Update on School Board's Workshop on Charter Schools

Dr. Shalee Cunningham provides some insight after the Aug. 23 NUSD board workshop.

We had a good board workshop last night with our charter school attorney, Margaret Merchat. She walked the board through the details of the Education Code related to the procedures for a group to file a charter school application, the policies related to charter school oversight, and the protocol once an application has been received. Much has changed in the Education Code since approved the 10 years ago.

There are 16 criteria an applicant must meet before the school board can approve the charter school application. Facilities will certainly be an issue, as we are full at all of our school sites and only have a few classrooms available at the Hill Education Center. Margaret did say that charter schools often lease space away from a school site.

In 2003, the Novato Charter School received $840,047 from Novato Unified for its facilities, representing 50 percent of the total construction dollars of $1,680,094.  Half of the construction cost was given because only 50 percent of the total average daily attendance revenue of the Novato Charter program represented in-district students.

Staffing will be another issue. If students leave NUSD for a charter school, there will be fewer students and, thus, fewer teachers. Teachers will be receiving layoff notices by March 15 to address the decline in enrollment. Teachers will have to make a commitment in the early spring if they intend to leave.

It was interesting to hear that the charter school must have a student population that resembles the demographics of our community. Our 2010 census showed that our Novato community was 21 percent Latino at that time; I suspect it has increased over the past couple of years because our schools were 33 percent Latino last year.

There were good questions about staff benefits like retirement and health benefits, and whether or not the charter school would opt to participate in those benefits. We really won’t know anything until we get the application, but it raised a lot of questions about our current charter. It also raised many good questions about the budget, revenue and expenditures for a charter school and how they must follow the same rules and procedures we do. We provide financial oversight to our current charter, and would be expected to do the same if a new charter came to Novato.

At this point, our school year is off and running with 7,961 students, and we are very excited about the focus on technology, student achievement and wellness this year!

— Shalee Cunningham, NUSD Superintendent

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ZorbaGT September 20, 2012 at 02:06 PM
ex principal September 20, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Mr Parnell, it would seem I have hit a nerve, what with the name calling and all.....but you are being disingenuous about both your regard for Rancho and your attempt to rationalize maligning Hamilton. Here is the proof....According to YOUR POST, your decision to not attend Hamilton was made long before this incident....(especially salient is your last sentence) • John Parnell 5:06 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012 "When I moved to Novato 10 years ago, I was glad that Rancho existed, and hoped to send my kids there someday (if I was lucky enough to have any). Now that I have 2 little ones, I am extremely disappointed that the NUSD has decided to eliminate its best school. I don't understand the desire to dumb down the district. My wife and I both come from a long-line of teachers, and I guess would be considered "concerned parents". My oldest is in pre-school at Good Shepherd. As much as we love it, we never considered sending our kids to private elementary school...until now. Now that Rancho is gone as we have known it, our plans have changed. We will most likely either keep the kids at Good Shepherd, or we will leave Novato. Sending our kids to their neighborhood school is not really an option to us."
ex principal September 20, 2012 at 03:26 PM
For the record, Rancho is not "gone", last check, students are still attending and thriving, as are all our schools. And you still have a choice to attend any school you wish, simply apply for a transfer.
Bill September 20, 2012 at 09:41 PM
It is typical for the charter types to try to bring down the local schools...after all, they call it "competition".....I hope this guy has a conversation with his neighbors, the hundreds who go through school daily without any issues. But the scare tactics used by these kind of people are typical and widespread......"beware of this school or that one!!....but come join us to start our own charter school together so we can have our own private environment on the public dime!".....
John Parnell September 20, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Ex-p: You are a troll by definition - it isn't name-calling. And it's trolls like you that are the biggest negative on Patch. I hate feeding the trolls, but for the record... Yes, Rancho is still open, but as a neighborhood school; so your comment is the disingenuous one. We all know it isn't the same. Yes, I was glad to know that Novato had one of the top-five ranked schools in the county; that I didn't need to live in Tiburon or Ross/Kentfield for my child to go to a school that ranked just as high. I didn't know how contentious it was at the time, and I still don't understand the animosity. I don't see why the rest of the schools in the district wouldn't try to emulate some of the things at Rancho that seemed to be working. And yes, I wrote that last March. We've been more on the fence since then, as we've talked to many parents & students of Hamilton who absolutely love it, so we were keeping our options open, as we're pro-neighborhood school. However, this most recent incident has been enough to scare us back off that fence. And Bill, from your "charter type" comment, I don't think you totally read what I wrote - I am extremely pro-public local school, but my kids' safety comes first. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't this Core Knowledge charter be a public school? Personally, I don't know why the NUSD doesn't try to integrate some of the CK curriculum into their own.
ex principal September 21, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Mr Parnell, apparently the air up in your ivory tower is very thin and disrupting your memory. "obnoxious" would count as name calling, but lets not be petty. Allow me to bring you down to earth and give you a shovel to continue digging yourself a deeper hole. "we all know its not the same" , in reference to rancho....who is the "we" you are referring to? Is there some sort of stigma now that some are unaware of? Coming from a long line of teachers, as you say, maybe you can discuss those "things" that were working at rancho with the educators at the rest of the schools. Though I would add that since your kids apparently have not attended any public schools, you are the least likely source to be listened to. Instead of trying to spread bad press about an unfortuante and isolated incident, perhaps you could be more positive and try to approach the schools or NUSD and offer to help as an agent of change. Rather than your current and obvious role of fear mongering to scare up interest in the failing new charter school effort.
conscience September 21, 2012 at 04:12 PM
whatever......Novato cannot afford the schools we have, thats why they closed Hill. This is one "choice" we cant afford. Why bankrupt the NUSD, fire teachers, and close a school for this? makes no sense
Susan Wreden September 21, 2012 at 04:45 PM
OK folks, grow up! It's too bad these parents aren't willing to spend time improving their neighborhood schools, instead of wasting time and money trying to get another "private" school with public money.
John Parnell September 21, 2012 at 04:49 PM
I'm done feeding the trolls. You're not worth my time, or anyone else's, until you find the courage to sign your name.
Claire September 21, 2012 at 05:26 PM
My child went to Rancho many years ago. It was our 'neighborhood school', i.e. the closest elementary school to where we live. Nevertheless, we had to apply, go on the several hour long tour and be on a waiting list for a couple of years. What made Rancho stand out was the parent involvement, both the presence of the parents as well as financial support of the school through fundraising and donations. We all know that unfortunately schools can no longer exist without support from donations - it cannot all be funded with public money. That being said, there are many parents who should step up to the plate. I know now you are going to say that in that case a charter school can only be for the rich - not so. There are many opportunities to volunteer at events, which in turn generates funds for the school. You don't have to be rich to make a difference. But many parents are not willing to do just that - instead, they just criticize schools like Rancho for being successful and 'stealing' public funds for a private school. Success doesn't come easy and it comes at a price. So instead of criticizing, why don't YOU step up to the plate and make a difference?
Amanda Montgomery September 21, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Thank you, that's what I keep thinking, and waiting for someone to say. If a tiny percentage of the passion, time, and effort of all of the charter advocate parents went into improving their local schools, instead of trying to pull their kids and put them all together, it would benefit all of our students, and our community as a whole. My oldest just started at Loma Verde and I'm super excited to see how incredibly committed the principal, teachers, and parents are there. Since I went there myself, it's fantastic to be able to continue the tradition. Why not redirect the enthusiasm and dedication you have for your kids into the local schools? If you're disappointed with the NUSD, why not run for office? Join the PTA? I'm just not seeing how taking the most involved parents in the county and clumping so many of them at one school helps the kids. I ask out of genuine confusion, not snark - I really just don't get the need to isolate from the community.
Claire September 21, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Amanda - you are right. Why not put the effort in EVERY school instead of 'isolating' from the community? Having had my child both at public neighborhood schools as well as at Rancho, I can clearly see the difference of having vs. not having a large number of parents involved. In my experience from public neighborhood schools, there are always a few dedicated parents, like yourself, who try to pull the entire weight. However, the percentage of these willing parents is ususally fairly small and they can only do what they can do. At Rancho, instead, the percentage of parents willing to be involved, willing to work, willing to donate was much larger and I truly believe that was what made it so successful. I don't have a vested interest anymore in Rancho, since my kid is long gone, but I can see how parents feel strongly about that school. I get the feeling that many of the 'sour' parents are exactly the ones who complain about Rancho, yet they are not the ones willing to do the work, whether it be at Rancho or any other school. All they know how to do is complain. Believe me - I have met many of these parents. My kid is going through MSA and while many parents are involved, it is still a small percentage of all the parents. I always see the same faces at every function, every fundraiser, every meeting. Others just want to go along for the ride of a great education, without wanting to contribute. I guess complaining takes less effort than picking up the shovel!
Lynne Wasley September 21, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Claire - Point taken, but there are many reasons why parents don't "step up to the plate." Having once been a single parent who at times needed to work two jobs, I can tell you that putting the basic needs of one's children (such as food on the table) must come before anything else. No, you don't have to be rich to make a difference in your community, but it surely helps to have a working car, $ to put gas in its tank, decent health/energy, childcare... and most importantly, time - in order to volunteer. When my situation changed, I did become an NUSD volunteer (still am). I'm guessing that most of the people posting on this link also volunteer at their child's school, and based on the dozens of in-person conversations I've been involved in that were about criticizing this Charter effort (I don't know/haven't bumped into anyone supporting it), each involved active NUSD volunteers. Among a number of researched and compelling reasons why I'm strongly opposed to this Charter school, its impact on the morale of the district is near the top. The emotional posts on this thread illustrate this. Unfortunately, like with Rancho, I fear that the disunity and division created by this Charter's existence - unintentional though it is - will negatively impact the NUSD for a very long time.
Roger September 21, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Lynne, a little tension at the district of an alternative is healthy sometimes. It keeps the board on their toes to act on problems, like discipline gaps. The board's duties will shrink as more charters take hold. Soon the board can cut its administration staff and move out of its big expensive building near Lucky's to a much small building...maybe even to a school....like charters do with their admin staff. Cut overhead, but not teachers.
Beth Stein September 21, 2012 at 08:16 PM
I would like to STRONGLY suggest that we fire Shalee Cunningham, NUSD Superintendent ASAP. She is destroying our school district! She is getting rid of GATE which is highly successful and watering down the education all the kids need in order to get jobs after school.... Go on back to Napa.
Aimee September 21, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Hi Beth, Could you expand on "getting rid of GATE" please.
Lynne Wasley September 21, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Roger, I'm not opposed to a "little tension," but I think what is being created by the Charter is more than a little tension. Also, I wasn't referring to the NUSD Board when I posted about the conversations I'm having. I'm talking about dozens of chats thru my work, volunteer efforts, and casual interactions - where the discussions are running from concern, resentment, and worse. I'm sure there are many who are neutral, apathetic, unaware of the Charter - and, as clearly stated in the above posts, in support of it. However, those in my 'circle' have all expressed negatives (more often than not, strong negatives) regarding this Charter effort. Based on what I'm already hearing, I'm extremely concerned about the overall impact on our District's morale and harmony, this, assuming the school comes to fruition. I'm afraid (but so hope I'm wrong) that the damage from this school - though again, not its intention - will be huge.
Sylvia Barry September 21, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Hi Beth - Regarding GATE - this is from 09/14 NUSD Newsletter : "We have made the decision to continue the self-contained classrooms at Lynwood and strengthen our instruction for advanced learners at each school site, thereby giving parents a choice of programs for their students" . There are a lot more detail associated with the above quote but as of today and for the next few years, NUSD is keeping both Clustered and Self-Contained GATE programs.
Amanda Montgomery September 21, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Could you also explain what you mean by "watering down?" I'm new to this kerfuffle and trying to get up to speed. What is it that she's done that you don't like (or do like, for anyone else who wants to join in). Thanks, I appreciate it!
Claire September 21, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Lynne - I don't think anyone would ask a parent to not put the basic needs of their family before anything else. I was there too - taking care of my child alone for some time, with a full time job - I didn't have as much time to volunteer. I believe you know which people I am talking about - not you or I, but people who take everything for granted, who do not want to give a few hours of their day to tour the school they would like their child to go to (they say it is unfair), the chronic complainers who are the last ones willing to contribute anything, be it money, time or effort. With regard to Rancho, I believe they should have not given in to the pressure of these people and left a good thing alone. Everybody had the same chance of getting into Ranch if they fullfilled the basic requirements such as attending the tour and getting on the waiting list. Why not have a school that positively stands out - sounds like a lot of sour grapes!
Tina McMillan September 22, 2012 at 03:40 AM
It's interesting to go from the online posts to the folks that have attended the NBEF presentations. These people are not attacking neighborhood schools but they are doing what the families that created NCS did; they are finding what they feel are options better positioned to help a wider range of students. Most of the animosity has come from people who say they are happy with their current schools but who don't want to see an additional charter effort raised in their community. I think what surprises me the most is the atmosphere of fear, hate an anger directed at the charter and the families that have shown an interest and now the additional fear that if it succeeds somehow the district will be forever scarred. C'mon people, charter is a public option. Novato's Waldorf Charter is a huge success. If anything it could attract more students if it had a larger facility. Not all the students are from Novato, when it started half were from other districts nearby. Most of the anger on this forum has been directed at parents whose families are from Rancho. This goes back years to people projecting their own biases on a school that was always part of the public system but originally started by Hamilton families as a magnet school. We have 8000 children in our district. I think we can manage to let 600 of them attend another local charter without falling apart.
Tina McMillan September 22, 2012 at 03:59 AM
There are two types of GATE in our district. Self contained which is the GATE class at Lynwood and Cluster, which can happen in all of the elementary schools. Kids are screened for GATE using a test of nonverbal abilities and if they pass they can either opt for the Self contained 4th and 5th grade GATE class at Lynwood or the Cluster approach at their neighborhood school. Some families feel Cluster waters down GATE too much but with the district retaining self contained GATE it seems like this change is not going to take place. It was a hot item earlier this year when the district was looking at program cuts.
Tina McMillan September 22, 2012 at 04:07 AM
Lynne Blaming the tension on the families interested in the Charter is saying that anyone who comes up with a positive, legal option to improve the current system is a trouble maker. I am not surprised that you are against this effort. You have made clear in previous posts you opposition to both Rancho and Novato Charter School. It seems to me that you have an implicit bias that affects your ability to look at this in a more reasoned fashion. In my experience all schools and all districts struggle with the conflict over IEP's and how to implement them. To say only those two Novato schools have issues makes it seem as if the issues may be with you. As for parents volunteering in their kids schools; when my boys were little we had lots of parents helping out in classrooms and others who had the time and the ability to fund raise and donate more than just time. No one was discriminated against; it was understood that you did the best you could and helped where you were able. This idea that the parents interested in the charter are not doing enough for local schools is abhorrent. MJ has put in more hours than anyone on this thread in the many, many years she has fought for local public schools and fund raised and helped pass parcel taxes and done just about everything she could to make certain that all children in Novato had a better shot at a better education. The bias and the mud slinging are the problem, not the charter proposal.
Sylvia Barry September 24, 2012 at 04:05 PM
To reiterate my note above - Regarding GATE - this is from 09/14 NUSD Newsletter : "We have made the decision to continue the self-contained classrooms at Lynwood and strengthen our instruction for advanced learners at each school site, thereby giving parents a choice of programs for their students" . There are a lot more detail associated with the above quote but as of today and for the next few years, NUSD is keeping both Clustered and Self-Contained GATE programs.
oblio September 24, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Kevin, I know at Rancho they won't release the kindergartners from their enclosed area unless a parent or caretaker is present. Unclaimed children get walked to the office. I have heard other parents have moved their children from Hamilton to other schools because of lax oversight of very young children.
Tina McMillan September 24, 2012 at 05:00 PM
http://www.nusd.org/pages/Novato_Unified_School_District/Our_Schools/departments/5860595878546589170 Here is the link to the NUSD page that describes GATE and that has additional links attached.
Novato Unified School District September 24, 2012 at 05:40 PM
I want to respond to the concerns about the event involving a kindergartner leaving campus and walking home. It was a very unfortunate incident, and additional multiple safety measures have been implemented to safeguard students. I am confident these additional procedures will greatly reduce the likelihood of this happening again. Should anyone have questions or additional concerns, please call me directly. Steve Hospodar Principal Hamilton School
ZorbaGT September 24, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Parnell.....time for bottle and diaper change!....LOL!
ex principal September 25, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Mr. Parnell, maybe your neighbors in Hamilton are worthy of your time apologizing for your repeated attempts to publicly malign their school. Maybe you can explain to all of them, those who put so much effort into making it the successful program that it is today. As you say, coming from a long line of teachers, I'm wondering if any of your relatives ever had a class problem with bullying or any other potential safety issues large groups of children have. I wonder if you would have the "courage" to publicly disparage them? glass houses Mr Parnell......on top of your ivory tower
ex principal September 25, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Mr. Parnell, maybe your neighbors in Hamilton are worthy of your time apologizing for your repeated attempts to publicly malign their school. Maybe you can explain to all of them, those who put so much effort into making it the successful program that it is today. As you say, coming from a long line of teachers, I'm wondering if any of your relatives ever had a class problem with bullying or any other potential safety issues large groups of children have. I wonder if you would have the "courage" to publicly disparage them? glass houses Mr Parnell......on top of your ivory tower


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