Caity Dransoff, a kindergarten teacher at Fletcher Elementary School, said if not for a two-school complex opening Monday parents might have to commute across the city to have their school-age autistic children placed in appropriate classes.
Dransoff works at the newly built Fletcher Elementary, which has a program for pre-K and kindergarten children with autism.
Teachers began training at Fletcher and Cato Middle School on Highland Knolls Drive at Vineland Road in June. They continued their training last week and also prepped classrooms for the first day of school.
The Highland Knolls Drive complex is the first in BCSD to house two schools on the same campus.
The schools have separate parking lots, classroom buildings and cafeterias.
The only shared space students can access is an amphitheater adorned with both school names: Dr. Douglas K. Fletcher and Paul L. Cato.
LAY OF THE LAND
The buildings sit on 41 acres of land, about 13 of which are play areas.
Cato has four courts for volleyball and about a dozen for basketball. A roughly 100-yard oval track wraps around an open area, said Ruben Solis, a BCSD facilities director.
The elementary school campus has a 300-yard track and two separate jungle gym areas for kindergarten and upper grades.
Each classroom is equipped with a SMART Board 8070i flatscreen that acts like a digital dry-erase board, and solar tubes allowing teachers to dim the natural lighting.
Fletcher has 36 classrooms, and Cato 42. The classrooms are grouped in fours, and enclose a shared office space for the four teachers.
The average class size will be 22 to 24 students per teacher in grades K-3 and about 28 students per teacher in grades four through eight, administrators said.
The middle school's mascot is the silver, black and forest green Cato Cavaliers.
The elementary school's mascot is a forest green and burgundy airplane called the Fletcher Flyers.
SHARING A CAMPUS:
Nancy Olcott, Fletcher's principal, said while a shared campus allows elementary- and middle-school administrators to collaborate and plan together, it is also important students of different ages don't have access to each other's buildings.
Shared campuses may be unique to BCSD, Olcott said, but not elsewhere.
"This is kind of a concept that's been brewing throughout the state," she said.
Benefits include the ability to communicate with middle school teachers about what specific groups of elementary students need as they transition to middle school; opportunities for peer tutoring; and a shared vision to guide students.
That vision consists of three goals -- building relationships, ensuring students learn, and holding high expectations for students and staff members, Olcott said.
She gave up a position as BCSD director of curriculum to open the new school.
"There's just nothing more rewarding than being on a school site," she said. "I couldn't pass it up."
Mike Havens, principal of Cato Middle, said all the state-of-the-art features, programs and extra-curricular offerings don't mean anything if the school's culture is negative.
He instructed teachers to pay attention to the "little things" like a student who gets a haircut or wears new shoes.
"You're not going to be able to make a difference with the kids unless they really know you care," Havens said.
Once teachers have their attention, preparing them for college becomes the goal.
Administrators at Cato and Fletcher agreed to require teachers to decorate their classrooms with college paraphernalia to introduce students to different schools and get them excited about college.
Kristin Ramay, an eighth-grade U.S. history teacher, posted in her classroom a 2014 football schedule for her alma mater, San Diego State University.
She said it's just one way to emphasize college readiness.
Ramay, a first-year teacher, said she is especially excited to be working at a new school.
She ends a U.S. history timeline posted on one of the walls with Cato Middle School's opening year, 2014. On another wall, she posted photos of historical events in a display she calls a Histagram -- a play on the popular photo-sharing service Instagram.
The room is full of creative touches, including fwall clocks showing the time in Kampala, London, Rio de Janiero, New York and Bakersfield.
Ramay likes the decorations for the same reason she is excited about teaching at a new school.
"We're able to set the tone of how things are going to work," she said.