Loma Alta Celebrates Its 60th--And Last--Year

A 60th anniversary celebration was held at Loma Alta Elementary on Saturday

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/2/2011

Saturday's 60th Anniversary of celebration was a bittersweet day for the school's community. One of the two schools in Altadena officially slated for closure starting next year, the other being , by a  vote by the Pasadena Unified Board of Education, Loma Alta is one of the smallest schools in the district but provided a vital and effective service to students with special needs.
About 100 people turned up for the morning celebration, which was sponsored by the Loma Alta PTA and included a fitness walk, book sale, face painting, nutrition network, special Gummy Bear field day game booths, a reunion for Loma Alta alumni, a Loma Alta history scavenger hunt, dance contests and cheers from the Loma Alta cheerleaders, and a cover band that played after several people gave short speeches.
Students, teachers, parents, volunteers, principal Eric Sahakian, school board members Renatta Cooper and Ramon Miramontes, Dr. Elizabeth Pomeroy of PUSD, the president of the Altadena NAACP, and two Altadena Sheriff's horses and their caretakers enjoyed the festivities, celebrating 60 years of the school's history before it closes in seven weeks.
"We're going to make it a successful seven weeks," Sahakian proclaimed to the crowd before speaking to Patch about what the school's closure really means.
"It's really an indication of the education crisis that we're in right now," he said. "But as educators we always rise to the challenge. We are very resourceful in what we do. And what we do is for the community and the children. Just like a school board member just mentioned earlier, when one door closes another door opens, and there will be positive opportunities for our families and for our students, and they'll get a wonderful education in PUSD no matter what school they attend."
As for where Sahakian will go next year, he said he would love to stay in PUSD, and would be honored and humbled to stay in PUSD, but so far he's not sure what his next steps are.
Miramontes praised Sahakian's work for the school and stated with certainty that there will be a place for him in PUSD next year.
"I'm committed to making sure that Eric stays as an administrator in PUSD," Miramontes said during his speech. "Because what makes a school obviously is our students and our parents and our PTA and our staff and our community, but it's also the leader that keeps it going every day. And Eric, you've shown to us at PUSD that you need to stay with us. We're going to do whatever it takes to make sure you stay at PUSD. You're not going anywhere, buddy."
After his speech Miramontes told Patch that there will be school principal and assistant principal positions available for Sahakian, but that nothing has been decided yet as to where he will go.
"I have seen him and I have heard positive comments from parents, that he's a rising star in PUSD," said Miramontes. "He has the skill sets of a leader, of an educator that needs to understand and have empathy for parents and where children come from. He's patient, he's humble, he's a hell of a hard worker, and people like him."
He also said that a Pasadena charter school named Rosebud will move into the school site starting next year. The school board vote to close the two Altadena schools was very close, passing by just one vote, with Miramontes opposing the closures.
"I think it's more of that trend of marginalizing Altadena," Miramontes said about the school's closure. "There's too much focus on schools in Pasadena city proper, and we have to understand that even if we don't have a sufficient number of students, it's not something that's that much different from other elementary schools. And to not at least seriously consider closing other schools in Pasadena, I think we reinforce how Altadenans feel about PUSD. So even though I live in the city of Pasadena, I think the marginalization has some merit, and this is a case in point."
Teachers and parents echoed his sentiment and expressed their frustration with the school board's decision.
"I'm very upset about the closing of Loma Alta," said Connie Edwards, the Healthy Start coordinator. "I'm not happy. This is my second school closure. We worked very, very hard after they closed Edison Elementary School to come here, to open up a big family center, which used taxpayers' money, and we're losing all of that because our school is closing. I'm not a happy camper. But I'm happy that I can still provide services for our students that are in this community and that are in this school district, so it's sort of like a bittersweet thing."
Healthy Start is a program at five schools in PUSD that provides services to students and parents. Their motto is to "reduce the barriers to learning." It's a school-based program funded by a California state grant that serves the population of each respective school and deals with the socio-economic issues that they're presented with.
Their goal is to make sure each child is ready to go to school ready to learn by making sure they have their immunizations, physicals, dental checks, uniforms, shoes, books, school supplies, backpacks, and much more. They also refer clients out to local agencies to help families with some of these services.
Loma Alta's Healthy Start program will be moving to Altadena Elementary, which previously did not have such a program.
"Hopefully we'll be able to continue to provide services for students and families that need it," said Edwards. "We also refer clients to a variety of local agencies if there's any issue that they have, like if they can't pay their bills, or they need referrals for housing, food, we also do that."
Other teachers and parents were saddened but reserved about the closure of the school. Rosa Iida, a teacher who's been at Loma Alta for 16 years, said she started her teaching career here.
"I'm upset about the closure, but it's been coming," she said. "They've been talking about it for the last five years, and I guess it really happened this year. Most likely I will be teaching at another PUSD school next year. We're all getting transferred to the schools that are in-taking our children, so that would be Altadena and and probably others. As far as we know, the charter school that is coming in next year may share it with the preschool that's already existed here, but that's the last we've heard. But things can happen over the summer, things might change."
She said that although this is the last big community event here at Loma Alta, they have more end of the year events, such as baseball games, the Aquarium of the Pacific coming to the school in June, and the STAR program coming in to do hands-on science and math programs for the next two weeks, which she said the school is excited about.
"We're making the most of the last few weeks and spending all the money we have left over," she said with a laugh.
A couple parents spoke to Patch about their plans for next year. It seems most Loma Alta students will be attending next year. That's exactly what Denise Keyes, who has a child in 4th grade, and Felicia Lee, who has 4th and 5th graders at Loma Alta, plan on doing.
"It's a very sad day and I'm really upset about it," said Keyes. "I've moved on from it but it's a very upsetting moment. I mean, this carnival has kind of given closure. It's like a celebration, and I really wish that we could have stayed open. Next year my daughter is still going to go to school in Altadena, so I'm going to send her to Altadena Elementary."
Lee also called it a very sad day, "but also a joyful day because we're all out here excited, still celebrating the time we had here. But it is very sad. Next year my 4th grader will be attending Altadena Elementary, and my 5th grader will be graduating to middle school, so he'll be at ."
Camille Leal, a parent of a 1st grader at Loma Alta, is still undecided about where to send her son next year. She's even considering taking him out of PUSD and sending him to a private school.
"It's still a decision that we're planning to make," said Leal. "My son has only been here two years, so I think it's sad that they're closing the school but I haven't been here long enough to get a long feeling of the school here. But I have been here enough where I noticed that I liked it here. I felt very comfortable. It was very small, so I felt good about that, because I like the small community. And I think it's sad that they want to close schools because I think there's no reason to do so if the school is doing well with the students. So it's sad, but I have so many different feelings on it."
During his speech, Miramontes addressed the school's closure.
"Although we fell just one vote short of keeping this school open, we gave it a good fight," he said. "I think the community and the parents and the students had their day and their hour in court to argue why it should have stayed open, but it's still going to stay, at least on our watch, a school. And this is to honor the historical taxpayers in the community that contributed so much to keep this as a learning facility," adding, "with a great view."
Download the movie