Editor's note: in Novato, a former "back to basics" school located in the Presidents neighborhood, does not have traditional geographic boundaries to mark which students will attend the school. Rancho and at Hamilton are the only elementaries in Novato that have no enrollment boundaries and draw kids from all over the city. Rancho uses a lottery system to formulate its student population.
Rancho has a student population less ethnically and socioeconomically diverse than other Novato schools, according to statistics. It has some of the highest test scores in Marin County year after year and is a huge source of pride for the school and district. The Rancho curriculum has been identical to other elementary schools since 2005, yet parents wait in long lines each year to participate in the lottery.
A Novato Patch story published on Feb. 5 titled resulted in more than 200 comments and was cited at several school board meetings, sparking a debate over the fairness of the school's enrollment setup.
A group called Fairness for Novato Schools shares this opinion piece with Novato Patch readers to address the possibility of Rancho becoming a charter school.
By Fairness for Novato Schools
Secrecy surrounding development of a charter petition by some teachers and parents at in Novato suggests less than high-minded motivations.
If this secret group believes that the is missing an important educational option, then why the secrecy? We’re sure families across the NUSD would support a truly new approach and choice in the district. What might be the motivation?
Rancho already has exceptional scores as measured by state test results, so a charter geared toward higher test scores seems unlikely and frivolous. Through the course of public debate over the past year, Rancho parents were clearly and rightly proud of the schools test scores. Debate also brought to light the fact that there are no curriculum or programmatic differences between Rancho and the other local elementary schools. Rancho is getting great results using state and NUSD standard instruction. So, again, what is the motivation?
Our first clue may come from examining what changed last year. The school district revised the intra-district transfer policy to make requirements for application and enrollment consistent across all school sites. The change primarily affects previous and unique to Rancho enrollment requirements that were determined to be noncompliant with California education code.
In fact, the only change we can identify that may have triggered the secret charter effort involves the process by which students get into Rancho. Could it be that these teachers and parents are proposing a charter not for any real educational objectives but instead to regain control over who gets into the school?
Novato's population of English language learners has quadrupled since 1996. Since 1988, Rancho has consistently enrolled a skewed demographic when compared to the district and the neighborhood where it is located. The most recent data show Rancho with 6 percent Latino and 6 percent free and reduced lunch participation. Compare that to 31 percent and 32 percent respectively for the district or 51 percent and 62 percent for , the neighborhood school closest to the Rancho school site.
Charter schools were conceived as a way to generate new or unique approaches to education, and so far most studies find mixed results with some charter schools performing very well and others significantly underperforming similar demographics. The studies also consistently identify significant racial and socioeconomic concentration at charter schools. It would appear that some charters are aimed at improving the performance of traditionally low performing students while other charters are geared toward creating hurdles to keep those kids out.
What is the aim of this secret charter petition? We’ll have to wait. Right now, it’s a secret.