Kick the can farther

Fifty years ago this spring, I was completing the first year of my teaching career at El Molino High School. I had just turned 23 when I began in September and can still remember how excited I was. I spent my entire career at El Mo and loved every year. I loved the kids, my fellow teachers, the staff and the administration. I feel so fortunate to have been hired by Elmo’s first principal, Roger Adams.
I poured my heart into that school.
Ann Palmer and I began the girls’ athletic program in the early ’70s and I was able to see the program grow. The tradition of placing pictures on the wall of the gym for all-league athletes has continued all these years. It is such an honor to be on the wall. I remember vividly the first time a female athlete had her picture on the wall; what an accomplishment for girls athletics.
I visited El Molino last week and as I stood outside the gym, I looked out at the fields and remembered what the campus was like in 1970. I looked at the mature trees and remember them being planted. I saw the tennis courts, softball and baseball fields that were installed while I was there. I saw the beautiful new track, artificial football field and concession stand built since I retired. I turned toward the gym and smiled as I saw the swallows building their nests under the eaves of the gym as they have for 50 years. I was able to see the new, never been used beautiful performing arts building. I remembered the four California Distinguished School awards El Mo earned and I remembered all the effort it took the entire school community to received numerous six-year (the best) accreditations from the state.
When I heard the news about El Molino closing, I was stunned. After reading articles about what happened, I was angry. Now I’m just sad. How could the situation have gotten to this point? In the late 1990s the student enrollment was over 1,000. Obviously over the last 20 years the enrollment numbers have dropped tremendously. The explanation by the board is that “they kicked the can down the road.” What kind of an explanation is that? Kick the Can is a children’s game. It’s time to put your big girl pants on and come up with a solution that does not tear apart two schools and communities. Not only are you closing El Mo, you are going to change the name of Analy, a school that opened in 1908?
Is low attendance the main reason for closing El Mo? Is it because of advance placement classes for college or reduced opportunities for electives? My nephews graduated from North Tahoe High School which has a student population of less than 300. They both attended the U.S. Naval Academy, which has one of the lowest college acceptance rates in the nation. We have numerous schools in our area with attendance less than 500 … Calistoga, St. Helena, Cloverdale, Geyserville, Pt. Arena, Tomales and so on. I’m sure there are students who go to college from these schools. Low attendance is not a problem. I believe it is a plus. I attended high school in the Bay Area. My graduating class was almost 400 students. It wasn’t until I began teaching at El Molino did I appreciate how wonderful a smaller student population could be.
Is it the cost of keeping the campus/plant running? I’m sure there are ways to figure out how to save money. Other districts and schools have faced the same issues and they have found solutions to the problem. I am hoping that the board will “kick the can down the road” once more and allow both school communities to come up with a solution to keep El Molino open. The history of both schools is important to the west county and to all of us who love them.
Nancy Lee Estes
El Molino High School

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