Officials at Cerro Coso College are concerned at the prospect of the Tehachapi Unified School District needing its school facility at 126 S. Snyder Ave., leaving the community college without a campus in Tehachapi.

Currently, the college — with headquarters in Ridgecrest — leases a portion of the campus that TUSD Superintendent Stacey Larson-Everson calls the “Monroe Facility” to Cerro Coso.

But at a meeting of the board of trustees on Dec. 14, Larson-Everson noted that the college’s lease will end on June 20. She told board members that the district’s administrative team believes the facilities of the district should first serve K-12 students.

The campus on Snyder Avenue might be used to allow expansion of the Tehachapi Independent Learning Academy and Tehachapi Adult School, she said, perhaps offering “blended programs” for TILA that would have students meet with teachers in person in addition to doing their work online.

Cerro Coso’s lease for about 13,000 square feet of building space was signed in July 2019 and amended in November 2020 to take on more space and increase the monthly payment from $3,600 to $3,865.

Larson-Everson said she values the current partnership with Cerro Coso and opportunities for district students. She suggested that the college might be able to hold night classes at THS. And before going forward with planning or further discussions with the college, she asked for the board’s input.

After a brief discussion during the Dec. 14 Zoom meeting, the board asked the superintendent to come back with a plan for how the space would be used if the lease with the college was not extended.

Nancy Weinstein, newly elected president of the board, said she doesn’t want to negatively impact students.

Larson-Everson was asked to return to the board its February meeting with a comprehensive plan.

Response from Cerro Coso

Natalie Dorrell, director of public relations and institutional advancement for Cerro Coso College, said the college has enjoyed a collaborative relationship with TUSD management since 2015, when the college expanded its services into Tehachapi to meet the growing needs of the community for higher education services. Cerro Coso is part of Kern Community College District, along with Bakersfield College and Porterville College.

“This partnership has allowed us to substantially increase our programs and services to area residents over the last six years,” Dorrell said. “As our lease is coming to a close on June 30, 2022, we have been in discussions with TUSD regarding either an extension or renewal of the lease, but we were not aware that TUSD had come to any conclusions at this point.”

She said the college has met with the city and developers to explore permanent options for a college location in the Tehachapi area.

“It just takes time to build and get through the state facilities approval systems,” she said. “At this point, the college needs reliable and stable office and educational space, if it is going to continue to offer services and programs in the area. Meeting the higher education needs of Tehachapi continues to be an institutional priority, and the college has plans to provide even more services and programs that will open up new possibilities and opportunities for community members and assist with local workforce needs.”

Dorrell said losing the Snyder Avenue space and moving completely to evening instruction would be detrimental to the programs and services now being offered in Tehachapi.

“It would, in fact, mean taking a step backwards to where we started in 2015,” she said “We see significant potential in Tehachapi and the surrounding communities and have worked hard to find times that serve the range of students, from high school students to community members. The college is currently offering programs in liberal arts, psychology, business, administration of justice, and emergency medical services while planning new programs in entrepreneurship and cybersecurity.”

Considering the possibility of evening classes at THS, Dorrell said this would be counter to what the college has learned about the preferences of Tehachapi-area students.

“We’ve found that because many adult students also have children going to school at TUSD and so prefer to take classes during the day,” she said.

And the additional classes offered locally have been beneficial to local high school students, as well, she noted.

“Because we can offer a range of classes, just this past May, three Tehachapi high school students graduated from Cerro Coso with associate degrees before they even graduated high school, by taking classes through the college’s dual and concurrent enrollment programs, a result of our ongoing partnership with the TUSD,” she said.

She added that the college’s counseling and tutoring services are successfully open and serving students throughout the day, and these services would be curtailed if the college was forced to move back to an evening program.

Dorrell said the college is hopeful something can be worked out with TUSD.

“Cerro Coso Community College is open to any and all suggestions the community might have and is willing to work collegially with TUSD management to continue to meet the educational needs of the region,” she said. “We have grown very fond of the community, appreciate their strong support, and look forward to continuing to meet the higher education needs of the region.”

Campus history

The campus on Snyder Street first served the community as Tehachapi High School. According to historian and author Judy Barras, in her book “The Long Road to Tehachapi,” the first school building at Snyder Avenue and what was then G Street (now Tehachapi Boulevard) was built around 1930 at a cost of $50,000. In 1944, a fire gutted the building but it was rebuilt and continued to house high school students until a new high school was built on Anita Drive (currently Jacobsen Middle School). The junior high then moved from its campus on South Curry Street (now Tompkins Elementary School) and eventually became JMS, remaining on Snyder Street until the latest new Tehachapi High School opened in the fall of 2003.

Monroe School for many years was an elementary school located near Monolith. That campus, now a wildland fire station operated by Kern County Fire, later housed Monroe High School, the district’s continuation school. By 2011, when the school received a six-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Monroe High had been moved to the Snyder Street campus and remained there for a time even after Cerro Coso began using some of the space. But in the summer of 2018, the TUSD board accepted a staff recommendation to move Monroe High students to the THS campus, where they remain.

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: claudia@claudiaelliott.net.