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Our motto is KIDS FIRST... Every Student, Every Day!   Walnut Valley USD is proud to be a National Schools to Watch District with numerous National Blue Ribbon, California Gold Ribbon, and California Distinguished School awards. 

Getting to Know District of Choice

April 23, 2024

By Kelli Gile, Office of Community Resources

WALNUT, CA--Parents, students, and school officials had the opportunity to share their experiences with the District of Choice (DOC) program on Friday.

Walnut Valley USD Superintendent Dr. Robert Taylor facilitated a webinar with five participating districts hosted by Senator Josh Newman who recently introduced Senate Bill 897.

“The way I see it, DOC is the great equalizer,” said Walnut High School parent Betsy Castellanos.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from - you’re received with open arms.”

The resolute parent researched 35 local school districts before making the pivotal decision twelve years ago.

“Education is the key in our family and we found a really great fit in Walnut Valley!” she said.

Castellanos shared that although their home district is a good one, “it wasn’t right for our daughter, Pitzil (Avila-Castellanos),” who began attending Walnut Valley as a kindergartener and is now a Walnut High junior.

“We’re looking at colleges now!” Castellanos said.

“And DOC made all of this possible!”

Participants also heard directly from students that have been able to attend school thanks to the program.

“The District of Choice program has opened countless doors for me,” said Pitzil Avila-Castellanos, 16, who has already been contacted by Harvard, Brown, and the Claremont Colleges.

“I push myself every day to be a better student and person because I know that I have been given an incredible opportunity.”

The high-achieving teen shared that being a DOC student has required diligence from her family including a 30-minute commute each way to school.

Pitzil is involved in ASB, Project Lead the Way, track, computer science, and robotics - just to name a few.

“But, in turn, Walnut Valley has guided and molded me while providing so many rich experiences.”

Parent Billy Fermin has two children, a 2nd grader and 6th grader, that attend Walnut Valley schools.

“District of Choice has played a huge part in their success both academically and as well-rounded individuals,” he said.

Fermin credits the DOC program for giving parents the autonomy to choose based on the right fit for their child.

“And that speaks volumes.”

“I’m very grateful to have that choice and to send my kids to a great district like Walnut Valley,” he added.

Fermin’s son, Ethan is a 6th grader at Suzanne Middle School.

“DOC allowed me to attend school with family, friends, and be surrounded by a good community with caring teachers and staff,” the 12-year-old said during the webinar.

“It has challenged me to do better, I’ve been exposed to the IB program, and joined leadership.”

 “I love DOC!” Ethan said.

“Many folks don’t know the benefits of District of Choice,” Sen. Newman said during the meeting that included testimonials from Glendora, Charter Oak, Riverside, and Oak Park school districts.

“Your geography shouldn’t be your destiny.”

The public school choice program allows students to enroll in other districts that open their borders.

Senate Bill 897 aims to eliminate the sunset date and program cap that doesn’t account for current student population trends.

District of Choice was established in 1993 and has been reauthorized six times, most recently in 2022.

There are 10,000 participating students in 45 public school districts throughout California.

DOC students are treated as if they live within the district’s boundaries.

Districts cannot consider academic performance, athletic ability, or any other protected class, including race or immigration status.

Of Walnut Valley’s 14,000 student enrollment, 2,433 are District of Choice kids this year from 33 districts in Southern California.

“I think it’s important to address some of the misinformation about DOC cherry-picking students,” Supt. Dr. Taylor said.

“We do not (nor are we legally allowed to) ‘pick and choose’.”

“In the 11 years that I’ve been superintendent we’ve taken every single kindergartener through 12th grade student that has applied for District of Choice,” he said.

“We haven’t turned down a single one of them.”

The late WVUSD Superintendent Dr. Ron Hockwalt was known for his “Kids First” philosophy across the state.

“He believed all parents should have access to educational opportunities for their kids regardless of what their address might happen to be,” Supt. Dr. Taylor shared.

“One of the biggest reasons kids come to Walnut Valley is the outcomes,” Dr. Taylor said.

“We believe our kids are prepared for life.”

For more information about the District of Choice program, please visit


WVUSD parents and students share during a District of Choice webinar on April 19. 


Walnut High School junior Pitzil Avila-Castellanos competes during recent track meet. 


Walnut High School junior Pitzil Avila-Castellanos on a recent college tour.