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Myths vs. facts: Hasley Canyon Private School

Local Commentary

Posted: October 4, 2008 9:23 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 

I am an educator. My intent in founding Monticello Preparatory School has been to provide an alternative quality education for the students and families of a community that I have come to admire and love.

It has been my purpose to give back to the Santa Clarita Valley, as my way of thanking a community that has given so much to my family and me, and to provide for the common good by establishing a much-needed school at no expense to the taxpayer.

It is our school’s philosophy that children learn best when they are surrounded with beauty. We envisioned for our campus a ranch-like setting complete with typically Californian rolling hills and majestic oak trees.

Because approximately one-half of Monticello students either live in Castaic or have parents who work in Castaic, naturally we looked in that vicinity for a school property. So it was, that after more than a year of searching, we settled upon a property in Hasley Canyon on which to locate our school.
The lovely Hasley Canyon countryside fulfills our vision of the perfect learning environment for the students of Monticello.

Castaic and Hasley Canyon families have welcomed Monticello and, in light of the overcrowding of many Santa Clarita Valley schools, an additional school of Monticello’s caliber in our valley is viewed by most residents as a blessing.

However, I was dismayed to learn that some Hasley Canyon residents did not want to share their canyon with us.

In their attempt to thwart the opening of Monticello Prep School, this small group of Hasley Canyon residents, now calling itself the Castaic Action Committee (CAC) — which by no means represents the entire Hasley Canyon population and certainly not that of Castaic — has disseminated an inordinate amount of incorrect information regarding the school.

As a result, some Hasley Canyon residents are confused, worried and fearful. Jim Goodwin’s comments in his letter to the editor of Sept. 19 exemplify this confusion.

His fears are based entirely upon misinformation and rumors that have no basis in fact.

Since Monticello is the third school attacked by this Hasley Canyon political machine, it appears that CAC simply opposes any school in the Hasley Canyon area.

This seems especially true since Monticello is very small and is making every conceivable effort to address concerns in regard to traffic, noise and other issues.

In order to dispel the inaccuracies regarding Monticello’s proposed new location, please take note of the following:

Traffic
Myth: Monticello will cause traffic congestion and noise. Teen-agers will be driving to school.
Fact: No Monticello students are allowed to drive to school, no matter what their ages. All students are required to be shuttled to school or to be delivered to school by parents.

Most students will be shuttled to school. “Car-pooling” parents will deliver the remaining students.

These parents will be assigned arrival times to ensure the undeterred flow of vehicles.

The number of vehicles coming into the neighborhood will be so small that it will most likely be entirely unnoticed. To further enhance safety, Monticello is requesting that a 20 mile per hour school zone be enforced along Hasley Canyon Road at the school.

Committed to neighborly respect, Monticello pro-actively addressed traffic issues long before such worries were expressed. As required by the county, Monticello will provide 23 parking spaces. No street parking will be allowed.

Fact: Monticello is a very small school. We will educate approximately eight students at each grade level, K-12, with a 7:1 student teacher ratio.

Our total student population will not exceed 100 students in all, with 33 primary school students, 33 elementary school students, and 33 high school students.

Monticello is a fully accredited, highly academic school. Students are respectful, well mannered and well behaved. Teachers are of the highest quality: state credentialed, certified and with postgraduate degrees.

With a 7-1 student teacher ratio, students are very well supervised. They peacefully coexist with their current neighbors. Most of the time students will be indoors studying.

Monticello does not have a football team or a marching band. Our primary sports are tennis, golf and tae kwon do, all of which are practiced off campus at the golf course, the tennis club and the tae kwon do studio.

The grounds are surrounded to the east and the south by nearly 600 acres of uninhabited land. Our nearest neighbors’ residences are located hundreds of feet away, with sound muffled by oak groves.

Fire safety
Myth: Fire safety is more of a concern in Hasley Canyon than in other areas of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Fact: Fire safety is an issue for every school in the Santa Clarita Valley. Naturally, fire safety is of paramount importance at Monticello, just as it is with every Santa Clarita Valley school.

As we all vividly remember from last year’s fires, we live in fire country. None of us is immune to the threat of fire.

Monticello has proactively implemented fire safety policies that include instituting “fire days” on which school will be canceled if fire is present in or near the canyon.

A fire evacuation plan including our shuttle and teacher’s vehicles is in effect. Monticello’s evacuation plan will be implemented under the full scrutiny and direction of the Fire Department.

Monticello has cleared years of brush and combustible material from its property under the direction of the Forestry Department, making Hasley Canyon safer by our presence.

We have repaired broken sprinkler systems, which will assist with fire safety. Monticello has complied with all fire safety requirements instituted by the county, including indoor sprinkler systems.

There is a two-lane road in front of the school, not one lane, as incorrectly stated by Sally Ellis, a member of the Castaic Action Committee, in The Signal’s article dated Sept. 17.

Neighborhood
Myth: Monticello will adversely affect the character of the neighborhood.

Fact: By converting an existing home into a school, the character of the neighborhood is preserved. The structure is beautiful as it stands; however, it will be renovated, earthquake retrofitted and decorated in the existing California Colonial style, supporting the character of the Hasley Canyon neighborhood.

Since Monticello has the utmost respect and concern for maintaining the beauty, serenity and character of the Hasley Canyon neighborhood, we will be excellent stewards of the lovely Hasley Canyon countryside.

Our grounds will be thoughtfully landscaped, maintaining the area’s natural beauty. The footprint of the structure will remain the same.

Monticello is situated upon property that has been zoned for use as a private school pursuant to Director’s Approval for decades.

Fact: It is not unusual for prestigious private schools — such as Westridge School for Girls in Pasadena, Laguna Blanca School in Santa Barbara and many Montessori schools — to be housed in structures that were once homes.

This coincides with a commonly held private school philosophy that students are more comfortable in such home-like surroundings, which enhances learning.

As such, converting a home to a private school is not unusual. By converting an existing home into a school, the character of the neighborhood is not compromised.

Property values
Myth: A school in the neighborhood will diminish property values.

Fact:  Homebuyers with children routinely seek homes in neighborhoods that boast good schools. Many private schools, like The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, are located in upscale neighborhoods of million-dollar homes.

Usage

Myth: Monticello may be sold and converted to some other use.

Fact: There is absolutely no plan to sell the school. The neighborhood is protected from such change-of-use events by zoning, usage and conversion codes already in existence.

Project approval
Myth: The timely approval of the Monticello project was linked to impropriety.

Fact: Monticello is situated on property that has for decades been zoned for use as a private school pursuant to Director’s Approval.

The approval process was unimpeded because Terrence L. Cranert, Monticello’s general counsel, diligently followed each rule and requirement set forth by the county within this process.

Neither a conditional use permit nor a variance was required because the property is zoned for use as a private school pursuant to Director’s Approval.

Therefore, time-consuming complications were eliminated. The fact that an existing structure, rather than a new structure, was under consideration further smoothed the process.

After many months of preplanning and scrutiny by the various agencies involved, the project reached the approval stage, at which time the project was submitted for formal approval.

Local politico John Kunak is reported in The Signal as suggesting “that there might be some impropriety that went on.”  Such a suggestion, impugning Mr. Cranert’s integrity, is entirely improper.

Mr. Cranert invited scrutiny of the county’s files in regard to the project, and CAC found nothing to suggest the slightest hint of impropriety.

Mr. Cranert is a well-respected, long-time member of the California State Bar Association with a spotless State Bar record.

In the end, this school has been established to provide a quality education for Santa Clarita Valley students and a nurturing environment for much-needed future leaders.

After all is said and done, it is all about the children. Please support the “Monticello Mighty Oaks,” as we call ourselves ... and all our little “acorns.” Lux et Veritas!

Rebecca Cranert is director of Monticello Preparatory School in Castaic.

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