New Classes Solidify Changes at TOW


By Amy Orr, Special to the Independent

Some students at Top of the World Elementary returned to campus after the winter break in a whole new environment, entering newly opened classes when studies resumed on Monday, Jan. 8.

New modular classes open for science, foreign language and arts classes at TOW.Photo courtesy LBUSD
New modular classes open for science, foreign language and arts classes at TOW.Photo courtesy LBUSD

The hilltop campus now has five additional classrooms, three additional restrooms, and an outdoor learning courtyard, said district spokesperson Leisa Winston. TOW added 5,280 square feet with Gen7 modular units, which were completed the month before.

The new rooms have a number of energy efficient features, including shade awnings and sensors that measure natural light and automatically dim interior lights. The classrooms’ acoustical engineering is designed to reduce noise levels.

John Fritze, who teaches Spanish to all of the district’s fourth- and fifth-grade students, moved into his new room over the holidays. He said he is delighted by the space and the opportunities it provides.

“When I started with the district, I used to have to teach in other people’s classrooms,” Fritze said. “I had all of my materials on a rolling cart and was always working in someone else’s space. Now, I have a room dedicated to my subject and my students are immersed in Spanish as soon as they walk through the door. I have a word wall and objects labeled all around the room.”

Fritze said recent studies show that language acquisition is most successful when it incorporates movement; physically interacting with words cements student learning. He said the openness in the new area allows students to do things like walk around the room while learning the Spanish word for “walk.” Youngsters can also act out story-based learning and incorporate props.

“We have rolling chairs and no desks, so it’s easy for students to move from small groups to larger groups. One of the walls has an 80” monitor that ties into the lessons on my laptop. There’s even a skylight in the ceiling with a button to adjust the amount of light that enters the room. The kids love everything. When I asked them which learning environment they preferred, all of their hands went up for this room.”

In addition to Spanish instruction, Winston said the new classrooms will house vocal music, instrumental music, and a science lab. Additional shelving and cabinetry have been ordered and are expected to be installed in the science facility in late February or early March.

Student and staff delight with the new buildings may eclipse the cloud that hung over this portion of the campus for the past few months.

“These permanent buildings replaced the portable buildings that were previously used for CLC,” Winston said. Last year, the school board reviewed the ongoing viability of the K-4 Community Learning Center (CLC), which had operated on the TOW campus since 1983.

After months of speculation and debate, the board decided on June 13 to place the alternative “school within a school” on hiatus for the 2017-2018 school year. During last Tuesday’s board meeting, Superintendent Jason Viloria called for a vote to officially close CLC. The board gave its unanimous support, officially ending the program.

Unlike previous meetings, no members of the public contested the closure at the Jan. 9 meeting and no complaints have been filed since, Winston said.

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  1. Nice to see those 13 year service life portables at TOW finally got replaced at the 26 year point. One other thing; as to the statement “Unlike previous meetings, no members of the public contested the closure at the Jan. 9 meeting and no complaints have been filed since, Winston said.” A very telling statement from the District spokesperson!

    Arguably CLC was finished as a school in April 2017 by action of the Teachers of the District and the Board’s reaction to their 100% intent to not support CLC. “Hiatus” was an unfortunate political concept provided by the Board that was easily seen as disingenuous at best. Why attend a meeting at this late date with that context and history? It doesn’t make things any better putting interesting euphemisms and a supposed process onto a clear intent.

    Good news is CLC still exists in the community in the family’s and children who were able to benefit from the mixed grade courses, unique experiential education and community based programs. Good news too; given how this was handled, the District and teachers have educated us on the politics of education in Laguna and the State.

    Wish everybody well, just wish for a little more genuine ownership of actions and statements as we work through things as a community going forward.

  2. Rob, I had a similar reaction when I saw those shiny new buildings that replaced the tired, worn out, dingy portable trailers you, in particular, tried your best to improve for our kids. While the learning that took place inside means more, it still rankles that so little attention was paid back then.

    I’m told that education in the rest of the classrooms has “caught up” to the CLC model. That’s interesting as I haven’t noticed any increase in field trips, for example – something that was a hallmark of a CLC education and added so much value to a program that many feel could continue to be ahead of its time.


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