Posted on March 2, 2016 by Gina Cuclis

By Gina Cuclis

A special concept in public education called “a community school” has been underway at El Verano Elementary School for about a year, and principal Maite Iturri said the program is achieving results.

The concept of community schools was developed by the New York based Children’s Aid Society. It has been popular back east for a number of years. In Sonoma County, El Verano Elementary is one of only two community schools. The other is Cook Middle School in Santa Rosa.

The Children’s Aid Society defines community schools as “a strategy for organizing resources of the community around student success.”

El Verano School families, of which there are 396, are able to access a variety of services at the school site. These include mental health services, which are in high demand and short supply in Sonoma Valley, and educational and recreational classes for adults. SRJC provides English as a Second Language and GED classes, however, most of the classes for adults are provided via the school’s Parent University Program. Iturri described Parent University as “for parents by parents.” From exercise classes to computer classes and math tutoring, parents are often teaching the classes.

The school’s parent engagement coordinator, Mario Castillo, also coordinates events at the school to discuss issues such as housing, emergency preparedness and getting drivers licenses.

Iturri said: “All this is in service to academic achievement in students. Parents want to help their children and want to do the right thing. But when you haven’t grown up in the system, you don’t know what the expectations are, what the educational culture is, you don’t know what the right thing to do is.”

Regarding the students, Iturri said the school’s number one focus is on literacy with the goal of having all students read and write at grade level. She says teachers are meeting weekly to look at student data, discuss areas to work on, and receive additional professional development. While the teachers meet, the students receive special instruction in technology, literacy and art.

The efforts are paying off. Iturri said 75 percent of the students have made growth in reading.

La Luz Center is one of school’s nonprofit partners and was instrumental in developing El Verano into a community school. It also employs the school’s parent engagement coordinator. The school’s other major nonprofit partner is Napa-based On the Move, which coordinates the Parent University program. The major funder for El Verano’s community school program is the S.H. Cowell Foundation. Impact 100 funds the Parent University.

How the Springs Came to Be Called the Springs

Since I’ve been writing this column, which began in September 2013, I’ve had several discussions with long time Sonoma Valley residents who aren’t pleased with calling the area “The Springs.” Their concern is that we are losing the separate identities of the four towns. They can remember when no one used the phrase.

It’s true that The Springs is not the name of a town. It’s a geographic reference to the string of four unincorporated towns north and west of the City of Sonoma: El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs and Agua Caliente. I had direct involvement with the transition to the general reference, The Springs, so here’s my explanation of how it came to be.

Residents started using the name after a group of individuals in 1992 came together and created an organization to be a voice for our shared goals to improve the area encompassing the four towns. We needed a simple way to write and talk about this string of towns, and created the name “Verano Springs.” We named the organization the Verano Springs Association. Newspaper articles from the early to mid 1990s refer to the Verano Springs area. It didn’t take long for the word Verano to be dropped from usage for the simpler name, The Springs.

I say Boyes Hot Springs whenever I tell anyone where I live. When I discuss the string of towns as a whole, I say the Springs.