Last night I found myself with more than 200 other people attending an informational meeting about the pre-K-8 charter school the newly formed North Bay Educational Foundation wants to bring to Novato beginning in the 2013-14 school year.
It’s hard to say how many of those 200-plus folks came because they are genuinely interested in the concept versus because they are decidedly against the concept because no one chose to stamp their foreheads with a big FOR or AGAINST it on them. It seemed to me that most were there because the thought of an alternative to what the offers sounded appealing. I am guessing the elementary school principal who sat in front of me was there for the other reason.
The slide show and Q&A were largely handled by two NBEF members, Robert Verhoeff and MJ Lonson, although another 30 or more folks were sprinkled throughout the meeting room at church, standing up at the end of the meeting to be acknowledged as members of the team. Verhoeff said at the conclusion that he hoped to have the slide show posted on NBEF’s website. Most of the information during the prepared presentation centered on the Core Knowledge curriculum model that NBEF has chosen. (You can find out more about Core Knowledge on its website.)
Literature distributed at the meeting and the slide show related more details and examples of how the Core Knowledge curriculum works. I heard terms like “integrated, multi-subject curriculum” and “rigorous” and “thematic” and “differentiated instruction” and “strong foundation.” “All stakeholders benefit from a coherent, cumulative, and content-specific Core Knowledge curriculum” the handout noted.
Being incredibly selfish and self-serving, I’ll note that I paid closer attention to plans for the middle school level and its tablet-based learning style and its emphasis on a STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), aligning it with what is happening over at School with .
Lots of questions from audience members dealt with nailing down the details of the charter, which Verhoeff and Lonson acknowledged were in the to-be-determined stage. Without a sense of community interest and then negotiations with the school district, they couldn’t really commit to the number of students, class sizes, location of the school, how special education students would be served, etc. Verhoeff said that, in his mind, curriculum was the big thing and the rest was more boilerplate in nature, meaning there are only so many ways, for example, to structure the accounting system for a school.
With regard to location, Verhoeff said the Foundation had thought the would be a logical place to site the school, assuming enough community interest; however, he said they had been told by the district that it had plans for the Hill site beyond its current use. (That comment certainly piqued my interest as I’ve not heard anything about that in any board meetings.) Verhoeff said that central or south Novato is the ideal location for the school.
Lonson addressed the issue of not being able to name who the teachers would be, but she repeatedly stayed with the message that teachers would be “outstanding” and that all would be credentialed. Toward the end of the meeting, she said she there were teachers involved and interested but in reality there can’t be any hiring done until the spring.
Details about the timeline were requested and some dates were fleshed out. The petition to the NUSD Board of Trustees needs to happen by October or November. In response to a comment about the timeline, Verhoeff said the 18-month time between coming up with the charter concept and bringing it to fruition is on par with other efforts. He did indicate that if the NUSD turned down the charter, the foundation would take it to the county. If the county denied the application, then the foundation would take it to the state.
Appearing quite enthralled with the curriculum, one audience member asked “Why can’t the district just adopt the curriculum?”
“I don’t know,” Verhoeff deadpanned to the sound of laughter.
Lonson said, “Choice is good. Not every kid learns the same way. I know in my heart that this community likes choice.”
So, then, do we?