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Trustee: Cesar Chavez Jr. High - not
A chain-link fence is now up around the southwest corner of Whitmore Avenue and Eastgate Boulevard, a first sign that construction is coming on Ceres' third junior high school. Orchard trees are being removed as the 19.7-acre, $2.75 million parcel near La Rosa Elementary School is prepared for a formal ground-breaking ceremony at 9 a.m. on August 8. Ceres Unified School District officials plan to finish the school by April 2011 with the opening in August 2011.

Officially the school has been named the project Cesar Chavez Junior High School but at least one board member wants the name reconsidered due to community backlash. Trustee Eric Ingwerson is proposing that the board reconsider the name and will discuss his reasons why at Thursday evening's board meeting.

"It sure has created a disruption in the community that I don't think the board thought through," said Ingwerson.

The board's decision to name the school after the late farm workers labor union leader set off a firestorm of protest by those who claim trustees violated board policy of naming schools for local community members or geographical areas. Supporters who want the school named for long-time farmer and Ceres resident Wayne Salter circulated a petition to get the board to change its mind but the board stuck to its original decision. Now Ingwerson wants the board to look at other options.

The school, which will be built by Bruns Belmont for $35 million, will consist of modular buildings, a cost-effective construction mode that was employed when CUSD built five new elementaries in Berryhill, Hidahl, Sinclear, Adkison and La Rosa campuses.

Ceres is ripe for a third junior high school, noted Supt. Walt Hanline, as both existing junior high schools - Mae Hensley and Blaker Kinser - are too big for comfort. Ceres' junior high population is now at 1,800 with both schools roughly taking half. A third junior high means three schools of approximately 600 students.

Research indicates that the junior high age group experience has a huge bearing on the high school drop-out rate, according to Simmonds.

"School size really makes a difference in how connected students feel to school," said Jay Simmonds, CUSD's Educational Options Coordinator and Facilities Planner. "We're of the belief that 900 is too big for those junior highs today."

"We think it's too big if you want to try to keep connected to kids," said Hanline. "A junior high campus of a thousand feels like a high school campus of twenty-five hundred. That's just a lot of kids."

Hanline anticipates that the district will be sending students from Sam Vaughn, La Rosa and Walter White elementaries to the new junior high.

"We haven't finalized the boundaries - that'll come this next spring," said Hanline.

Having the new junior high school in close proximity to La Rosa Elementary across the street will have its benefits, Hanline said. The elementary school may want to use the gymnasium of the new junior high or use the athletic fields.

"The playgrounds of both sites because very useable for both schools," he said. "It is very typical in today's world. If you go to Clovis and other districts and you'll see multiple grade levels on the same school site."

School will be released at different times to avoid foot traffic conflicts.

CUSD came under fire in March by nearby landowners who voiced opposition and asked that the site be dropped from consideration. Norman Caulkins asserted that the site is not a safe place, saying students will be exposed to bees, pesticide spraying, dust and being near the Modesto Airport flight path. Hanline said neither La Rosa nor Chavez school sites are under the normal flight path to the airport. The Modesto Airport Land Use Commission approved the site.

Hanline said the district needed to put a school near the freshly developed Eastgate area.

Cesar Chavez Junior High School is being paid for by $15 million from the state and $20 million from Measure U bond funds.

CUSD is also planning two new elementary schools which will be funded completely by state hardship monies. Hanline said his philosophy has been to construct schools "before we're in crisis."

"The question is probably not 'if' but 'when' the schools are going to be built. The 'when' will be dependent upon the fact that the state runs out of construction funding. And in my own personal gut is .... I believe the state's not going to run out of money and we'll be funded."

If funded, Walt Hanline and Lucas elementary schools will be built within the next 18 months to two years.

Hanline Elementary will be constructed on a parcel just south of Central Valley High School on S. Central Avenue. The district already owns six acres next to the high school. Plans are to join the four new acres with the six for a 10-acre elementary school that will share circulation access with the CVHS parking lot. Hanline said the school is most needed to reduce Sinclear Elementary to 550-600 students.

"Sinclear, Don Pedro and Hidahl are all at a point that we could move kids away from those kids and occupy (school #13)," said Hanline.

Hanline, who is retiring in a year, said he hopes to see the ground breaking of Hanline Elementary. "We'll know by January, February if we're funded," said Hanline.

Lucas Elementary is pegged for 4.4 acres on Roeding Road west of Mitchell Road.

"It's going to be about two thirds of a school," said Hanline. "In the short run, until that it is really desperately needed, we're going to probably house some of our alternative ed programs there, like our Adult Ed program."