From left, superintendent Robin Hopper, left, enjoys a lighter moment with State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, and his wife, Mae.

From left, superintendent Robin Hopper, left, enjoys a lighter moment with State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, and his wife, Mae.

It was a golden opportunity.

Mariposa County Unified School District Superintendent Robin Hopper, along with staff members throughout the district and County, were able to spend time with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on May 5. The chance to have the attention of someone of Torlakson’s stature doesn’t come along often.

Hopper said she talked to a few longtime employees of the school district and none of them could recall a State Superintendent of Public Instruction ever visiting Mariposa County.

As the current chairman for the Small County Caucus, a subgroup of the 58 California county school superintendents, Hopper occasionally has the chance to speak with Torlakson.

But this was different. This was an opportunity for Torlakson to speak with Hopper, and others, while being able to see firsthand the challenges posed for schools here.

“He has a great memory and he was able to make a lot of positive comments about what we are able to do with our limited resources, but also take a lot of note of things that he noticed about the sparsity of our schools, how far away they are and some of our limited resources and some of the needs we have,” Hopper said.

Torlakson concerned about connectivity

Hopper said “in Yosemite Valley, we had a lot of great discussions.”

“We were able to have lunch around the table with all of that staff,” Hopper said. “I loved the way he listened and interacted to their concerns as a rural school. … He was very intuitive and just listened.”

One of the discussions revolved around improving internet connectivity.

“He is still very concerned about the connectivity in our Park schools but was excited to see we finally have a short-term solution for El Portal Elementary,” Hopper said.

Hopper said at the El Portal site, the school had been operating with just 6 megabyte internet speed, but recently, it was boosted to a 50 megabyte system, just in time for end of the year testing to begin. She said at some points in the past, only one or two people could use the internet at a time.

“We’ve really problem solved that,” Hopper said. “We finally got a short-term solution underway while we’re working with many entities to get a long-term solution.”

A chance to enjoy Yosemite

Over the weekend, Torlakson and his wife, Mae, along with Hopper and a group of district employees were able to explore Yosemite National Park while being taken on a guided tour by El Portal Elementary teacher Paul Amstutz.

Torlakson was a former environmental science teacher and had taken his own students in the 1970s to Yosemite National Park.

“That was a lot of fun to see that side of him as well,” Hopper said. “He continued to talk about education and the importance of science education.”

Bond process still being hashed out

In addition to her thoughts on Torlakson’s visit, Hopper provided an update on the statewide school bond process.

Proposition 51, the statewide bond funding for construction and modernization, was approved last November by voters.

Mariposa County also passed Measure L, its own $24 million facility bond. There is a chance that matching funds could be provided by the state to Mariposa County schools, but the process is still being worked through.

Hopper said state officials “have begun releasing information, but we have nothing solid from the state to go on yet.”

“We have to file information with the state on our facilities so that our eligibility for state bond matching funds can be determined,” Hopper added. “We don’t know when those dollars will be available from the state.”

Meanwhile, the Superintendent’s Facility Advisory Committee, comprised of community members, staff and expert facility advisors, has been meeting to prioritize facility needs and projects for the district’s Long Term Facility Master Plan.

Hopper said from the school district standpoint, “we’re doing everything we can right now.”

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