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11 Questions for Hart District Superintendent Jamie Castellanos
September, 2007 - Issue #35
Jamie Castellanos
Jamie Castellanos
More than 22,000 students are registered in the William S. Hart Union High School District. With six comprehensive high schools, six junior highs, a continuation school, middle college high school, independent study program, an adult school and Regional Occupational Program, the Hart District recently added an innovative early-college high school on the new Canyon Country campus of College of the Canyons. This year, ninth-grade students have an opportunity to attend all four years at COC and spend one half of their day on high school courses and the other on college courses.

When Superintendent Jamie Castellanos came on board two years ago, the district was facing a discrimination suit filed against them by several Valencia High School students. That suit was settled. But other problems were on the horizon - controversy over school boundaries, a delay in a much-needed high school in the Castaic area, a public relations problem with a foundation and some campus unrest. But there were also good things going on in the Hart district including state and national sports championships, academic achievement and state recognition.

1. Do you feel as though this job has been a good fit?

Yes I do. I think what the board was looking for when they hired me was to be an instructional leader and I have an opportunity to focus in that area. We just completed our strategic plan a year ago and in that plan it definitely has in its focus - instructional and student learning.

2. What was the number-one challenge for you as the superintendent coming into the Hart District?

The most immediate challenge was the diversity/lawsuit issue. I hired a diversity coordinator, Greg Lee, and he's done a great job. We now have a comprehensive diversity plan for the entire district that we are currently implementing. So far, it's been good.

3. There has been a need for a high school in the Castaic district for years. What is your understanding of that timeline?

The year 2010 has been out there for years, but being realistic and honest about it, we're looking at 2011, 2012 before we have a high school in Castaic. Right now it's NorthLake, but I continue to look at other locations. Right now there is nothing solid. We are still in the talking stage. It takes about four years to build a high school, give and take any unforeseen delays.

4. Besides Castaic, do you see a need for a school anywhere else in the near future?

We're good for a while. We do own a site in Vasquez Canyon that could be used for a possible junior high. We also have 250 acres right now that the foundation has purchased for a possible high school site.

5. Arroyo Seco Junior High, Canyon and Saugus High have been under construction for a while and those schools are nearing completion.

This summer Saugus and Arroyo Seco will be completed and Canyon will have one more year to go.

6. I know Hart High, Placerita and Sierra Vista Junior High had some maintenance repairs over the summer. What is happening with modernization at those schools?

The architect is working on the design for all three sites and it will be about spring of '08 before we start seeing any kind of physical construction.

7. Exit exams are now required to graduate from high school. Do you feel as though the Hart District has a good success rate?

This year our results were almost identical to last year; 89 percent passed in the English/language portion of the exam and 88 percent passed on mathematics. The students have many opportunities to take the test and if they don't pass by their senior year, they have the opportunity to attend adult school or summer school.

8. You now have two high schools on college campuses. What would you say to a student considering this type of aggressive education path?

First of all, they have to be highly motivated. We interview both the parents and the students. We just want to make sure they know what's expected of them and they have to work hard. The parents have to be very supportive and participate. It's really a lot of work but offers a great opportunity for a student to get ahead.

9. What are the roles of school counselors and do you have enough?

Their job is pretty multi-faceted. A lot of academic counseling to make sure the students are taking the appropriate classes to go to college. If students have different plans, say community college or the military, than their courses should reflect that. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger offered a supplemental counselor grant and we were able to hire more counselors at the junior high and high school sites for the coming year.

10. What is the role of the superintendent as it pertains to the elected school board member?

All five of them are my boss. Basically it's important for us to establish a relationship of trust. We have a good relationship. I make a lot of recommendations to the board on a lot of issues. They can agree or disagree.

11. Let's talk about the Facilities Foundation. It began as a mechanism to build Golden Valley High School and has made money selling residual land around the high school to a developer. As you said, properties have been purchased by the Foundation in Castaic and Canyon Country with those profits. As a member of the foundation, what do you see as the goal for that organization and how long will be needed?

The foundation's goal is to work with the district in terms in acquiring sites for high schools and junior high schools to be built. It's hard to put a timeline to when it will dissolve and will no longer be needed. Right now the foundation is trying to get entitlement from the County of Los Angeles on the Sloan Canyon property to build homes. We can add that income [from the sale of the property] into the district which would help defray the cost of Castaic [high school].

12. Has the district received any funds from the Facilities Foundation profits?

Typically all profits stay within the foundation hands and they use that money to purchase other sites and also defray the cost of school construction.

13. Will the district receive funding from the Facilities Foundation for performing arts centers at Canyon and Saugus High School?

The foundation has made a commitment to the district to give $14 million to help fund the construction of performing arts centers at both sites. That will cost about $35 million to $50 million for both performing arts centers. We don't have that amount of money. We prioritized - build a school in Castaic, modernization at the three sites we discussed and then performing arts centers.
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