A large group of Independence residents showed up to hear the Owens Valley School Superintendent explain how declining enrollment in the high school could lead to the loss of the whole district.
Superintendent Joel Hampton said that under the Education Code a unified district of elementary and high school could cease to exist if average daily attendance drops below 11 in high school and 8 in elementary. Right now, Owens Valley High School has 13 students enrolled. Hampton told the crowd that the options include development of a specialized Academy program in the high school, which he believes will attract more students.
The County schools Office will handle a study for Owens Valley to unify with Lone Pine or Big Pine. Hampton said he and the school board feel southern Inyo high school students deserve the option of some type of high school in Independence.
Hampton called it a very serious situation. He said he hopes the County Board will give Independence a chance to do the Academy. At the meeting, County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer did not sound supportive of the Academy. In fact, he seemed to say maybe Owens Valley could keep its elementary school but he offered no encouragement for the high school, even though studies have not yet been done on unification with other districts.
Hampton explained that the high school already functions much like an academy with emphasis on academics and the ability to graduate in three years. Hampton said as the Owens Valley Academy, students would have to maintain a B average. He said physical education would be offered but there are not enough students to organize team sports.
Hampton headed the Eastern Sierra Unified District when the academy in Bridgeport organized. He pointed to the success of that facility for many years. Owens Valley School District has done well financially. They have a balanced budget and a large reserve. They just don’t have enough students – another symptom of the shrinking town that has gone down hill since DWP headquarters moved in the late 70s and many county offices have shifted to Bishop. The community remains land-locked by DWP ownership which has killed a chance for even modest growth.