, director of school planning and construction.
New Tech now has three full sections of chemistry taught by a Napa Valley College instructor.
New Tech employs a full-time Spanish teacher but recently added a part-time Spanish teacher to help some students fulfill their foreign language requirement.
The school also worked on solving the dilemma with pre-calculus. Traditionally, pre-calculus is offered by Napa Valley College on New Tech’s campus.
In the past, the class was filled almost exclusively with New Tech students, but this year the college felt obligated to use the classroom exclusively for Napa Valley College students, Spencer said.
Superintendent of the Napa County Office of Education Barbara Nemko worked with the college and reached an agreement that 50 percent of the classroom seats would go to high school students. Eighteen high school students are taking the course, Spencer said.
Nemko did not blame Napa Valley College for proposing to keep the class exclusive to college students.
“It’s a state issue because of all the cuts,” Nemko said.
Since 2008-09, the California Community Colleges system has been cut by $809 million, or 12 percent, and total enrollment has gone down by 300,000 students at a time of increased demand, according to the state chancellor’s office.
Napa Valley College has lost about $5 million in state funding over the past four years, and has faced drastic reductions in course offerings as a result.