“The purpose of the meetings is to share ideas with parents and professionals and find a way to grab some constructive ideas about a charter,” said Committee Chairman Bill Hill. “I think there is a lot of belief that things could be different; better out there. And if that’s the case, we welcome people to tell us.”
Local developer Ron Nunn, who is a member of the steering committee, first broached the idea for a charter school to the Knightsen School Board in March after the school district announced it would be closing its new school – Old River Elementary – at the end of the school year due to financial difficulties.
The group’s original plan was to secure a charter school site in time to open for the 2010-11 school year. But constraints, red tape and a need to better understand the process have prompted the committee to consider the more realistic goal of the 2011-12 school year.
And while the Knightsen site is still a consideration, the committee also exploring other options. “We haven’t completely ruled out Old River,” said Hill. “More importantly, what we’re trying to do is get a better feel of the scope and interest level of people … There are probably more questions than answers at this point and more skepticism from those already in the school system, and that’s the nature of the beast. We hope to be able to address those concerns.”
Funded primarily by existing taxes for education, charter schools fall somewhere between private and public schools. Traditionally smaller in class size and offering a diversity and range of studies, charter schools are an appealing alternative for families with students at both ends of the academic achievement spectrum. And although they are required to adhere to state benchmarks and testing schedules, charters typically are given more leeway in their curriculum than public and private schools and are thought to offer a more rounded and intensive education.
But charters also have the potential to take dollars away from their public school counterparts, and in these difficult economic times, not all local superintendents are on board.
According to Oakley Union Elementary District Superintendent Rick Rogers, “The idea behind a charter school, whether it’s in Knightsen or Oakley or wherever, is that if you free them of the bureaucratic responsibilities from Sacramento, they will flourish. So my point is that if what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, then why not make all schools charter schools?”
Byron School Superintendent Eric Prater also expressed reservations about the establishment of an East County charter school. “I believe in competition as an important aspect to improving any organization,” said Prater. “However, these are dire times, and every student is vital to the success of our district … In short, this can create an educational arms race of sorts in East County.”
Hill said he understands the trepidation regarding such a school and added that it’s the intent of the committee to address all concerns from parents as well as local administrators: “We’re going to reach out to all prospective districts, parents and families and right now we are focused on getting input and see what people are willing to commit to. I believe, from a personal perspective, that there is a chance to raise the (academic) bar as a whole, which is something competition does, and not be bound to stringent public school guidelines.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, but at the end of the day it’s exciting to see some interest in this process. We’ll see where it takes us.”
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