Wild Animal Park Annex

Did we really have a school at the SD Zoo Safari Park?

YES! The Wild Animal Park Annex in 1998

In his first week as the new Superintendent of San Pasqual Union School District in July 1997, Jeff Felix was faced with 8 citations for failure to comply with water well regulations from the county of San Diego Health Department. At the same time an application to create an additional restroom facility for the growing school population was denied because of a failure in percolation tests for the septic system. After some investigation, Jeff discovered the land the one-school district was on was leased on a month-to-month basis, which made it ineligible to be in the state building program. With no money to purchase land and time running out before another 100 students arrived, Jeff turned to the districts neighbor, the Zoological Society of San Diego’s Wild Animal Park (WAP).

Jeff met with the general manager of the WAP, Robert McClure in October of 1997. Jeff proposed a joint-use facility, which would be located on the grounds of this popular tourist attraction. The facility would be used by the district’s students during the traditional school year, and by the WAP education department at all other times. The district would build the classrooms and the WAP would maintain it and pay for utilities.

Academically the focus of learning would be on the mission statement of the WAP. The students would learn about endangered animals, tropical rainforests, and natural conservation techniques. California standards would be given in a thematic sense with the WAP mission as the motivation behind the learning.

Jeff proposed piloting the late Dr. Ernest Boyer’s idea for a “Basic School,” which utilized the idea of core commonalities within a curriculum of coherence. Because the “Annex” would physically be apart from the main campus, the Basic School’s sense of community, incorporating all shareholders into the climate, would be a key in maintaining the pride and spirit of the district.

After the school district governing board, the San Diego Zoo governing board, the California Department of Education, San Diego County Office of Education, and the San Diego City Council had finally approved the 10-year agreement in May of 1998, Jeff had only 4 months to complete the job. After moving over 10, 000 cubic yards of dirt, fighting off threats from environmentalists, and ordering placement of the relocatable classrooms at 5:00 am to avoid WAP traffic, the classrooms were open and ready on the first day of school in August 1998.

True to Basic Schools philosophy, teacher collaboration was encouraged over the summer to build the curriculum and set a budget to fund the project. The teachers met many hours every week to design this two-year curriculum. The WAP helped by training teachers in various areas of science, geography, and conservation. Many lessons were created jointly using the vast resources of the educators, doctors, and researchers at the WAP. Even though power to lights and air conditioning still had not been connected, the teachers built their classrooms in WAP style for the first day of school.

Dedication ceremonies were held six weeks later. San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Warden spoke and received special recognition for her work in seeing the project through city red tape in record time. President of the Zoological Society Dr. Kurt Benirschke, spoke of the cooperation between two non-profit entities and how he hoped this model would continue throughout the United States. School district board president O.J. Wolanyk agreed and spoke of how proud he was to be a part of something not only educationally sound, but also fiscally responsible. TV, radio, and all newspapers attended the dedication; a video documentary of the event was filmed by the SDCOE.

Using his technology background and expertise, Jeff also piloted the first Laptop Learning program in San Diego county. Sixth grade students have purchased a laptop computer and are taught in a specially configured classroom by a trained laptop teacher. This popular program will be continued next year in another grade and expanded to include all sixth-grade students. It is the vision of the district for all students grades four through eight to have a laptop computer on their desks everyday by the year 2001.