The 2018-19 school year was unlike most for students in Malibu. Challenges included staffing changes, ongoing construction and, of course, dealing with the Woolsey Fire.

For the community at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, the year also had a bittersweet twist: Sixty-four years after it first opened, the school closed its doors to make room for the elementary school merger at the Point Dume Marine Science School site and accommodate a middle school at the Cabrillo site.

Many people remember the school for being a caring, diverse center in Malibu. 

“There’s so many children, so much diversity,” former Cabrillo principal Patricia Cairns said.

“I remember one time a mother saying to me that her children had such a fabulous education at Cabrillo because they really learned how to live in the real world—they didn’t live in a bubble.”

Cairns returned as interim principal in April to close out the school year.

“It’s been an honor for me to have been asked to be here at the very end,” she said.

Online, one parent shared with The Malibu Times, “Two of my three kids graduated fifth grade there and the third just finished second grade. A huge part of our lives, Juan Cabrillo will forever have fond memories for me.” 

Dr. Pamela Herkner, who has been principal of Juan Cabrillo for seven years, was not sure what to make of Malibu when she first arrived to take over as principal, comparing her initial thoughts of the city to something out of People Magazine.

Soon, she was clued into what she called the “small-town, warm, family-friendly atmosphere” of Cabrillo and Malibu. 

In a conversation with the Times, she touched on the impact teachers had in creating that atmosphere. She also thanked educators in an email at the end of the school year.

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A section of this year's special Juan Cabrillo Elementary School yearbook focuses on the history of the school. 

“Thank you for being the role models of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking—those strategies are seen throughout the campus in your daily work, interactions with students, parents and each other!” Herkner wrote in an email addressed to school staff. 

Thirty-eight year Cabrillo veteran Barry Yates—who served the school in various capacities as both teacher and, later, principal—echoed a similar sentiment.

“The thing that never really changed was the generosity of our staff. Even after I left and came back, about 90 percent of the staff was still there,” he said.

“I recall my first day in third grade in the ‘POD’ [playground] got lost at recess, but it was fun,” David Gelbman shared on an online Malibu Times post. “Also enjoyed Mrs. Thompson’s fourth grade class and Mrs. Bolton sixth grade class. I think we were the last sixth grade class there too. Fun times.” 

Yates also worked as a sixth grade teacher back when Cabrillo was kindergarten through sixth grade. Gelbman’s sister, Teresa, Malibu Times office manager, recalled fond memories of being in Yates’ class. 

For Yates, an experience stuck out in particular: “When I returned as the principal in 2005, in that period of time between 2005 and 2012, many of the kids entering Juan Cabrillo were children of former students.”

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Marcie Katzman, a parent to three kids (pictured above) at Juan Cabrillo, said, “When we moved back to California and started at Juan Cabrillo we were welcomed by the staff with love and compassion. My daughter Madelyn was ready for TK and made some amazing friends. Patty Mehring made sure they were Kindergarten ready. My middle son Shane was second grade at the time and fell right into place in Laurel Thorne’s class. He came home every day and reminded us that one of their field trips would be to Mrs. Thorne’s farm and he couldn’t wait.”

“It was fun to see former students bring in their children,” he later added.

As former principal Betty Glass described in a phone call, this change is cyclical. 

Point Dume Marine Science School was closed in 1980 because enrollment was so low, and those students were brought to Cabrillo. Davis said there was a lot of uproar from families and the community, a familiar situation for those who have been involved in the current school merger over the past year.

The school, of course, reopened as the school population increased beyond Cabrillo capacity.

As for the current merger, the people interviewed were hopeful for the future.

“It’s sad but I am happy that the school—Cabrillo—is being reinvented as the middle school,” Yates said. “... I have mixed feelings. You can’t support three elementary schools in Malibu. This seems to be the logical thing to do.”

Cairns reflected on both Cabrillo and PDMSS: “I want to acknowledge ... two schools are closing, not just one school.” 

“They’re headed toward a brand new future,” she said.

Glass, who worked with Cairns throughout the years, said though she was sad to see the school close, “It’s a new beginning. It’s time to make some changes.”

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