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Signs of Opposition to the Proposed Charter School

Opponents of the proposed charter school step up their efforts.

Lest you think opponents aren’t bankrolling some activities in their effort to stop the new charter school from being approved by the district, I offer you two challenges. Try to drive through any frequently traveled intersection, at least in southern Novato, and not notice signs announcing “Get Informed. Tell the board no new charter school. SaveOurNovatoSchools.com.”

I came upon the first sign as my family and I drove by the school formerly known as Hill Middle on Saturday morning. We had little time to create a car game with a find-another-sign theme before we came upon another and another and another. They seemingly sprung up overnight, and they seem to be everywhere.

I asked Michael Christian, one of the founders of the SONS opposition movement, how many signs had been purchased and if they had all been placed on public property. According to Christian, about 100 signs were purchased and all are on public property, save for a few put in people’s own yards. I’m thinking a new game should be tracking how long the signs stay put.

The other challenge I have for you relates to a Google search of “Novato schools.” Try it. I’ll wait. [Feet tapping. Feet still tapping. Still tapping.]

Did you see who shows as the top ad? The very same SaveOurNovatoSchools.com.

From my perch in the middle, I watch the opposing forces maneuvering. I read the emails from some PTAs, from friends, from acquaintances, and from strangers who have somehow obtained my email address. I hear the persuasive arguments on both sides. I see signs, now.

What I wouldn’t give for a sign “The End is Near.”

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tina McMillan November 04, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I saw the signs too and it made me realize that even though the district has said they are capable of making a decision, based on the law, about the charter, that the folks behind the signs don't want that to happen. What they are striving to create is anger and fear in order to stop the district from following the law. How many times in the Thursday meeting did the district's new attorney tell the board that you can not stop a charter because some folks don't want it to happen? That indeed you must follow the law if you are going to reject a charter petition. If NUSD keeps the charter then it becomes a part of our district and we can be proud of the diversity that we have to offer our students and families. If we reject the charter and it takes students out of our district (remember it would be an NUSD public charter if approved by us) how will that help? All the opponents want is everything to stay the same. Life is always changing. The boundary study indicated declining enrollment over time. The charter is one way to bring students back to the district and to keep the ones we have. I wonder how many students we have already lost....
JBW November 04, 2012 at 06:14 PM
It’s becoming clear that a small vocal minority may get their elementary school charter in Novato. Interestingly, the most vocal of the proponent for this new charter school is a charter school activist that doesn’t even have a child in or entering our school system. She thinks the other side of this argument (the vast majority) should not be vocal or expressing themselves while she typically drives almost 40% of the pro charter blogs on the Patch. It would be really nice if this charter discussion was driven by parents, teachers and the NUSD instead of activists.
Dexter Kaziff November 04, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Bingo...JBW.
Tina McMillan November 04, 2012 at 09:12 PM
JBW It is a PreK through 8th grade charter, not an elementary school. Read the petition. We all contribute to public education, to say that families whose children have graduated but who still support the district should not have a voice makes little sense.
JBW November 04, 2012 at 10:24 PM
I never stated that you should not be allowed to have a voice as a member of the Novato community or as a local tax payer. However, I don’t feel a single activist should be driving the conversation with almost 40% of the pro or con argument on Patch blogs. Also, as to your comment that I should read the petition; information what grades are affected (k-8 vs. elementary school). Sorry, but as the parent of a student in the second grade in the district, I am most interested in the elementary school perspective. As an activist with no kids in the school system or about to enter our school district, strangely, you are much more attuned to the letter of the law pertaining to this petition… very strange.
Selena Barrett November 04, 2012 at 11:16 PM
As a concerned parent of a child enrolled at one of our great NUSD schools, I can tell you that I have read the petition for the proposed charter school. I have even seen the signatures. I find it hard to grasp how a small group of parents can try to open up a new school that would, at minimum, financially strain our existing schools. The end result would be the closing of one of our already well achieving grammar schools. This would displace many well achieving kids, teachers and families and divide our community. Our schools are great! If you are so certain that you have to have an alternative education that would better our children, go and market that to our schools at your next NUSD meeting and not try to open your own “Rancho Private School”.
Marys Mama November 05, 2012 at 02:43 AM
I agree wholeheartedly, Selena! I worry about the trickle-down effect that we *know* will happen - we just can't predict *exactly* what it will be. Resources stretched too thin, the district being distracted not only this year but next - taking critical attention, effort and energy away from the overwhelming majority of families who show their support and faith in NUSD by sending children to school every day. What happens if a beloved teacher leaves his or her elementary school in favor of the charter - and a significant number of families then decide to leave the district altogether - thereby creating even more "number" problems/imbalance at the schools? IT'S NOT THE RIGHT TIME for a charter, plain and simple.
Marys Mama November 05, 2012 at 02:44 AM
*Ditto
Marys Mama November 05, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Absolutely not - this is HARDLY a decision that is driven by charter law alone. We're talking about children. Families, children, parents and a struggling district in a rotten economy. I firmly believe that we shouldn't even BE at the point of going over petitions and charter law with a fine tooth comb because we have to FIRST ask ourselves - IS THIS THE RIGHT TIME to launch such an ambitious, disruptive, divisive plan? And the answer is clearly no. There is such a SMALL group in favor of it. There's a sizable group expressing concern. It is SELFISH and NARCISSISTIC of these charter proponents to be doing this NOW. The charter proponents are screwing over thousands of children and trying to pigeonhole the district under the guise of charter law. I'm not debating the merits of charter law or the charter concept. The first debate is whether it's an appropriate time to have the debate. Answer: no. Let's all rally around NUSD so it can truly thrive (read: Lynwood on the right track, a couple of years w/out pink slips for teachers) and THEN we can talk charter/other "choices."
Gregory Mack November 05, 2012 at 04:34 AM
I have a simple solution: why doesn't the NUSD just implement the new curriculum proposed by NBEF at one of its current PI schools (e.g., Lynwood). Doing so would blunt the need for a charter school and allow the parents enamored with the approach to attend a local school within the district. It will also call the bluff of the ex-Rancho folks driving this initiative. As well, it would allow NUSD to take an alternative approach to improving the PI situation at its "struggling" schools (are any schools in NUSD truly struggling?). If it proves out to be effective, NUSD could then expand it to other schools as demand and results dictate. Separately, for those NBEF parents insisting that they're trying to "save" the NUSD by saying that a charter is needed to prevent them and other parents from leaving the NUSD, I'd ask them to tell us all how many current private school parents are actually considering leaving their private school environment to join us in the NUSD if the charter does go through. Frankly, this threat that they will all leave if they don't get what they want is empty if they can't prove to all of us that the charter will actually attract existing private school families to come back into the district.
Tina McMillan November 05, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I don't think NUSD needs saving, not by SONS and not by Charter. I think the district is fully capable of creating neighborhood, magnet, charter and other alternative schools that will provide students with the best possible learning opportunities. If you look at what NCS families endeavored to do 16 years ago, it was add to curriculum choice not change the entire district to Waldorf schools. North Bay is bringing a new program to the district that resonates for many families. The state wants teachers, parents and communities members to create public charters as part of public education reform. A Core Knowledge Novato charter has such potential. If we don't let fear rule our minds then we can listen to the district and see if North Bay Academy has met all the requirements in their petition. The starting point should be following the law because that is what is required of all districts. It is time to look at this charter with an open mind.
Susan Zaleski November 05, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Excellent ideas, Gregory. Look at NUSD's test scores. We are successfully teaching our white kids with college educated parents. (top scores in the county...in the state even.) Yet these are the people that want to leave their current school and start a new one. What sub groups need help? Children living in poverty and English Language Learners. I'm all for a charter school if NUSD can afford it, but let's support the students that really need the help.
Amy Oclassen November 07, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Statistics to ponder: 1) there were an unprecedented 40 spaces open at Rancho as of October of last year - NUSD enrollment snapshot data from that month provided the funding formula for Rancho in 2012-13. Rancho has had consistent enrollment of 495-500 students for the last 20 years (after the neighborhood conversion, there are currently 510 students enrolled being funded by that 460 ADA). Looking for proof that people leave? That, in my mind, qualified as an exodus and represented over $200K in lost revenue to NUSD this year. 2) during the years Rancho was an open enrollment school, surveys conducted at the kindergarten lottery consistently indicated that 20-30% of the attendees were not considering any other NUSD school. Clearly, the availability of the school attracted families to the district who would not otherwise enroll. 3) Reinforcing this idea, 23% of the NBEF petition signers were from out of district or parents of preschoolers, some percentage of which would likely not enroll in NUSD otherwise. Choices attract families and the attendant student ADA. I encourage people to read this document put out by NBEF which clearly refutes the arguments used against the charter proposal. A new charter is not an indictment of our existing excellent schools and the people behind it are deeply invested in NUSD - it will enhance the district's offerings and help maintain its strength and excellence. http://www.northbayedu.org/images/PDFs/myths.pdf
Tina McMillan November 07, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Amy Thank you for posting this link. It helps to have an accurate picture. I was told that we lose at least 10% of Novato students to private schools in the Elementary grades. The figure increases in middle school and high school of additional children who then leave the district for private programs. If you look at the projected numbers for the charter, the district stands to lose an another 7-10% of kids in grades K through 8 unless it focuses on NBEF as part of its alternative education programs. If the board and the district could help the community see the gains of a CK charter, the possibility of also creating a CK conversion or a CK magnet in schools that have been in PI for many years, like Lynwood, become a possibility. Conversion would also bring in additional funding. CK could even be combined with a Spanish immersion program. In Riverside, a CK conversion took a school with 7 years of PI out in just one year. In Moorpark California the district went all school of choice/charter, much like the charter conversions in Sonoma County. One school had been in program improvement for many years. They converted to a Core Knowledge Charter and won the distinguished schools award after 2 years. http://www.mpacorn.com/news/2012-07-20/Schools/Preparing_for_a_new_era_of_education.html I continue to find CA schools turning to Core Knowledge as a path out of PI and toward core standards. It seems to be working for many communities. It could also work in Novato.
Patty Maher November 07, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Amy, with regard to your first point, wasn't Rancho told by the district to not fill some openings because there would be PI transfers coming in? I seem to recall at least some of those openings could have been filled from the waiting list had Rancho not been told to stand down.
Amy Oclassen November 07, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Yes, Patty, that is true. But I can remember no year when that many openings came available over the course of one year. Our office manager tells me that 10-12 generally open up over a year (not including the ten 4th grade slots that are available every fall).
Patty Maher November 07, 2012 at 03:43 PM
I know the last two years of doing the directory, I've been amazed at the turnover compared to previous years.

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