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Pomona Unified School District Constructs a Village at Indian Hill

November 2001

Pomona, CA -- No one knows for sure how many students will appear on the first day of elementary school in the Pomona Unified School District. At the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, the region first became known for its citrus orchards. Today, it is home to the Los Angeles County Fair and a diverse population of 150,000 people with a majority (54%) Hispanic population.

The low cost of living draws new immigrants to the community, but they move on when they can and others take their place. The school system must accommodate a transient population with limited English speaking skills where most households live below the poverty line. Preparing a school for an unknown number of students (often varying from 1,000 to 3,000) adds to the special challenges for this district.

From Business to Books
In 1995, the Pomona Board of Education and Superintendent Patrick Leier recognized that they could not just plan for variance; the district needed to address the poverty of the community to improve educational opportunities for its children. Under Leier's leadership, the district purchased a depressed regional mall and turned it into the Village at Indian Hill. Part urban renewal, part community project, part school, the location offers a unique and intriguing model for communities everywhere.

The transformation from failed retail space to community center required a rethinking of education space, education funding, and ultimately, the education experience for both K-12 students and the surrounding community. The result is a flex space elementary school, an academy-based high school, and much needed retail space for service-oriented businesses and community organizations such as HeadStart, a NASA/JPL Research Center and a local history museum.

The flex space enables the district to bus elementary students from overcrowded schools to a safe, secure learning environment. In fall 2001, 1,800 students attended elementary classes at Pueblo East, Pueblo North and Pueblo South. The Village Academy High School occupies a separate "compartment" of the same facility and will support 400 students.

Commercial Bargains
The Village at Indian Hill is not just about repurposing an existing structure. The district is experimenting with acceptable ways to introduce enterprise into the education process by creating a business rather than a marketing relationship with their partners. The school and retail companies at Village at Indian Hill work together in a unique, symbiotic partnership that offers students hands-on learning opportunities, while businesses benefit from skilled labor and reduced infrastructure expenses.

According to Raymond G. Harder, Director of the Technology and Media Academy: "We are training students to become skilled workers in addition to well-educated citizens. Our business partners help us hone our curriculum to prepare students for careers. This facility brings the educational system and the business community side by side in a way that benefits both."

New Funding Models
The district formed the non-profit Pomona Valley Educational Foundation to create an endowment for educational programs that support student learning. A private entity closely aligned with the district, the foundation manages all business relationships including commercial leases. They also pursue grants and equipment donations.

The foundation has two primary revenue streams: leasing of commercial space within the mall complex and rental of the high-tech conference facilities. Retail companies lease space in the complex and may provide applied learning opportunities for students enrolled in the academy programs. In partnership with the nearby Sheraton Fairplex, the foundation also manages a high-tech conference facility.

"We're bringing money into the school system with creative leasing," says Harder. "We provide the conference facilities, high-tech equipment, and technical expertise. As we train our students, they will earn credits and cash by offering their services, skills and expertise to local businesses and even back to the district."

Traditional Funding Sources
Funding for the purchase, design and architectural work came from Federal Qualified Zone Academy Bonds. Federal E-rate funds and California's Digital High School and Library grants has helped to bring technology to the school system. In addition to these one-time grants, the district receives funds for enrolled students based on the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) and the impoverished student population qualifies for state and federal categorical programs.

Partnerships with corporations, educational institutions and other non-profits further strengthen the community and provide resources. By opening the facility to adult education at night, the district splits the cost of equipment with higher education partners and brings a much-needed service to the community. The school has also attracted grants and partnership programs from companies such as: Apple, AT&T, Cisco Systems, Compaq, CompUSA, NASA/JPL, and many more.

A Community Vision
What was once 55 acres of vacant, sub-standard commercial space is now a highly visible, quality, state-of-the-art business and education center. The project has invested more than $30 million in new development and operational funding with the hope of bringing stability and economic growth to the community of Pomona. This is a community to watch and see if their motto becomes reality: successful businesses, successful schools, successful children, successful families, and successful communities.