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Alta Sierra is an award-winning school in the Buchanan area of the Clovis Unified School District. It has the distinction of being a National Blue Ribbon School, California Gold Ribbon School, California Distinguished School and National School to Watch. Alta Sierra is on the cutting edge of technology in its Academic Block, science and math classes, which utilize a 1:1 computer to student ratio.  Two of the most recent accomplishments for Alta Sierra are being designated as a Google Certified School and a Digital Citizenship Certified School.


By Edna Herstein

The following is an excerpt from "50 Unified Years:  Building a Tradition of Excellence in Clovis Unified Before, During & After Unification" 

Culmination of a dream

The building of Alta Sierra Intermediate School was the culmination of a dream for former Superintendent Dr. Floyd B. “Doc” Buchanan, Clovis Unified’s superintendent of 31 years (1960-1991). He had envisioned an education complex comprised of an individual elementary, intermediate and high school on one parcel of land. A child’s education would be streamlined from grades kindergarten through 12; facilities and resources could be shared; cross-age tutoring could take place. The benefits were many, and Clovis Unified School District was poised to bring the dream to fruition with the need to build schools to accommodate rapid population growth to the northeast of the heart of Clovis.

Alta Sierra’s official opening in 1991 marked the beginning of the Buchanan Educational Center, the first educational center built in Clovis Unified, with Buchanan High School to follow in 1993 and Garfield Elementary in 1994.

Alta Sierra, named for the ranch that had previously occupied the land where the school was built, is positioned on the northwest corner of the education complex bounded by Peach, Minnewawa, Nees and Teague avenues.

The school was designed by Darden Architects and built by Swinerton-Walberg. It includes 47 classrooms, a library media center, administrative offices, a gymnasium and a multipurpose room, all centered on an open-air amphitheater located at the heart of the campus. Dr. Buchanan once explained to Devin Blizzard, recent principal of Alta Sierra, that he believed all of the administrator’s eyes should be toward the students and not facing the streets. It is for this reason that the school’s three cluster offices and the principal’s office face the amphitheater.

In the beginning

It took approximately 16 months to complete construction of the school. In the beginning, it was surrounded on all sides by orchards. Original staff members reported that when the wind blew, the campus was often covered by topsoil.

There was not a kitchen or cafeteria window when the school first opened. Students lined up outside the attendance windows to be served their hot lunches. Large portable restrooms complete with sinks and running water had to be used before the completion of the permanent structures.

But, despite the challenges, said Donna Wetzel, who served as ASI’s first activities director, “opening a new school was a wonderful experience, and the staff really became a family. We really had a wonderful time building all of the traditions that would mark the level of excellence that Alta Sierra enjoys.”

Wetzel recalled several memorable “firsts” at Alta Sierra. “The first rally that we had was out on the Alta football field because there was no gym yet. I had the Bruin mascot dropped in by helicopter — you sure couldn’t do that now!” she said. “I also remember that the first formal for the Buchanan High students was held in the Alta Sierra multipurpose room. We didn’t realize that we had a silent fire alarm, and right in the middle of the dance the fire department showed up! Apparently, our smoke machine for the dance had triggered an alarm and we didn’t know it.”

Randy Rowe was Alta Sierra’s first principal. The first students at Alta Sierra were eighth- and ninth-graders who had previously attended Clark and Kastner intermediate schools.

“Getting those Kastner Thunderbirds and Clark Chieftains to love each other and blend into being Bruins was a challenge,” said Wetzel. 

During its second year of operation, 1992-93, Alta Sierra consisted of eighth, ninth and tenth grades, which then became the first student body of Buchanan High School when it opened in 1993. From that point forward, only seventh and eighth grades were taught at Alta Sierra.

Enrollment as of 2010 is more than 1,300 students, but at times has swelled to more than 1,800 hitting an enrollment high in 2006-07, just prior to the opening of CUSD’s Granite Ridge Intermediate which alleviated Alta Sierra’s overcrowding. To create a small school feel within its large school enrollment, Alta Sierra created three clusters: Polar, Kodiak and Grizzly, each with its own guidance instructional specialist, teachers and administrative staff. Every student is assigned to a cluster for both of their intermediate years where they receive individual counseling and guidance as needed, creating a closer relationship between students and staff.

Principals who have served at Alta Sierra in addition to Rowe and Blizzard have included Gary Giannoni, Gabe Escalera, Carlo Prandini, Don Ulrich and as of 2010, Steve Pagani.

Building unity, pride and champions

“Building unity, pride and champions” was established by the Alta Sierra community in the late 1990s as the school motto. The concept of being united as a learning community remains solidly at the core of everything done today at Alta Sierra, according to Blizzard, exemplified by the fact that since the 1999-2000 school year until the present, the school’s principal has taught a lesson to every incoming seventh-grader about the school motto and how it applies to student success.

“We continue to instill student pride in themselves, their school and their country. Ultimately, our students and professional faculty aspire daily in our actions to do all that is requisite to truly be a champion,” Blizzard said during his principalship. “As part of being a champion, we hope that each member of the faculty and, additionally, each student embraces service to the community. The entire Buchanan Educational Center has become very well known for community service including the region’s largest blood drive, annual clothing donations, food donations and fundraising for charities.”

Bear Nation

The Bear was designated as the mascot for Buchanan High School, a nod to Dr. Buchanan, who received his doctorate at UC Berkeley, which boasts the Golden Bear mascot. Alta Sierra immediately adopted the Bruin as its mascot. Buchanan High’s Bear, Alta Sierra’s Bruin and Garfield Elementary’s Cub mascots form the educational center’s “Bear Nation.”

Unique school firsts

The campus at Alta Sierra features nine full-sized soccer/football fields which are shared with Buchanan High School. These facilities, as well as the softball complex and the football stadium, the three schools serving grades kindergarten through 12, and the Medical Therapy Unit housed on Garfield’s campus, make the Buchanan Educational Center the only complex of its kind in the state.

Alta Sierra was the first school in the San Joaquin Valley to incorporate an Anytime Anyplace Anyone Laptop (AAAL) Learning Program which extended laptop usage in classrooms across the domains of English, social studies, science and mathematics. The school’s strong laptop program was reinforced early on by placing additional computers in academic block classes and making additional laptops available to loan students unable to purchase their own laptops. Don Ulrich, principal of Alta Sierra in 2001, said that the laptops were used as a technology tool to help students access a higher level of research, make presentations using video and Power Point, and enhance their writing skills to prepare them to use the tool in high school, higher education and throughout their lives. The program used technology as a tool to further enhance and enrich the academic environment for all students.

Alta Sierra and Buchanan were the first CUSD schools to have all staff members on e-mail.

The school presently prepares cohorts of students to participate in Career Technical Education pathways in energy management (environmental energy) and also in the technical fine arts, both of which can be continued through their education at Buchanan High, which houses specialized career programs in these areas.

Alta Sierra developed a unique program called Program Reach to promote cultural understanding and education, which has been shared both state and nationwide. The school was also the first to create a Restorative Justice pilot program, which strives to integrate discipline into the institutional practices.

Now an annual event, Alta Sierra was the first school to host a FIRST LEGO Robotics Regional Championship in 1995. The Regional event has grown to be one of the largest in California.

Alta Sierra Intermediate SARC Report

Clovis Unified SARC Reports

Clovis Unified School District: Be the best you can be in mind, body, and spirit
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