Proposed charters debated in meeting |

Proposed charters debated in meeting

There was standing room only in the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District board room at last Thursday’s heated public hearing on the proposed new charter schools in Olympic Valley.

Parents, teachers, and local charter proponents and staff spoke to the Board of Trustees and district staff on both schools’ charter petitions, which are up for review by the district.

The board will award or deny both charters at the Jan. 13 meeting, said district staff.

Both Adrienne Forbes, who is petitioning for Pacific Crest Academy, and Don Rees, who is petitioning for Sierra Preparatory School, spoke to the audience and the board about their charters before members of the public made comments.

Comments from parents and teachers included: disappointment in the amount of time to make public comment with limited information, the desire to consider the charters with an open mind, the importance of charter options and alternative options in the district and concern over financial impact on the district. Parent Wendi Olson spoke in support of the proposed charters, saying her children do not fit into the regular public school system.

Board members’ comments included concern over transportation to the schools and whether Sierra Preparatory was really a conversion from a private school to a public school.

Jayna Gaskell, co-founder and head of Prosser Creek Charter School, spoke as a member and leader of the charter school community. She indicated to board members that while she “highly supports charter options in the community,” she was concerned with “gaps in the two charters.”

She said that problems include no mention of collective bargaining for the teachers and no mention of special education needs. She said charters need to be airtight and well-written to succeed under current charter laws.

“I was reading the charters in hopes we had a viable charter alternative,” Gaskell said in a phone interview. “I was disappointed in the lack of understanding in the charter petitions.”

“Charter school developers need to spend at least six months to one year developing their charters and getting to know charter legislation and regulations in order to to ensure they are accountable to the state and principles of public education, she said.”

Forbes described Pacific Crest Academy as a kindergarten through 6th-grade, year-round college preparatory school, with a strong emphasis on field and outdoor science.

“The feedback I’ve gotten from our community is we provide a small, six to eight student per class, full-day, structured program with an afternoon outdoor science program,” Forbes said at the hearing.

The proposed enrollment is 60 children, drawing from both the Prosser Creek Charter School and district schools.

She said the charter calls for an open admission policy, meaning there will be no discrimination in enrollment.

“If there are children with special needs, we’ll contract with the school district if needed,” she said.

Sierra Preparatory School also be a year-round college preparatory school with an emphasis on outdoor/science education, serving grades seven through 12. Rees said at the meeting he was asked by local parents to apply for a public charter in Squaw Valley. Sierra Prep would be the fourth school Rees has started. Rees currently is head of school at Squaw Valley Academy, a private day and boarding school drawing students locally, nationally and internationally.

Glenshire Elementary teacher Reina Markheim, who is also the president of the Tahoe-Truckee Educators Association, mentioned at the meeting her concern that Sierra Prep may be Squaw Valley Academy converting to a public school. She questioned whether being the head of a private school would conflict with being director of a public school.

Rees maintained that the two schools and their programs would be separate.

“There will be no change to Squaw Valley Academy, we are not converting it,” Rees said. “The effect will be that we will undoubtedly lose some of our day-school students for financial reasons.”

He said the charter would operate as a separate program, with site-based classes in a leased facility somewhere in Squaw Valley, taught by California credentialed teachers. He said that the two schools may share some teachers for certain classes, such as Advanced Placement calculus, if allowed.

The proposed enrollment for Sierra Prep is 85 students. He said there would be no classes with more than 20 students and he hopes to average eight or nine students per class.

Both Markheim and Gaskell mentioned that the number of signatures on the petition for Pacific Crest Academy doesn’t fit with the number of students expected to enroll in the school and the projected class size. Forbes said at the meeting she would like to see small classes for approximately six to eight students. Her projected enrollment is 60 students.

According to state law, a petition for a charter must contain one-half of the signatures of either “meaningfully interested” parents or teachers based on the estimate of enrollment or employment of the charter school.

Including Forbes signature as the leading petitioner, there were a total of three teachers’ signatures. Forbes said the number is accurate and they are expecting six teachers to make up the total staff.

“I believe in a comprehensive kindergarten through grade six school,” Forbes said. “I believe in an under 15 (students to one teacher) ratio.”

TTUSD Board President Suzanne Prouty explained at the meeting the law in granting denial or acceptance of a charter school is very specific. Board members and district staff have a list of five criteria they must use to evaluate the charter petitions.

According to state law described by the California Schools Boards Association, the school district cannot deny the charter petitions unless it makes written factual findings to support one, or more of the following:

– The charter school presents an unsound educational program for the pupils enrolled in the charter school.

– The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to implement the program set forth in the petition.

– The petition does not contain the number of required signatures.

– The petition does not contain required affirmations (affirmations include, school will be non-sectarian and school will be non-discriminatory)

– The petition does not contain a reasonably comprehensive description of the 14 elements of the charter school which are: educational program description, measurable pupil outcomes, assessment methods of student progress, governance structure, credentials of teaching staff, health and safety, racial/ethnic balance efforts, financial audit, suspensions and expulsions, retirement provisions for staff, attendance alternatives, employment rights and dispute resolution.

“These elements need to get defined really clearly,” Prouty said.

She said the board and staff will not consider how the charter schools could impact the district financially.

“We cannot use that as criteria,” she said. “That is irrelevant to the process.”

The district’s attorney will work with staff to analyze the charter applications.

“I think the petition does match the criteria,” Forbes said of the petition for Pacific Crest Academy. “I have researched charters for three years as an educator. It has taken me, personally, months to develop this charter.”

“Charters are a call for our federal government to our states to provide alternatives in the public school system. That’s what charters do,”she said.

Forbes said an information session on the role of California charter schools in the public schools is scheduled for Jan. 2, at the Squaw Valley Academy administration building, 235 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley.

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