Weed Elementary poised to emerge from pandemic with higher enrollment, new campus, more staff

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald
Weed Elementary School students wear masks and remain at a respectful social distance.

Since COVID-19 struck, Weed Elementary School has faced the pandemic head on, emerging after more than a year of constant testing, mask wearing and a bout of black mold stronger than ever.

The school – which kept its doors open for in-person learning last year as most others transitioned to online learning – is poised to begin the school year on Monday with about 27% more students than it had pre-COVID.

More:Black mold infestation leads to future new campus at Weed Elementary School

"At the end of 2020, we had 255 students," said superintendent/principal Jon Ray, who's starting his second year at the helm of WES. "Now we have almost 325 ... so we've grown significantly."

These extra students came from surrounding school districts, desperate for face to face instruction. Ray said it was the board's priority to remain open since it was important for the community.

The Weed Elementary School building that houses the office, library and two special day classrooms has been affected by dangerous black mold.

25% of district's funding goes to staffing

The bump in enrollment led to an increase in revenue. Ray said 25% of the district's funding is being used for staffing.

This year, WES is concentrating on a wellness program, led by Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist Arden Carr. They also hired four certified wellness coaches: Anna Christie, Mercedez Billingsley, Kellie Perkins and Gwen Hopkins to help children navigate the stresses of childhood, school, and COVID.

In addition, longtime junior high teacher Allison Blankenship has been tapped for the school's new assistant principal position. 

"The board wanted more support for the teachers and WES families," said Ray. "We're thrilled to have Allison in this new role."

A rendering of what Weed Elementary School's new campus will look like after it is finished in 2023.

More:Some Weed parents want Weed High School to part ways with current district

Blankenship's transition to leadership has created an opening for a new English and language arts teacher. Ray said he's looking for a replacement, but he has a "plan B" in mind if they can't find one right away.

The school also has a new resource teacher. Nathan Solus, a Mount Shasta High School graduate with a master's degree in special education from California State University Sacramento, previously taught at Elk Grove Unified School District.

Weed Elementary School principal/superintendent Jon Ray stands in front of his campus with a rendering of how the school will look from the same spot after it is rebuilt. The school will be torn down and rebuilt due to health risks found in the buildings last year.

New campus is result of black mold discovery

At the same time the WES was navigating COVID, Ray received bad news: one of the school's buildings was infested with dangerous black mold, which was the result of a leak the previous winter. After further testing, a second building was found to be affected, prompting students in 3rd-8th grades, as well as the office staff, to temporarily move into 16 portable classrooms, situated in two rows now known as "The Avenue."

Construction on the school's new cafeteria and multipurpose room is set to begin next month, said Ray. The condemned buildings will eventually be demolished and a new, state of the art building will be constructed in their place. 

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The new school building will have a heating and air conditioning system that will allow for better ventilation; an outside amphitheater; new separate playgrounds to accommodate the different classes; and heated walkways with an overhang for students in snowy weather.  

The Weed Union Elementary School District issued a debt note for $3.5 million to help with a portion of the cost. The Certificate of Participation is a fancy term for a public agency to take out loan like a second mortgage, Ray explained.

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The state will pick up the remainder of the cost, which is estimated at $32 million for a total cost of $35.5 million. 

"We should be completely done by August of 2023," said Ray.

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation, lifelong Siskiyou County resident.