July 31, 2008

Rocklin School Trustees Reconsider Charter School Petition, Grapple With Fairness Issues

By Lakiesha McGhee, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Jul. 31--Trustees of the Rocklin Unified School District are reconsidering a petition to open a college-prep seventh- to 12-grade charter school at an existing Rocklin high school.

Rocklin Academy -- a kindergarten to sixth-grade charter school on two district campuses -- will seek approval on Aug. 20 for the proposed Western Sierra Collegiate Academy.

Trustees in January denied a new charter in a unanimous vote. They cited Rocklin Academy's failure to provide a sound fiscal budget and meet several other requirements for opening the school.

A revised petition -- including 113 pages and about 600 pages of attachments -- was presented to the school board earlier this month.

However, two issues are at the heart of the matter: Trustees' concern for some students being excluded from certain benefits vs. parents' desire for more educational choices in south Placer County communities.

"I'm struggling with the fact that Western Sierra Collegiate Academy becomes this elite pocket, that every child somehow becomes a have or have-not," trustee Camille Maben said at the July 16 meeting.

Trustee Wendy Lang criticized a sample student handbook for excluding students with interests besides attending a four-year university, such as entering community college or the military.

Trustee Greg Daley questioned efforts by charter proponents to include low-performing students and other students with special needs. He also voiced concern that the proposed charter school is modeled after another charter school that lacks ethnic diver-sity.

"We understand your concerns, and we share them, but that is not our intent," said David Patterson, executive director of Rocklin Academy.

Patterson said the goal is for Western Sierra Collegiate Academy to become "a pocket of excellence" open to everyone. Students will be prepared to attend a four-year university, but they will have a choice, he said.

Western Sierra Collegiate Academy is promoted as a public, tuition-free charter school of choice for students in the greater Placer County area. The school would offer a rigorous college-prep program modeled after Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, which has been ranked among the nation's top public schools by Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.

Western Sierra would admit about 600 students in an open-enrollment lottery system.

Rocklin High School, which has about 1,600 students, is identified in the charter petition as the preferred site for the academy. Whitney High School is the alternative location.

The dynamics of a small-school environment within a larger, comprehensive high school also pose several logistical and cultural questions. How will facilities be used and shared? How will students from both schools commingle on one campus? Will high school facilities be appropriate for seventh- and eighth-graders in the charter school?

"We do recognize (the charter school) provides challenges for Rocklin Unified in oversight and facilities, but it offers another chance for Rocklin Academy to work together with Rocklin Unified," said Wendy Boyd, chairwoman of Rocklin Academy.

Petitioners also pointed to state Proposition 39, to debate that lack of facilities is a reason to deny a charter application.

Steve Paul, president of the Rocklin Unified school board, said at the meeting that there is disagreement about the interpretation of the law.

"This has been an ongoing fight for many years," Paul said, adding that the district has encouraged and offered to help Rocklin Academy obtain its own facilities. "It concerns me a little bit that you have come before us with the same petition packaged a little differently."

Paul said he was not impressed by Rocklin Academy's strong financial standing because it was not proof of how the new charter would perform financially.

Several parents, most with children at Rocklin Academy, spoke in support of the proposed charter school. Many noted Placer County's reputation for excellent schools and said the charter would be another excellent choice.

"This has nothing to do with one school being better than another," said Linda Schwartz, who had three children attend Rocklin Unified schools.

State Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, and Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, both urged trustees to approve the charter petition.


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