Parkview Elementary removes school garden to make way for private preschool
It’s not your usual before-and-after scenario.
The “before” was a school garden 10 years in the making, located front-and-center at Parkview Elementary School in Chico and consisting of 10 large raised beds bursting with tomatoes, lettuce, beans, flowers and so forth.
The “after” is a hard-dirt sticker patch at the far southeast corner of the school grounds sporting a few forlorn strings tied to stakes, where one has to imagine the garden that Karen Altier is starting from scratch.
Altier has worked at Parkview for the past five years as a Sierra Cascade Activity & Nutrition Consortium (SCNAC) site assistant, and as a CARD after-school garden teacher for an even longer time. She found out abruptly in late May that the garden she and her students had put so much time into would be dismantled to make way for the new Super Luper preschool that is scheduled to open on the Parkview campus this fall.
Altier said that Parkview fifth-grade teacher Julie Nilsson approached her during the next to last week of school and asked her, “Have you heard about the preschool coming in?”
“I said, ‘Oh no, I hadn’t heard anything,’ ” Altier said. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I wonder if anyone’s ever going to tell me?’ ”
Several days later, Altier said, she spoke with Parkview Vice Principal Jo Ann Bettencourt, who confirmed the news.
“She didn’t tell me it was a private preschool,” Altier said.
Nilsson, reached recently by e-mail in Costa Rica, where she was vacationing with her family, concurred: “It was short notice. We heard about it at a staff meeting in May from our vice principal, Jo Ann Bettencourt. … I was surprised at the short notice, [and] that the way it was presented was that it was a done deal, not just a consideration.”
Janet Brinson, director of categorical programs for the Chico Unified School District (CUSD), and CUSD’s director of educational services, Joanne Parsley, confirmed in a recent interview in the district office that Super Luper Kids, which currently operates a preschool child-care facility on Springfield Drive near the Chico Mall, will be opening a second preschool on the Parkview Elementary campus this fall. The new preschool, which will have space for 24 students, will be housed in what was formerly the Healthy Start building, with the former school garden serving as the facility’s play yard.
Brinson said the district had sent home surveys to Parkview parents, who showed “resounding interest” in having a preschool on the school site.
“It is a collaborative effort between Chico Unified and Super Luper,” offered Brinson. “Super Luper will be leasing a building with us at Parkview.”
“But we have a say in the curriculum they’re going to use,” said Parsley. “They’re just like a perfect collaborative partner that meshes with what we want to do at Chico Unified.”
Brinson said the Super Luper-Parkview collaboration would be modeled on the now-defunct Even Start Family Literacy Program at Chapman Elementary School, which gave low-income, academically at-risk preschool children age-appropriate education to help prepare them for kindergarten.
“Those students did better in kindergarten [than those who did not participate in the program],” Brinson said of the Even Start students.
“The Super Luper teacher will work in tandem with the two Parkview kindergarten teachers,” she added.
Brinson said the new Super Luper—which may end up being named “Parkview Playhouse”—will serve as many low-income neighborhood children as possible. “Some may attend for free, with CalWORKs,” said Brinson, adding, “We’re still in the process of getting the license.”
“We want to have preschools in all of our Title-1, program-improvement schools [like Parkview],” said Parsley, pointing out that both Chapman and Rosedale Elementary (another Title-1 school) have Head Start preschool programs that will be adopting the Even Start model beginning this fall.
Brinson added that removing the school garden was a necessity because “licensing said we needed so much play space for students, and there were sharp corners on the [planter] boxes. …You have to get the building in check to get the licensing, so it’s kind of like putting the cart before the horse.”
Salvador and Sharon Lopez live directly across the street from Parkview Elementary School. All of their four grown children attended Parkview, and their granddaughter will be a sixth-grader there in the fall.
They lament the removal of the garden, which they said the whole neighborhood enjoyed. “The garden was just such a beautiful thing, and to see the kids out there working,” said Sharon recently, sitting in the shade of a tree in her front yard on a particularly hot day.
The Lopezes said they found out about the Super Luper preschool’s move to Parkview only when they saw workers removing the raised beds and putting in a concrete bike path and two wood-framed play boxes filled with wood chips.
“Why wasn’t Head Start asked to move in?” asked Sharon, who teaches in the Head Start program at Rosedale. “Head Start provides family-focused child care, with a big emphasis on a school-and-home partnership.”
The federally funded Head Start—which is available at no charge to all those who are income-qualified, as well as all children with special needs, regardless of income—also provides such support services for families as translators and transportation to doctors’ appointments. CalWORKs, on the other hand, is the state’s financially imperiled welfare-to-work program that serves a narrower population of low-income persons, and offers primarily employment-focused services and temporary financial assistance.
Turns out, Brinson had considered Head Start, but went with Super Luper because she believed, erroneously, that Head Start was still operating under a previous policy of not giving priority admission to children living in a particular school’s neighborhood.
“I didn’t know the [Head Start] rules had changed,” said Brinson, pointing out that in all three preschool locations—Parkview, Rosedale and Chapman—neighborhood kids will have priority for admission.
Both Brinson and Parsley acknowledged that the process of removing the school garden and turning the site into a preschool grounds was “rushed,” but Brinson added that “in order [for Super Luper] to get the preschool license, all of this stuff had to happen really quickly.”
As for Altier, she won’t be able to take her students out into the garden when school goes back in the fall, as she has done in past years, to “gorge on tomatoes and green beans” and pick produce for the school cafeteria’s lunchtime “garden bar.”
But local Girl Scout and Chico High School student Lorena Reed has volunteered her services to help Altier reconstruct the garden as a scout project.
“It’ll all be dependent on what gets done between now and school, and what we’re able to build from any money and donations we might be able to get,” Altier said. “We’ll be starting from scratch again. We won’t be eatin’ tomatoes, that’s for sure.”