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Charter School Advocate Questions School District's Meeting Policy

Robert Verhoeff of the North Bay Educational Foundation says he can't understand why the Novato Unified School District nixed a chance for his group to speak for an hour at the Dec. 18 meeting.

There are still a lot of head-scratching questions floating around in the wake of the Novato school board's decision to deny a petition to start a new public charter school.

Robert Verhoeff, a co-founder of the North Bay Educational Foundation, said he's going to focus on family during the holiday break rather than dive right back into the effort to open a charter school using the Core Knowledge teaching system. But, with the Novato Unified School District's unanimous denial vote fresh in mind, Verhoeff has a handful of questions that have yet to be sufficiently answered from his standpoint.

First is why the district did not allow the foundation an hour of time during the Dec. 18 board meeting to answer staff questions about the charter petition so that the trustees had responses to ponder when they rendered their decisions. Verhoeff said he believed that time would have clarified many sticking points brought up by district employees who wrote a scathing staff report in response to the charter application.

The foundation sent a request for a 1-hour block of time at the Dec. 18 meeting, but Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said no, and the district has said such a back-and-forth oral dialog is not part of the petition evaluation process.

"I would challenge either their attorney or district staff to show anybody where the process they followed is prescribed by law," Verhoeff said. "The board meetings are the property of the NUSD board, meaning they can chose whatever they want to do with their meetings. They are in charge of the agenda, and they certainly could have accommodated our request."

Board president Ross Millerick said the process is in state law, although there are many bills being presented that could impact the process down the line if they are approved. He said three board members would be taking a trip to Sacramento in January to offer ideas on how to make education laws better.

"It's a state-defined process," he said. "They had many months to prepare their application, and the district had 60 days to respond. It's the written record that's important."

Verhoeff questioned the role of the trustees as a governing body and overseer of the school district.

"It's concerning to me because whether a board is a school board, a company board or a nonprofit board, by it very nature it is supposed to be skeptical of management and be a deliberative body," he said. "It's not designed to just take what management says on face value without asking questions. Frankly that approach by NUSD causes a lot of consternation and concern from parents in Novato. The board is supposed to be a watchdog group."

Millerick said the trustees had complete trust in an experienced team of nine employees charged with examining the charter petition and writing a thorough evaluation for a staff report. In the end, the team recommended that the petition be denied, citing shortcomings in several key categories of state charter mandates.

"They reviewed that petition for 60 days and worked really hard on it," he said. "This community deserved a thorough review. It's a school district's duty to do that review. In the end, after a lot of review on our own among the trustees, we followed their recommendation."

Verhoeff said the foundation has yet to decide whether to appeal to the Marin County school trustees or rework the petition and resubmit it to NUSD.

Charter school supporters are seeking a new academic choice and a way to keep kids and families from leaving the public school system for private schools, which they say would benefit NUSD. Detractors say they are concerned about teacher layoffs, potential financial problems within the district, the closure of another school and the need to open such a school during such uncertain times for the education system.

The Novato Federation of Teachers, a group of school principals and several civil rights groups came out against the petition. The district said it stood to lose $1.4 million, for various reasons, if the petition were  approved.

The foundation seeks to create a new public charter school for kids from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade at a location to be determined later by the school district if the petition eventually gets approved. Unlike the Waldorf-inspired Novato Charter School, the North Bay Academy would follow a vastly different system called Core Knowledge, which is used by more than 700 charter schools across the country.

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Will Johnson January 04, 2013 at 06:50 PM
I certainly agree this is not a productive forum for discussion. This thread should have been dead weeks ago. If your mind is made up it is made up. My fear is that fair minded people will come here and look for information about the charter school. If there are only opponents POV's people will think it must be true. I don't enjoy this exercise, but someone has to try and present the proponent view and most people are so tired of being called names they won't bother any more. Sorry, but I am more about fight than flight. I agree it is time for everyone to move on to the next chapter. I will be interested to see how that plays out. Stay tuned!
Tina McMillan January 04, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Old stats. Here is the chart for 2012-2013 http://www.sandi.net/cms/lib/CA01001235/Centricity/Domain/85/houshold2012.jpg Free for a family of 4 is $29,965 Reduced price for 4 is $42,643 As for dead thread, your recent posts are what revived the conversation. While its great to have the last word and make it seem as if you know of what you speak for all I know you are "Steve". The discussion about Moorpark began as an example of a district that used Magnet schools to get grants that rebuilt campuses and allowed specific curriculum to be taught at each school so that school were better integrated based on focus rather than neighborhood. As a former principal I would think you would appreciate the benefits of Magnets. Our district chose to make all schools uniform thus removing the possibility of meeting the needs of a diverse student body as well as accessing needed funds. We have no solution to our structural deficit except increasing class size, shortening the school year and closing yet another school. The fact that Peach uses CK and created a concept called "Targeted Learning" in order to meet the needs of ED, ELL, LD and other populations, successfully, is worth looking at. NUSD does not have all the answers. It's teachers are strained by programs that do not provide needed staffing. Just ask the teachers what it will be like in a 2nd grade class or 30 or more students, without Aids, or Reading Specialists.
REngel January 05, 2013 at 07:22 PM
MM: You made a comment that absolutly rang true for me. "Kids who did not have a basic understanding of the language were perpetually lost during the lessons. And, it absolutely did impact all other children (i.e. proficient English speakers, my child) because there were simply too many "levels" the teacher had to work with." With your experience at Lynwood, I would very much like to have a private, respectful conversation with you on how you think a school (charter or otherwise) should set up programs that help children understand the english language - whether English is their second language or they are just struggling to understand. I admit the specifics of the EL teaching in the NBEF charter was vague. Not because we did not want EL kids, but because it is almost impossible to develop a program until you know the challeges of the students you are serving. That being said, I would like to hear your ideas on how that program may/could be structured to achiever better success than NUSD is experiencing today. As I also fully agree with your statement that "I don't view this as the appropriate forum for immigration reform. I'll let other people hash that out. The fact of the matter is, currently, NUSD has an obligation to teach the children of illegal immigrants", I hope you will reach out to me at northbayedu@gmail.com so we can have a civil and private conversation - even if it is via email to protect your identity...
ConcernedNovatoan January 08, 2013 at 01:58 AM
D Rex, I do know a teacher who works alongside Mr. McDonald but does not share his political views, yet says he is an exemplary teacher. His political views are not impressed upon the children he teaches.
ConcernedNovatoan January 08, 2013 at 02:29 AM
I agree with John B regarding the need for proponent side of issues along with the opponents' viewpoints to be presented in a rational, civilized manner. It was done well for the most part back in November at the open public forum, but I sure noticed a a lot more detractors snickering at proponents in the overflow room....

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