SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Summer vacation is officially over in Santa Maria. On Tuesday, thousands of students in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District went back to class for the start of the new 2016-17 school year.
“I’ve been waiting to come back to school because I have a new teacher, so I wonder what she’s going to be like, and all my friends are here,” said Ontiveros Elementary 6th grader Issac Guerrero.
At Ontiveros Elementary, more than 1,000 students began class at 8:00 a.m. As they entered the campus, they were greeted by new superintendent Luke Ontiveros, a Santa Maria native who has been on the job since July 1.
“It’s exciting to be back in an area where you grew up and see kids with that excitement on the first day, parents with that excitement on the first day,” said Ontiveros. “First day of school is always about possibilities, and so being here at this school and to see those possibilities start for those kids is very gratifying.”
Spending the morning on the campus was particularly poignant for Ontiveros since the school is named after his great-great-great grandfather, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros.
“It’s pretty neat to be able to go to a school that’s named after someone who blazed a trail for your family in the area,” said Ontiveros.
Ontiveros now heads up a district that has seen its enrollment soar to more than 17,000 students. The number is between 400-450 more than last year, and is a record for the district which includes 16 elementary schools and four junior high schools.
With enrollment continuing to climb each year, increasing and maintaining facilities is a top priority. During the summer break, the district spent $10 million in various improvements and enhancements.
“Our facilities and maintenance and operations guys did some yeoman’s works over the summer,” said Ontiveros. “In about eight weeks, they coordinated the installation of 26 portable classrooms across 11 campuses. They did a lot of work on access to school sites, bus drop-offs and things of that nature.”
Some of the renovations were paid through funds from Measure T, the $45 million bond which was passed by city voters in November 2014. Other improvements came through general construction funds.
For students, the first day of school wasn’t so much about new facilities, it was about returning back to class, to begin the next phase of their academic career.
“I’m excited because summer is kind of boring, doing nothing all day, so I like to go back to school, said Ontiveros 6th grader Sophia Valdez.
While many students were excited about the return of school, so too were many parents.
“(My daughter) is excited about starting a new grade and a new teacher in an awesome school,” said mother Elizabeth Eliserio.
Looking down the road, Ontiveros believes the future is bright for the district.
“There’s a great foundation in place here,” said Ontiveros. “The vision statement for the district is ‘we’re here to prepare students to be successful citizens’ and that is a great goal to be thinking long-term because today’s kindergartners who started the first day of school today, when they graduate from high school, it’s going to be 2029 and we have to think about how different the world is going to be at that point in time and what our responsibility is to be able to adapt to make changes to help those children be successful.”
The 2016-17 school year will run through Thursday, June 15.