Just before a blinking red light on Highway 70 is a brand new sign that might be the only glimpse of a small elementary school most people get. The empty parking lot out front and the dark windows make the campus look like it’s perpetually on vacation with nobody there.
The quiet exterior of Marcum-Illinois Elementary School hides the progress being made to improve the school’s facilities and the learning process, which landed it on the nomination list for distinguished schools by the California School Recognition Program.
Sharon McIntosh acts as both principal and superintendent for the kindergarten-through-eighth grade school. As a principal, she’s happy to see her teachers be able to help the school’s 145 students pull its Academic Performance Index score to a 759. This is seated between a basic score of 700 and the school’s proficient goal score of 875.
“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” McIntosh said.
As superintendent, she sees a school halfway down a long road to modernizing its facilities. The school is in the midst of a series of improvements and has already replaced “Lake Marcum,” a poorly draining parking lot that would fill with water every winter after a rainstorm. Now, teachers and staff can use the back lot instead.
“We’re the best-kept secret in the area,” McIntosh said. “People only see an empty backside because of the parking lot in the back.”
Students have been able to eat in the multipurpose room since it practically doubled in size. The lunches they get aren’t prepared at Marcum-Illinois, though. The kitchen is in the middle of being renovated, so the food is prepared at Plumas Lake and brought to the school.
A new sign in front of the school was bought by the Marcum-Illinois Parent’s Club. The group actively raises funds and works on various projects at the school.
In addition to the sign, the club is also in charge of coordinating Marcum-Illinois’ part in the East Nicolaus Labor Day parade. It also organizes fundraising for the sixth-graders’ trip to Woodleaf Outdoor School, ensuring all students can participate.
The school only has nine classrooms, one for each grade. Angela Batko’s second- and third-graders were busy working on their math lesson about “regrouping,” or “borrowing” as their parents would remember it. A long-term substitute teacher until she was hired by Marcum-Illinois, Batko sees the school as having a low profile that hasn’t been recognized enough for what it has done.
“I think a lot of what we do goes unnoticed,” she said. “Maybe they’ll stop at the blinking light and say, ‘Oh, there’s a school over there.’”
• School: Marcum-Illinois Elementary
• Founded: 1926
• Number of students: 145
• Colors: Blue and gold
• Number of teachers: 9
• Mascot: Cougar
• Principal: Sharon McIntosh