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Truckee’s first charter school eyes fall start

SHERRY MAYS

Parents of Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District students will have another education option for their children beginning in the fall, but not everyone will be up to the challenge.

Jayna Gaskell, owner of Education Avenues, an educational consulting business, said the new Prosser Creek Charter School will take its first classes this year, and will prove to be a hands-on opportunity for parents and students searching for an alternative to educational norms.

“There are many students being home-schooled now,” she said. “This school is more site-based, which means if there is an interest in a certain course, the school will go to great strides to make a class available.”

The new school will use the Cedar Smoke School site, a former alternative school that focused on environmental studies.

Gaskell said the school will offer site-based education mixed with distance learning. Distance learning involves home-schooled students and will link educators and students with the help of technology.

“If enough parents want a Spanish class, then we will get a Spanish teacher and will offer classes,” she said.

“There are parents in the district who want to play a larger role in their children’s lives,” she said. “This school offers the best of both worlds. There is still the home-teaching aspect, but with a center for science labs, art classes and other courses that parents don’t feel comfortable teaching.”

Filling a need

TTUSD Superintendent Vince Deveney said this is an chance to get students who are not in mainstream schooling back into the system.

“Hopefully it (Prosser Creek) will fill a need for the students who are not getting their education within the district,” he said. “I anticipate the school will be positive for the district and students.”

Prosser Creek is part of TTUSD, but will operate under state guidelines for charter schools. The school will function under its own budget, mostly driven by grant funding, but will share the actual daily attendance funding from the state with the district.

Deveney said the new school will have to adjust to the actual daily attendance funding because it will be difficult to track, but said it will be interesting to see how the school develops with its curriculum and funding.

“It will be fun to see it (the school) grow,” Deveney said. He added the enrollment will be minimal at first but has the opportunity to reach

into other counties throughout the state.

Gaskell agreed that the district could benefit by enrolling students from areas throughout the state. Charter schools have the ability to enroll students from anywhere in the state.

The application for the school is reviewed by the state and a approval waiver is issued. Curriculum and funding are the main points reviewed by the state. Although the curriculum is generally open, the standards are not. Gaskell said Prosser Creek students will have to perform above state standards for the school to remain open.

“The school is free, just like other public education,” Gaskell said. “So we have to seek other funding avenues.”

Gaskell said the difficulty in beginning a charter school usually stems from the inability to find adequate facilities.

“The Cedar Smoke School site gave us the perfect location,” she said. “We are fortunate.”

“We” includes Gaskell and a group of Lincoln-based educators, who are also involved in the establishment of a charter school. Gaskell has been working for more than six months on the accreditation of the Lincoln Charter School.

But that wasn’t Gaskell’s first exposure to innovative education. She was the Director of Admissions and Academics at Squaw Valley Academy before creating Educational Avenues last fall.

“Working in private education has given me a lot of insight in the curriculum for the charter school,” she said. “I have also had the opportunity to meet so many innovative educators in the district. There are exciting things happening throughout the district and teachers who are making them happen.”

Because the charter school is driven by parent interest and input, Gaskell has scheduled two informational meetings: Thursday, May 14, at the Truckee Community Center at 7 p.m. and Wednesday, May 20, at the Tahoe City Public Utility District at 7 p.m.

Gaskell said there are 53 district students who are currently being taught by affidavit, which means they are not being taught in standardized curriculum.

“We are, in effect, expanding the district and what it has to offer at no additional cost to (it),” she said.

An assembly bill restricting the number of California charter schools to 100 was recently repealed, giving educators like Gaskell an opportunity for alternative teaching.

“This isn’t going to be a fly-by-night school where students aren’t challenged,” she said. “There will be performance-based learning, which means the Prosser Creek students will have to perform equal to or better than the state (academic) standards.”

For information, call Gaskell at 550-0889.

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