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Lompoc is a small town, far from the crowds, traffic and opportunities big cities provide, but its collection of schools strive to provide everything students need from preschool through college graduation.

“We’re a high-poverty district, but we believe every single kid deserves the best possible opportunity to make of themselves what they can. We try to take away the roadblocks, to create possibilities for our students to show their talents,” said Lompoc Unified School District Assistant Superintendent John Karbula.

Those efforts include providing a variety of educational paths to serve students’ varying needs: traditional public school campuses; Mission Valley’s in-house independent study; Manzanita, its charter school; and Maple High School, an alternative high school.

“Not every kid fits in a large, comprehensive high school. (Maple's) a much smaller, more intimate setting. It gives those kids something that meets their specific needs. Those are kids that we’re giving a true opportunity to succeed. They might otherwise fall through the cracks,” Karbula said.

Special programs abound in Lompoc, including marine biology field trips to Catalina Island Research Institute; district funding of Scholastic Aptitude Tests and Advanced Placement tests; free student trips to Astro-Camp in Idyllwild; the addition of nine literacy specialists and five math coaches to support teachers; an educational technology media specialist to support all schools in the full integration of print and electronic media for academic purposes; free breakfast and lunch for all students at four of the district’s school sites.

Facilities improvements are also under way. So far, Lompoc Unified School District has completed 320,000 square feet of field renovations at Cabrillo High, Lompoc High, La Canada and La Honda schools. Another 244,000 square feet is currently in the bidding process.

The district’s across-the-board efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

In recent years, several Lompoc area teachers have been named Crystal Apple Educator Award recipients. The peer-nominated award recognizes recipients for their dedication, instructional and motivational skills, ability to challenge and inspire students and ability to interact with students, staff and community members.

In 2018, Lompoc Unified School District employees were represented across most categories. Crystal Apple Award winners included: David Ortiz (La Colina Junior High School) and Kathi Froemming (district office) with the administrative award; Michael Shaf (district office) for certificated staff; and Lauren Aranguran (secondary teacher, Lompoc High School).

“In each of the two previous years, Lompoc also had two Crystal Apple Award recipients. Half the Performing Arts Teachers of the Year have come from Lompoc, and Lompoc had had four California Distinguished/Gold Ribbon schools. That's a huge deal for us,” said Ellen Barger, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

The district also has two distinguished mentor teachers and two Career Technical Educator Awards.

But high school graduation hardly marks the end of an education. Hancock College, based in Santa Maria, continues to develop its Lompoc Valley campus which houses general education and specialized education facilities as well as the Allan Hancock College Basic Law Enforcement Academy, Fire Technology/Fire Academy and Wildland Fire Technology academy, and the state’s first Emergency Medical Services Academy.

“It’s still a commuter campus, but it’s there for the people in the valley to take classes more conveniently than making the drive to Santa Maria or Santa Barbara, whether they’re lifelong learners or working toward a degree,” said Andrew Masuda, director of public affairs and communications for the college.

Students have taken the lead at the college’s Lompoc campus. Their push for complete general education access has led to course schedules that allow students to achieve an entire degree, through classes at the Lompoc Valley center and online offerings, without heading for the main campus.

A push for art on campus led to a student mural project, unveiled in the spring during Mars Week.

“The project was driven by students who wanted to put color and life and personality into that Lompoc Valley center, and it worked,” Masuda said.

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