A New Charter for Novato?

The new North Bay Educational Foundation held a meeting June 12 to present its thoughts for a new charter to the public.

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?

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Tina McMillan June 14, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Zorba There were two women present at the meeting to provide Spanish translation. The hand out was in English and Spanish and the individual that began Core Knowledge did it in response to the difficulties educating both English Language Learners and Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Students. This program is a response to No Child Left Behind in its attempt to provide a curriculum that does not discriminate based on culture or language. It also provides before and after enrichment, a PreK through 8 curriculum and does it all for the same ADA funding as Novato Unified. The difference is parents, from all parts of Novato, volunteering time and effort to pull it all together, just as families did to create the Novato Waldorf Charter School. People's emotions run high on the issue of illegal (not legal) immigration. This is true in many states. It impacts California more significantly and hopefully the Federal Government will come up with a consistent immigration policy to resolve the issue. Anne's position on immigration is irrelevant to this school. That is the point I am trying to make.
Tina McMillan June 14, 2012 at 03:08 AM
I was around when the Waldorf Charter was in the works and no one made reference to it being a bad idea or a NIMBY idea or an idea that would somehow exclude children and their families. The prejudice against Rancho or parents thinking outside the proverbial box is frightening. It is a sort of reverse racism with the goal being intimidation of anyone who would support a new idea that has the promise of offering a better fit for educating all students. Until we find a consistent manner in which to increase better our test scores this is the way other schools in other states are addressing the inequities in the education system. If Charter schools manage to find a more effective way of educating a struggling student population then they will be able to pass this curriculum on to the public school system. It is a win/win. What I see here is a tremendous effort on the part of a group of Novato families to provide a curriculum specific manner of addressing the challenge of educating English Language Learners and Economically Disadvantaged Students to level the playing field. Both my sons graduated from NUSD several years back and I continue to be involved in the schools for the sake of the children I work with. I am excited about what I am reading in the Core Knowledge Curriculum because it may prove better for children with language and math based learning disabilities than our current curriculum and format.
Tina McMillan June 14, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Continued If we can find a new approach that works why on earth would that be seen in a negative light? From my position as an advocate for children with learning differences what I see are people who have a bone to pick with anyone associated with Rancho because they have prejudged an entire school as somehow wrong or bad. The bias is phenomenal. My children did not attend Rancho. They attended a neighborhood school because it made sense for our family. I did not feel disenfranchised because other families chose Rancho. Choice is good. This Charter won't change anything about Rancho being a neighborhood school. Novato Waldorf is much like a private school in that it provides an alternate curriculum. That was the point when the state legislated Charters. You must have a specific curriculum that defines you and you must address the inequities in education for ELL and ED students. If Core Knowledge has been this successful in California schools as well as schools throughout the country why wouldn't we want more choices? It might bring more students back to the district as a result of the preK through 8 model along with project based curriculum. I hope people will set aside their prejudices and read about it and think about what more choices might mean to our most vulnerable students.
Tina McMillan June 14, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Karen In 1995 when a group of Waldorf based Novato parents came together with an alternate curriculum following legislation passed in 1992 that allowed California Charter schools, there was no feeling that by creating a different manner of educating students you were being disloyal to the public schools in your midst. To date Novato has had two charter programs, Waldorf and MSAT. Last year I learned that MSA is not a charter but a school within a school. MSAT a High School based Novato charter program received a six year term of accreditation from WASC and then lost its housing at IVC and its welcome from the Novato School District. Here is a quote from an MSAT founder that clarifies some of the problems from their point of view: "In light of these extraordinary achievements, the following statement may be surprising: Because of an extremely difficult relationship with the Novato Unified School District, which has oversight authority for the school, MSAT no longer exists. This decision came at the end of five long years of trying to work with NUSD to find common ground -- the students. It was the most painful decision of our professional careers and one Daniel and I never imagined having to make when we started Envision and MSAT." http://www.edutopia.org/model-charter-schools-msat
Bart S. June 14, 2012 at 05:49 AM
I like the idea. We need more choices in Novato and this seems like a good one. We have lost too many strong families to private schools due to NUSD's poor vision and practices. Perhaps this will bring some of those good families back and encourage more families to stay in the public school system in Novato.
Bart S. June 14, 2012 at 05:49 AM
Here! Here! Me too!
Bart S. June 14, 2012 at 05:51 AM
I support the school and I support safe schools.
Bart S. June 14, 2012 at 05:52 AM
We need help in Novato Schools and I think this is worth a try. Bravo to those who have spent countless hours in search of an alternative to help our children.
Tina McMillan June 14, 2012 at 07:56 AM
Karen The K through 8 at Hamilton has the same curriculum as the rest of the schools in NUSD. The point of Charter schools is to differentiate curriculum and to address inequities in learning of ELL and ED students. The existing Novato Charter School is a Waldorf School, and a wonderful one, but it has maxed out enrollment, has a long waiting list and is not a good fit for all students. Live Oak Charter in Petaluma is another Waldorf school. My concern is that we need alternate approaches when working with ELL, ED and Learning Disabled students. Waldorf's uniqueness comes from its non technology base. Students that have language based learning disabilities could benefit from assistive technology such as computers using Dragon Naturally Speaking software prior to High School. Generally speaking there are no computers in Waldorf classrooms until High School. Here is a website with facts about Waldorf: http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/02_W_Education/faq_about.asp
Answerme June 14, 2012 at 03:26 PM
There is nothing wrong with Charter Schools, a few are excellent, most are average, some fail, and some never get off the ground. BUT some are created by exploiting the loopholes in the law with the intention of creating its own island. Insulating itself from the challenges and special needs of the population to be educated. This "foundation" is a small handful of rancho parents looking to do the same thing all over again. Separate themselves and their children from "those other kids". At least "core curriculum" is a "program" as opposed to what Lonson used to refer to rancho as "rigorous discipline and high standards"....implying as if each of our schools did not already have the same high standards. If the intention of the new school was to address the EL and ED students and truely help close the achievement gap in our area(as posted here), then why wasn't the meeting announcement printed in other languages (Spanish)? Were there any leaders in the Hispanic community contacted or invited to attend? nope. Lonson did not even offer Spanish translation until 20 minutes into the presentation. Are we to accept treating such a large portion of our community as an afterthought? And this coming from a person who billed herself as having been involved in schools for 20 years and as PTA president at each level of schooling. Any real success would be gauged by how well a school will help close the achievement gap, not drain resources from other schools and make it wider.
Patty Maher June 14, 2012 at 04:54 PM
I have posted the slide show presentation and the video that was played during the meeting. Both were posted on NBEF's website.
Patty Maher June 14, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I do not have any insider information regarding this particular effort; however, efforts to form a charter school on the part of parents of Rancho kids have been put forth nearly as long as I have had children there. (I'm in my 10th year "doing time" there.) I know of three, including the one earlier this school year centering on a conversion of Rancho. I do not know that everyone involved in the planning stages of this current effort is a current or former Rancho parent, so I'm not including this new movement as one of those. But even if it is comprised primarily of Rancho parents, my point is that it's not a question of the movement starting right NOW, when the phase-in to a quasi-neighborhood school begins.
ZorbaGT June 14, 2012 at 05:15 PM
KMM always sayin how great rancho is.....I guess she change her thinkin now with local kids going their
Tina McMillan June 14, 2012 at 05:29 PM
The meeting information was printed in two languages, English and Spanish. There were translators available. There were two women who work with the Hispanic community and are Latina in the front row that stood up and spoke. If this program gets off the ground we will see word of mouth spread that allows parents of ELL, ED and LD students to look at the options it provides. This was the first public meeting to introduce the idea to the community at large. You hide behind a pseudonym and clearly have a bone to pick with anyone associated with Rancho. Take the time to read about the curriculum and understand why the level of enrichment could potentially close the achievement gap. When Novato Waldorf Charter began it almost didn't succeed because of the difficulties inherent in starting a Charter. Go to their website and read the History section. The funding will be no more than what NUSD receives. The hours put in by the board and the parents whose children attend will be far greater than public school. No one makes this kind of effort for the reasons you state. It would be far simpler and easier to leave the district for a private school. Try to set aside your biases, come out from behind the pseudonym and allow for the option that parents who recognized the need to provide a rigorous curriculum effective with a wide range of students made the choice to move beyond the issue of Rancho and to create a Charter Program that would serve all of Novato.
Answerme June 14, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Do you get paid by the word Tina? In case you didn't notice, you are the only poster on this thread using a name (other than Patty), we will assume its your real name. Perhaps you should ask them to do the same too. But you are just trying to bully. There is no bone to pick, merely stating the facts. Sometimes the truth hurts. Since the "word of mouth" program has worked so well at achieving diversity at NCS and our "school of choice", I'll bet you will be eating your words. Perhaps instead of posting on Patch all day, you could spend a little time on developing an outreach program for ELL, ED, and LD community that you think will be SO well served with this new school? Until then, it is just lip service.
Beware June 14, 2012 at 06:21 PM
"10,000 Degrees, formerly the Marin Education Fund" http://www.marinij.com/business/ci_20852131/marin-education-organization-wins-100-000-national-competition "major funding provided by Marin Community Foundation" - TROJAN HORSE !
Tina McMillan June 14, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Answer I have worked with children for more than 25 years. In 1986 I was an intern in the Novato Schools. I have a private practice in Novato where I help children with learning disabilities. I work with families, sometimes attending IEP's. I understand what it is like to help a child that struggles. It is more than lip service, it is my job. Even though my own children have graduated I would like to see more options for all the children we have yet to educate. I am hopeful that providing choice will enable us to better evaluate the quality of the education they receive. I support Novato Waldorf Charter, MSAT and other school within a school programs because all students have different learning styles and abilities. My beef with your posts is that they attack the individuals rather than addressing the issue of another Charter here in Novato. As for posting under an actual name, Patty and I may be the two people most comfortable with other folks knowing where we stand on issues. I followed the attacks on Rancho School and on the parents as they were posted in Patch last year. Please reconsider your bias by looking at this new Charter as an opportunity. If you read the rules behind California charters you will find that an essential requirement is addressing the inequity in education as it affects ED and ELL students. What if this could work? Would you really want your anger at Rancho families to control your perception of its usefulness?
Beware June 14, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Interesting, this charter will be targeted for the exact demographic that did NOT attend Rancho. Looks like MCF is putting the screws to Novato once again. Please do some homework before rolling out the red carpet here.
Karen June 14, 2012 at 07:53 PM
(Not sure I'm doing this "Reply" thing correctly ...) Tina, Thank you for your answer to my question. I always enjoy reading your comments and links on Patch.
Teach June 16, 2012 at 03:05 PM
As an ex-NUSD teacher and parent of 3 attending NUSD schools, I feel compelled to chime... When we moved our family to Novato 13 years ago I was amazed by the lack of innovation and forward thinking in this district. I had been a teacher in San Mateo where "schools of choice" were the model. They had Spanish Immersion, Science and Technology, Performing Arts, Montessori,... "magnet schools". They even had a "Parent Participation School" where parents had to sign a contract saying they would volunteer a certain number of hours. Novato had "The Charter School," Rancho, and MSAT (at the time). My children attended Rancho and I was one of those parents who felt I needed to keep that on "the down low," when all I felt was that we were given a choice, and that choice worked well for our family. We don't live in an area of Novato where there is really such thing as our "Neighborhood School." While I do believe that with California Standards being what they are, and with the new Common Core Standards being implemented, Rancho didn't have much to differentiate itself anymore (other than it parent participation). So I believe now is the perfect time to start thinking more creatively. I fully support any form of choice in schools and this could be just the first step. It's really too bad that our board, Superintendent and administrators want to keep this district in such a tight box. Wouldn't it be so great if we could be excited about NUSD and the many things it has to offer!!
Edwin Drake June 18, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Interesting this is occurring just as NUSD sup "Doc" cunningham is trying to kill the fantastic self-contained GATE classroom at Lynwood, which is an amazing school by the way.
Lloyd June 18, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Interesting. I would like a simple definition of all the acronyms being used. El, EDD, IEP & LD? As for Tina I know her to be honest and more concerned with children with various needs and disabilities than just picking an argument. As for the premise that this is an elitist "rancho" replacement that can be dispelled by simply having a true raffle system if demand is indeed larger than capacity. No automatic sibling enrollment and yes a realistic expectation of parent involvement taking into account lower income families abilities. As for choice shouldn't we all want what is best for the children? Lets learn more b4 we condemn the concept. If it is flawed lets try to correct before we throw the bathwater out with the baby. As for names posted here or not as long as everyone is respectful who cares.
Tina McMillan June 18, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Individual Education Plan (IEP) Economically Disadvantaged (ED) English Language Learner (ELL) Learning Disabled (LD) Sorry about the abbreviations. These are used in the NUSD reports to describe different types of populations and their test scores based on the categories they define. IEP and LD are part of the Special Education Program. ELL and ED are the groups that have the lower test scores where schools are in program improvement status due to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). These are the most vulnerable student populations. We have schools in program improvement status (PI) because we have not successfully brought up the test scores of ED and ELL students to meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements.
Dexter Kaziff June 18, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Great idea, but make it a private school so that if you want your kids to go there, you pay tuition. If going to your neighborhood school is not an option for you , then you should put your money where your mouth is and pony up. I guess I am one of the minority that thinks all the Novato schools are great in their own way. Look at Lu Sutton...California Distinguished School 2012. Same with San Ramon. The parent involvement at PV is second to none. As well as Rancho. Novato teachers are the lowest paid in the county and still do an amazing job of educating our children. So, if the Novato schools aren't for you or your child, that's fine. But you should be willing to write a check to get exactly what you want.
Tina McMillan June 18, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Dexter Charters are "public schools" that have a specialized curriculum because education is not a one size fits all process. Here is the website: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cs/
ZorbaGT June 18, 2012 at 06:22 PM
if every kids different....why they need this? seems like same ol thing If the school reverts to a lottery system because it is full, do siblings of current students get any priority? We do intend to give siblings priority in future years.
Tina McMillan June 18, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Zorba Please take the time to read about the history of charter programs in California and follow the links to understand why we have the option of forming charters. I don't know if the current charter is planning to give priority to families all ready enrolled but that is the case with neighborhood schools and the Novato Waldorf Charter. Once you are in, your siblings have first shot at getting in. MSA is a school within a school. It has children audition for slots. It is a High School program. San Marin is starting smARTt (San Marin Arts and Technical Arts) another school within a school program. Core Knowledge Curriculum is not "the same old thing", read the links it is a unique approach, regardless of the language used to describe it, and it has been getting results across the board.
Dexter Kaziff June 18, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Yes Tina..but why should we have to support a new charter school that is only going to benefit people who are unhappy with their neighborhood school? Put it to a vote of all of Novato and it loses big time. If you want something different for your child, more power to you. But you should be willing to pay for it.
Tina McMillan June 19, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Dexter, "You" don't have to support the charter school. If you read the state website link the charter can come about with community support from parents who choose to be involved. All it needs is a sufficient number of families to make it fiscally possible to begin. There is no loss to any district that has Charter and Magnet schools. If anything it makes our districts more attractive to families who are moving here. The law does not require a vote of all Novato for a Charter to be created. All of Novato didn't vote on our Novato Waldorf Charter and it has been a wonderful community asset. We are fortunate for the sweat equity parents put into that school. The hours and the fundraising on top of the money supplied by the state continue to be a part of the charter movement. It took real passion for our Waldorf Charter to succeed. Remember the charter movement is funded by the state and we do pay for it with tax dollars. If you want to learn more read the links below. http://www.lao.ca.gov/handouts/education/2006/Charter_School_Policy_080106.pdf http://www.edsource.org/iss_charter_policy.html
TAK July 11, 2012 at 08:19 PM
North Bay Educational Foundation to Hold Public, Informational Meeting about New Core Knowledge Pre-K to 8th Grade Charter School Planned to Open August, 2013 in Novato. Presentation to Include Core Knowledge Curriculum, Charter Admissions and Enrollment Planning; Consideration for Intent to Register Signatures will be Gathered. WHEN: Sunday, July 15 2012, 4:00pm WHO: North Bay Educational Foundation (NBEF) WHERE: Best Western Novato Oaks Hotel in the Oak Room (behind Burger King and Next to Wild Fox in Ignacio) at 215 Alameda Del Prado


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