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Second-oldest high school serves community needs

Education: Offering classes from horseshoeing to Excel, Golden Oak school has historic role

Posted: June 28, 2010 10:25 p.m.
Updated: June 29, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Golden Oak Adult School instructor Steve Jacobson works with a student on a stained-glass art project. Enrollment at the Newhall school has grown significantly as local residents go back to school in the hopes of finding better careers.

Student Michael Benz knows first-hand the benefits Golden Oak Adult School provides.

“Originally, I went to high school; I kind of b.s.’d my way through it,” Benz said. “I didn’t feel like I was ready. All the work was too much.”

The 22-year-old was dealing with family issues and other personal challenges throughout his years in high school. He ended up supporting himself via a minimum-wage job in a warehouse.

“I believe that a lot of times when students end up coming here, they feel as though it’s their last resort,” he said.

An increased demand
Golden Oak operates with the mission of providing a place for adults who wish to continue their education.

The school, which runs after hours on the Placerita Junior High School campus in Newhall, offers GED and diploma-prep classes as well as several different levels of English-as-a-second-language courses. Other fee-based courses include everything from basic computer skills to gardening.

Many students view the community enrichment classes as a creative outlet, according to Golden Oak Principal Ron Rudzinski.

“People like to work with their hands,” Rudzinski said. “(The classes) stimulate the brain and allow people to use their creative side.”

Rudzinski said the goal of Golden Oak is to ultimately provide help to those who need it and to the community at large.

“Students usually have goals of some type,” he said. “We take a three-pronged approach over here. It could help toward career. It could help toward education, and the third thing would be personal interest. We’re looking to build all those areas.”

Improving and expanding classes in those areas will be more difficult as demand for classes increases.

For the July 2009 to June 2010 school year, Golden Oak’s student population has ballooned to 3,100, an increase of 850 from the previous school year.

The average student attending Golden Oak varies in age and education level. While the school does accept some 17-year-olds, it mainly deals with adults of various ages, including senior citizens and, in one case, a 102-year-old woman.
“(Golden Oak students are) driven by a pure reason to be educated,” Rudzinski said. “They are curious and want to learn about something.”

The cuts ahead
According to Rudzinski, because of the nearly $15.5 million budget shortfall facing the William S. Hart Union High School District, Golden Oak now faces problems similar to other schools.

So far, no major cuts are expected to Golden Oak. However, Rudzinski is hoping that programs such as Friends of Golden Oak will help bolster financial support.

“Everyone is kind of in the same boat,” Rudzinski said. “The trick is trying to offer quality services at the best level possible while still dealing with this large deficit.”

One fundraising option the school is focused on is reaching out to local businesses and offering classes that will allow working professionals to sharpen their skills on basic computer programs such as Microsoft Excel.

The classes would be fee-based and therefore self-supporting, marking an improved flow of funds and deepening Golden Oak’s impact on the community.

Rudzinski hopes that the community will see how valuable the school is and support it.

Even Golden Oak’s Spring 2010 catalog makes its troubles clear. On the cover, in italics, the sentence “Today we face a crisis” spells it out, followed by ways the community can make donations.

Community support
A key part of garnering that support seems to come from making people aware of Golden Oak’s role in Santa Clarita Valley history.

“I think, in Santa Clarita as in other communities, there’s a history that talks about where we came from and points to where we’re going,” Rudzinski said. “Knowing that history is valuable.”

This year the school celebrates its 62nd anniversary, making it the second-oldest school in the Hart district.

The doors first opened in 1948. Over the years, the school met the practical education demands of the small community with classes such as horseshoeing.

“It was pretty rural,” Rudzinski said.

As times and the needs of the community changed, so did Golden Oak.

These days, the school no longer teaches one how to shod the equine, but students can take classes in photography and parenting.

Classes such as those are based on students paying fees to cover the materials and instructor.

Other, less hobby-based classes such as ESL and Diploma/GED courses require money from the district to run successfully.

With less overall money coming in next year, Rudzinski likened it to keeping a machine running.

“It’s like working on a jet engine, and you’re not getting any upgrades. Can you make it run? Yeah, you can make it run, but not very well,” he said.

The result of Golden Oak’s hard times means that adults seeking more education will have one less option, thus causing what Rudzinski referred to as a “ripple effect.”

Essentially, fewer educational opportunities translates into students potentially having to travel out of the Santa Clarita Valley for training, thus cutting into personal family time, Rudzinski said.

“I don’t think that’s what the community wants,” he said.

Michael Benz is well aware how curtailing the benefits of Golden Oak would be highly disheartening.

“Without this school, there’s no other place (the students) can go,” he said.


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