New Schools at the Agnews Campus

Max Shanmugasundaram

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There are a total of twenty-nine schools within Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD), including adult education programs and preschools. SCUSD is planning on expanding these facilities in the coming years by opening three new schools.
According to SCUSD’s website, they are “developing state-of-the-art facilities for a 600 student elementary school, 1,000 student middle school, and 1,600 student high school on a 55-acre site.” The goal of these new schools is to focus on educating a population of students that continues to grow and change along with the environment they reside in. The three-dimensional renderings of the high school and middle school multi-purpose rooms have more modern design features and components than those of older schools, such as Wilcox or Santa Clara High School.
The new schools are being built on the Agnews Campus, which was named for Ohio-born pioneer Abram Agnew, who settled in the Santa Clara Valley in 1873. He owned a 115 acre farm, and donated some of his land to railroad companies. The railroads these companies built stimulated the economy and grew the population of Santa Clara, sparking the progress that has made the city a hub of innovation.
The construction of this school is a large undertaking, because of the amount of time, money, and resources that are required to build a functioning school. These limitations have caused the deadline of the construction of the Agnews Campus schools to be extended. Construction of the three campuses began in November of 2018, and the elementary and middle schools were scheduled to open in August of 2020. However, according to SCUSD’s website, construction was delayed due to multiple factors including a long rainy season, a slow state approval process, and limits on contractors’ availability. The latest deadline for the opening of the elementary schools is now August 2021.
Before construction on a school can start, there must be a great deal of planning within different government bodies and agencies. According to Larry Adams, the Director of School Bond Projects at SCUSD, “There are many layers of approval necessary before students can attend school on the campus…. [the SCUSD Board of Trustees] will have taken a hundred or more actions on Agnews before the first student arrives.”
Before construction began, the board had to approve environmental impact reports and clear three measures to pay for the land on which the schools will be built. According to Adams, “The fees for the permits and approvals are in the tens of millions of dollars. The total project budget for all three schools is approximately $500 million.” Detailed inspections are required before the schools can be functional; every detail must be perfect. The project requires approval from the California Department of Education, the California Department of General Services, and the San Jose City Council.
The Agnews Campus project has large implications for the organization of SCUSD. The addition of the schools in North San Jose changes the boundaries for the elementary, middle, and high schools. For example, high school students who live north of Highway 101 will have to go to the high school on the Agnews Campus, instead of coming to Wilcox or Santa Clara. The boundaries for elementary and middle school students will shift once the new campuses open in the fall of 2021. The new high school campus will not be completed until the fall of 2022.
SCUSD sent a survey out to students, staff, and parents within the district, and let them choose which names they would most like to see for the elementary, middle, and high schools. One option was to name one of the schools after Wilcox’s very own Kathleen MacDonald in honor of her continued dedication and involvement in the school community. Ms. MacDonald spent her entire school career in the district. She started her fifty-six year career at SCUSD as a business teacher at Wilcox. In 1995, she became Wilcox’s Vice Principal of Activities, a position she still holds. She was awarded the PTSA Golden Oak Honorary Service award in 2000, the District Administrator of the Year Award in 2005, and the 2018 PTSA Outstanding Administrator Award. According to SCUSD, “56 years of alumni can attest to her dedicated, positive impact on the long term success of generations of students.” Ms. MacDonald’s great dedication to this district is unparalleled as she continues to leave a lasting, positive impact on our community, which can be commemorated by naming a new campus in her honor.
These three new schools are far from complete, but hopefully they will become examples of improvement and progress of education in the South Bay Area.