Magnet school up and running, but fate of teachers hangs heavy
Despite having less than a week to prepare for the school year, teachers and parents say the new Creekside Magnet School is running smoothly. The school has more students than it did as a charter school, and being under the district fold has its benefits – Creekside has busing for the first time and can rely on fellow schools for equipment loans.
Yet many parents bemoan the institutional feel of the school, and teachers are operating under added stress as they go through the hiring process and run a classroom they may not be in charge of in a week.
“I think it’s going amazing, really well,” said parent Nancy Wells, whose daughter Madison is a kindergartner at the school. “I know we have a cohesive group and are part of the school district. I think it’s really accepted in town.”
As of last Friday, the school has 72 students, about 10 more than Creekside had last year as part of the now defunct Prosser Creek Charter School. Missy Mohler, magnet school coordinator and former head of Creekside Charter School, said about eight students came from public schools because of full classrooms. The four Creekside classes are all combined grades except for second grade (K-1, 3-4, and 5-6).
“It’s definitely a go for this year,” said Dennis Williams, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District superintendent. “I’m very pleased to report that it’s going well.”
Because of the school’s late start – the decision to create the magnet school only came a week before the first day of classes – Creekside got off to a difficult start. Without the summer to order supplies, the school lacked basics like paper and pencils. But as a full-fledged member of TTUSD, other elementary schools stepped in to fill the gap. Tahoe Lake loaned the school recess and PE equipment, and Principal Danny Hyde is helping Creekside form a parent teacher organization.
Busing, something else the charter school didn’t have, started on Tuesday. This is especially important for students coming from Truckee.
In addition to transforming from a charter to magnet school, Creekside also has to adjust to being in a new location at Rideout. Despite all the changes, teachers and parents feel the Creekside philosophy remains a constant.
“I think the kids haven’t noticed a thing,” said second-grade teacher Mindy Adams.
Wells said the fact that her daughter was in a class with many of the same students as last year helped the transition.
“Kids are really adaptable,” she said.
While many things remain the same, being an official member of TTUSD means there are some noticeable differences. Because she doesn’t have an administrative credential, Mohler cannot legally head up the magnet school. She is currently working as a consultant to get the school set up, and will retain her leadership position as a lead teacher. Tahoe Lake principal Hyde is acting as an adviser to Mohler in the day to day operation of the school until the district finds an administrator for Creekside. Because of the school’s small size, the district is looking to hire a current principal for the position, said Williams. The administrator would be in charge of two schools, similar to when Hyde was the principal of both Tahoe Lake and Rideout.
The most important thing for parents is that Mohler has an active role at the new school. Other changes, however, are not so easy for parents to weather. Lunches at Thunder Ridge Cafe have been replaced by mediocre cafeteria food, and once small classrooms have grown to 20 students.
“It’s not really Creekside. It’s bigger and different because of the amount of children. It’s lost a bit of its coziness,” said parent Tracey Losce. “It’s feeling more like a public school all the time.”
Other parents said they feel that just by being in a public school setting they are giving up some of the alternative characteristics that attracted them to Creekside in the first place.
“The building itself has an institutional feel that I personally don’t like,” said Mary Cushing, whose daughter is in third grade.
But as long as the teachers stay, say parents, they are willing to overlook what they consider drawbacks to being a district school. That is the crux of the problem facing the magnet school. Creekside’s four teachers have only been hired on as substitutes and are required to take part in the open application process for the full-time positions. So far, the district has received 25 applications. The closing date is Friday, after which TTUSD will hold interviews and make recommendations by the end of next week, according to Williams.
If Creekside’s teachers are not hired, Losce says she and six other parents would pull their children out of the school and sign up with the new independent study program that former Prosser Creek parents in Truckee are enrolling their kids in.
“I am going to stick by my teachers,” said Losce.
Other parents are not so sure of what course of action they will take if Creekside loses its teachers.
“I don’t know what I will do, to tell you the truth,” said Cushing. “I will be heart broken. The cog of the wheel is the teachers and Missy.”
The teachers are bearing the brunt of the waiting game. In addition to investing time and energy into starting up a classroom, they have to prepare for interviews and fill out a time-consuming application, which requires creating a lesson plan and writing an essay.
“They are dealing with more than a full plate,” said Mohler of the teachers. “It’s quite a test for the staff.”
Second grade teacher Adams said not knowing if she will have a job in a few days has taken an emotional toll on her.
“It’s really, really difficult. I go through peaks and valleys.”
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