District plans for continued growth

Outlook on 2018: Part 1 in a series

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

District plans for continued growthAs the chapter closed on 2017, leaders in local government, education, health care and economic development reflected on the successes and defeats of the past year while identifying challenges and opportunities of the coming year. Watch for future installments of this series during the month of January! (Pictured: Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Ernie Bell)

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“Whenever we talk about our vision for the future, we identify the importance of quality of life in our community. But what does that entail? There are many different aspects, but I believe it starts with quality educational opportunities and modernized facilities for our students.”

Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Ernie Bell said that in 2018 the focus of his staff and faculty remains on investing in and improving this critically important asset in the Indian Wells Valley.

“Of course when we talk about the path forward, we always have to look at where we have been and how we got here.”

In the last decade the district has weathered a loss in impact aid from the federal government, a state recession and landmark changes in policy that wholly revamped curriculum, assessments, testing and financing in education.

Despite those challenges, 2017 saw Sierra Sands students continue to outperform their peers in the county and state, Murray Middle School move into a brand-new campus and the district complete millions of dollars more in improvements at Burroughs High School.

Bell added that this is also the third year in a row that enrollment is up in SSUSD — the most significant upward trend in decades.

He speculated that was an indicator of an expansion of work at China Lake.

“Just about everything in our community is impacted by the base, so our success at the district is connected to that,” said Bell. Job growth means an influx in population, he said, but having a quality education to offer is also key to recruitment and retention.

“Growth is a good thing, but one of the challenges we face in the next few years is how we manage that for our student population.”

In the 1990s Sierra Sands closed several schools when the BRAC reductions at China Lake yielded a dramatic population decline.

“The current expansion means a subsequent growth in enrollment, so we are pushing hard for facilities money, but also looking into other creative options for how we can accommodate our students.”

This fall officials brought before the public a potential grant to fund a STEAM academy, which could result in the reopening of the Vieweg campus (currently being used for administrative staff).

“We have to prepare for this, because in addition to the new jobs that come into our community, I believe people are also seeing the value of the low cost of living we have here. There are so many opportunities ahead of us, and we want to make sure we are leveraging those to our advantage.”

Long term, the district is also supportive of the local efforts to add compatible industry to the area — which will ultimate feed the revenue streams that fund education. “I think we need another catalyst in our community, though we may not know yet what that looks like,” said Bell.

“I want to point out what more critical component of our success: our teachers have been through some pretty tough times adjusting to all the changes, but they have embraced those with total commitment and enthusiasm. That has made a tremendous difference for us.

“Whatever happens, we know that we can count on our staff and faculty to look at our resources and refine them so that we can offer the best possible education to the students in this valley.”

Story First Published: 2018-01-05