Throughout the fall, San Benito High School District has engaged in an outreach effort to encourage community feedback regarding the need for a second high school.
To date, as we enter the second half of our K-8 Parent Listening and Awareness Sessions at 10 local elementary schools, we’ve received more than 1,200 comments from close to 150 community members, including students, parents, district employees and local residents.
Each session begins with a presentation by district administrators, who explain the recent, ongoing and projected growth trends at Hollister High School and the district. We then move into an activity in which attendees are encouraged to list the attributes they’d like to see in a second high school. That feedback is then shared with the group and collected so we can analyze and present those ideas as the second high school effort progresses.
At the end of each listening and awareness session, attendees are invited to fill out a comment card that gives them an opportunity to list the value of a second campus to students and our community and share what they think is most important about a new high school.
Due to the informal nature of these informational sessions, it cannot be assumed that the data being collected reflects the full scope of community demographics or beliefs, but we do open every session to anyone who wants to attend and provide their feedback, regardless of which school district they live or whether they have children attending a local school.
The report does, however, offer a snapshot of many of the opinions, attitudes and beliefs held by our community about the need for a second high school.
Nearly every comment our community has provided to date can be categorized into one of six categories: biophilia (or connectedness to nature); facilities; food; safety; values/programs; and technology.
From the community town halls we hosted in English and Spanish in late August through the first five K-8 sessions at Rancho Santana, R.O. Hardin, Rancho San Justo, Cerra Vista/Accelerated Achievement Academy, and a Superintendent’s Advisory Council meeting for Hollister High School students, more than 250 comments have focused on how respondents want a light-filled school that is well-landscaped. They advocate for a campus that provides students and the community with a pleasant natural environment in which to learn and gather.
Safe and welcoming culture
More than 150 comments have referenced a desire to create a high school culture that is both safe and welcoming. Respondents have noted themes of positive interactions, collaboration and the ability to work in shared spaces. They also want the second high school, whether it is a campus that is contained or has a more open feel, to focus on campus safety.
Another 150-plus comments have expressed a desire for facilities that will support student engagement in performing arts, athletics and the trades. There is a clear desire for excellence, variety and choice among academic offerings and many community members have said they want all students to be welcomed equally into sports, clubs and other extracurricular activities.
There are differing opinions about whether the second high school should offer all of the same opportunities as Hollister High School, or whether it would be more beneficial to offer distinct and different programs and opportunities.
Future-ready and fiscally responsible
More than 75 comments received to date encourage the district to build a second high school that will anticipate the future needs of students and the community. This includes themes such as sustainability and green building; flexible or modular features that can adapt to changing needs; and consideration of the tax impact of new construction.
The second high school should be connected to the community, more than 70 respondents said, giving students the opportunity to walk or bike to school, ensuring easy parking, pick-up and drop-off opportunities, and inviting the community to benefit from the new school facilities.
There is some concern that a second high school could disrupt neighborhood traffic patterns. More broadly, many commenters encourage the new school to be a good neighbor as it prepares students to contribute to the local community, both now and in the future.
Space, ease and comfort
More than 60 comments highlighted themes of space, comfort, openness, room to move and ease of navigating the campus. These included comments about cleanliness, class size and the desire for spacious hallways, classrooms and other facilities.
In addition, many comments noted the need for equal access for people of all abilities, along with a desire for restrooms and water fountains to be clean, well-equipped and easy to access. Some comments also referenced the need for ample access to comfortable seating, shaded areas and temperature-controlled environments.
The K-8 Parent Listening and Awareness Sessions, which are held from 6:30-7:30pm, continue with sessions at Maze Middle School on Oct. 25, Sunnyslope Elementary on Nov. 1, Ladd Lane Elementary on Nov. 8 and Hollister Dual Language Academy on Nov. 15. Translation into Spanish is available at each session.
San Benito High School District has four more community town halls scheduled on campus in the second semester, starting with the Jan. 17 and 18 meetings (one in Spanish, one in English) providing a recap of what we heard at the first town halls in August along with the comments gathered during the listening sessions.
The town halls on June 12 and 13 will celebrate and summarize the process and provide a look at architect’s renderings of the second high school.
A community effort
I have been heartened by our community’s engagement in the discussions about and planning for a second high school. We are proud to open these sessions to anyone who wants to attend, as we want to ensure that everyone can have a say in what a second high school will look like and how it can best serve the coming generations of students. Throughout this process, together we can, together we will, build a brighter future.
Dr. Shawn Tennenbaum is the Superintendent of the San Benito High School District.