For a tiny one-school district like Three Rivers Union School, the last several years have been filled with uncertainty. Will there be enough resources to do the job that the Three Rivers community has come to expect?
Because of a few interdistrict transfers, the enrollment of 140 is actually down several students from last year. But the future looks bright from the perspective of the two things that matter most: the budget and class size.
“Budget-wise, we’re in good shape,” said Sue Sherwood, superintendent, principal, and eighth-grade teacher. “Last year was the first year in several that we finished in the black.”
Sherwood explained the balanced budget in part is due to the fact that the district has learned how to be even more fiscally prudent. Staff consolidation and a commitment by everyone to go the extra mile for less salary than their counterparts in Valley schools is a big part of the district’s success.
“The staff priority going into this year was to work in single classrooms,” said Sherwood. “The only combo is grades seven-eight that I teach in the afternoons.”
Megan Thorn, a TRUS alum, is the new intern teacher. She has the seventh-graders in the morning; Sherwood teaches the grade seven-eight combination class in the afternoon, replacing Rob Ojeda, the previous seventh-grade teacher who has left the district.
Class sizes range from 16 to 20 students in each room, easily within the numbers that most educators believe optimal for learning. Another development that has helped is the curriculum shift to Common Core.
“Common Core, with its emphasis on critical thinking, is more like we used to teach 20 years ago,” Sherwood said “No longer do we have to be preoccupied with test scores and teaching to the standardized tests.”
This year, the subject focus is on math and acquiring all the new instructional materials; next year it will be language arts. Some of the funding to pay for the materials has come from the Local Control Funding Formula.
Other monies have come from the TRUS Foundation for the band program ($16,000) and additional funds to upgrade the school’s technology.
The Eagle Booster Club contributed funds to buy new iPads that in conjunction with an anonymous donor will help TRUS purchase 36 of the Apple tablets at more than $500 per unit. The EBC has pledged another $3,000 for Google apps.
“Once we assess where families can provide their child’s own computer devices, hopefully every student will have a tablet,” Sherwood said. “We’re not ignoring the world around us and we want our students to be prepared for the future.”
Amber Savastio, EBC board member and TRUS parent, has been cruising around school like a grant-seeking missile. She recently landed a matching $4,000 grant from First Five that provided new storage cubbies, instructional materials, and tricycles for the kindergarten.
Sherwood said because of the water bond, the State of California is stalling a $1.5 million project that would modernize the junior high wing. That building is a unique open structure of concrete beams with non-insulated walls built in the 1960s.
The primary wing is also in need of some upgrades but those won’t happen anytime soon. And at the top of Sherwood’s wish list is the same thing that is so sorely needed by everyone in Three Rivers: more bandwidth.
New staff— In addition to Megan Thorn, the seventh-grade intern, Diane Garcia is the new fifth-grade teacher, and Laura Harrison has returned to teach fourth grade. Eme Price, a TRUS alum, was hired as an instructional aide.
The most recent addition to the TRUS staff is Randy Poland, who was hired last week as the band instructor. Poland is a former longtime middle school band teacher from El Tejon who retired in 2013.
Poland confessed he missed working with the kids and the TRUS part-time job would be a good fit. Poland’s great grandfather played with John Philip Sousa in a military band so marching band music is in his DNA, he said.
“One of my goals is to get these kids playing in a parade or at the local jazz festival,” Poland said. “This is not a beginner group here. I plan to just build on what the last teacher [Athena Saenz, who took a job at SCICON] was doing and get them prepared to play in a high school band.”
Poland lives in Visalia with his wife, Marie. Marie Poland is a special education teacher at Woodlake High School.