A new branch of Mountain Oaks School opened Wednesday for the former students of Pinecrest School, which was closed by Twain Harte-Long Barn Union School District because of budget cuts.
The new school site is on Old Strawberry Road in the Pinecrest area, next to the now shuttered Pinecrest School. So far, 29 of the 38 students who were at Pinecrest School last year have enrolled in the new Mountain Oaks Pinecrest program.
A few of the rest have graduated or moved to schools such as Curtis Creek Elementary, said Twain Harte-Long Barn Union School District Superintendent John Keiter.
The others are attending Black Oak Elementary or Twain Harte Middle School, also part of the Twain Harte-Long Barn district.
Pinecrest parent Alicia Hartle said community volunteers have spent weeks preparing the new Mountain Oaks building, the former Strawberry Ridge Retreat, for the arrival of students.
“We’re so excited,” Hartle said. “The community has really pitched in. It’s quite amazing.”
Preparations have included washing the walls, painting, carpet cleaning, yard work and more. The building belongs to Pinecrest resident Shelly Stewart, a retired educator, and is being leased by the Calaveras County-based Mountain Oaks charter school.
The new Mountain Oaks School at Pinecrest has two wings, providing a classroom and an all-purpose “great room.” It also has restroom facilities and a large kitchen, Hartle said.
Jennifer Lloyd, another Pinecrest parent who now works as a Mountain Oaks teacher, said students will come to the school Monday through Thursday and be homeschooled on Fridays.
One of the former Pinecrest School teachers, Sylvia Terry, retired in June. The others switched to the Twain Harte campus.
In addition to Lloyd, the other new teacher for the Mountain Oaks School at Pinecrest is Kim Hartwig, another Pinecrest parent. Both are credentialed teachers.
Twain Harte-Long Barn’s Board of Education voted unanimously this spring to close the Pinecrest School, which served kindergarten through eighth graders, after receiving a series of dire budget reports.
The district faced bankruptcy during the 2015-16 school year if no cuts were made, according to a March 14 report by district Chief Business Official Tonya Midget. The factors she identified behind the forecast included state funding declines and lower enrollment.
Keiter said that closing Pinecrest School will lead to “all-around” savings through facility upkeep and staffing costs.
The district must now pay the Calaveras County Office of Education, which runs Mountain Oaks School, about $100,000 a year. But it also has one less teacher to pay, making the net savings for the district closer to between $40,000 and $50,000 annually.
Several Pinecrest School parents and community members attended Twain Harte-Long Barn Board of Education meetings during the past school year and begged trustees to preserve the program.
They later questioned policies about the use of vacant district buildings in an attempt to use the Pinecrest School facility for a charter school.
The Pinecrest School opened in fall 1950, with the existing building constructed in 1986, and served students “up the hill” who would face a long drive to other schools.
Since the Pinecrest School closed at the end of last school year, Pinecrest parents prioritized starting a new program for students by the fall, according to Lloyd and other parents.
Mountain Oaks administrator Jacqueline Dennis said a group of parents approached the charter school.
“They were just trying to figure out how they could continue to have a school up in Pinecrest,” she said. “After a number of meetings, one thing led to another and a proposal was put forth to the (Mountain Oaks) governing board.”
The board approved the proposal after ensuring there were enough students to keep the Pinecrest program “in the black,” Dennis said.
“We’re a home(school)-based charter school, but the way our charter’s written, we can embrace the kind of school project that Pinecrest is involved in,” said Mountain Oaks “Mentor Teacher” Tia Andersen.
The first day of school for the Mountain Oaks School at Pinecrest started with a pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag attended by students, community members and extended family. Some community members have donated items for the school, such as whiteboards and tables.
“I am absolutely amazed at the amount of support there is behind the whole endeavor,” Dennis said.
A facilities advisory committee composed of community members is deciding on the use of the former Pinecrest School building, according to Keiter.
The committee declared the Pinecrest School and the Black Oak School, which closed in 2007, as surplus property. It is drafting a list of acceptable uses for them.