Charter School Rift

The prospect of sharing campus space has a community fretting about inequality

| January 24, 2013

On a brisk and blazing-bright Monday morning, school kids frolic on the playground of Redwood Preparatory Charter School in Fortuna. Fourth, fifth and sixth graders in sweatshirts scamper through the wood chips around the swing set, tromp across the giant tractor tires laid flat in the grass and lob basketballs in rainbow arcs toward the iron hoop. In the winter sun their elongated shadows dance across the asphalt and their breaths form steam plumes that evaporate in laughter.

Since opening in fall 2011, Redwood Prep school has been housed at Fortuna Church of the Nazarene, on a hill just south of town. With donations of time, money and labor from parents and staff, the chapel's ancillary rooms have been converted to classrooms and the small playground at the back of the parking lot has been tricked out with handmade picnic tables, a drinking fountain and new equipment.

A few kids are distracted from their play by a reporter with a camera and a notebook.

"Are you the news?" asks a tall girl in jeans and a blue hoodie. In seconds a crowd has formed, more than a dozen confident and bright-eyed kids eager to explain why their school is so awesome.

"There aren't as many people. ... It's smaller. ... Our teachers are really nice. ... You can eat whatever you want."

They're talking over each other, excited and hollering to be heard.

"Technology!" shouts another girl. (Was that Charlotte, the fifth grader? Or Katie from sixth?) "We have 40 laptops and 25 iPads," she brags.

One of the boys (Jack? AJ? Trey?) makes eye contact and says, "We have a really good, like, relationship with our teachers."

"But we have a lot of responsibilities," explains another. "We have to earn our privileges."

Those privileges are in demand -- not just by students but by their parents, too. A smaller girl in a puffy pink jacket seems to appreciate this. "We have, like, a big waiting list," she says proudly.

It's true. Last fall, a lottery was held to determine which kids would get admitted to Redwood Prep and which would be sent instead to one of Fortuna Elementary School District's four traditional public schools. There were 20 spots available in the incoming kindergarten class. Nine went automatically to kids who had siblings already enrolled at the school or parents on the staff or board of directors. (California's education code allows this preferential treatment at charter schools.)

So 11 kids got in through the lottery. Roughly 40 others were turned away.

The school's charter document and parent handbook lay out a high-minded educational philosophy, describing a school where college-bound kids are held to rigorous academic standards while learning the importance of social responsibility, emotional development and community involvement. The school day lasts nearly an hour longer than at traditional schools, and each family commits to 30 volunteer hours per year. According to the charter, students develop long-term relationships with teachers who tailor their approach to each child's needs.

While Redwood Prep's enterprising methods have proved popular, some in the community are less than happy with the impact the school has had on the rest of the district. The grumbling began even before Redwood Prep opened its doors.

The five women who founded the school all used to work at Ambrosini Elementary, a K-4 traditional public school in the same district. (Both schools were part of the Rohnerville School District until it was consolidated with the Fortuna Union Elementary School District last July.) As the women began developing the charter, one had been laid off -- a result of funding cuts and deferrals, declining enrollment and her lack of seniority. Not long afterward, three of the other four were also given pink slips. Now they've started their own school, and some of the teachers who remain at Ambrosini feel bitter.

When parents started pulling their kids out of Ambrosini in favor of Redwood Prep, a lot of veteran teachers were laid off, according to Fortuna Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. Patti Hafner. With the charter school siphoning off students, Ambrosini lost scarce state funding, which is based on average daily attendance numbers. "They laid off eight or 10 people who had been teachers for a very long time. We're talking years. That's where a lot of the hard feelings came from originally."

Lisa Jager, the director of Redwood Prep, disputes that account, saying staff cuts would have been made regardless of the charter school, and indeed some of the teachers were laid off well before planning had even begun for the school. "Lawyers were involved and the whole school atmosphere was very tense," she said in an email.

Regardless, many in the community are now complaining that Redwood Prep is elitist, attracting mostly wealthy, well-educated families and exploiting their resources to buy iPads and take field trips while the traditional public schools are left to deal with the learning disabled kids, the poor kids, the English learners and other students who require more resources and tend to score lower on standardized tests.

Last school year those resentments mostly simmered in private conversations. But in the fall, that all changed. Administrators at Redwood Prep approached the district with a request. The school, they said, was growing. It began as a K-5, but this year it's a K-6; the plan is to keep adding one grade level per year until 2014, when it will be K-8. Attendance is now up to 125. Teachers and students are running out of room at Fortuna Church of the Nazarene. It was time to invoke Prop. 39.

Introduced by ballot initiative in 2000, Proposition 39 requires every school district in the state to provide facilities for any charter school that has at least 80 full-time, district-resident students. The reasoning goes like this: Charter schools may be run privately, but they're publicly funded and thus still considered public schools. And all public school students in a district should be entitled to reasonably equivalent classrooms and other facilities.

And so here was Redwood Prep, asking for space either at Ambrosini or one of the district's three other traditional public schools. Ideally, administrators said, they could use 10 classrooms, an office and a large auditorium/multi-purpose room.

Prop 39 dictates that the request must be granted; Redwood Prep is entitled to space. The Fortuna Elementary School District Board has yet to determine exactly how to accommodate the request. A six-person committee has been formed -- with an administrator, a teacher and a board member from both Redwood Prep and the traditional schools -- to examine the possibilities.

But while these bureaucratic accommodations proceed in an orderly fashion, a number of parents and teachers in the district are positively livid about what's happening. They're outraged at the prospect of having to make room on their own campuses for the school that stole some of their brightest kids and caused some of their best teachers to be fired. They're incensed at the idea that their kids will be forced to rub shoulders with the iPad-toting, field-trip-taking rich kids of Redwood Prep. They've shouted their displeasure at recent district board meetings, where the crowded gatherings have devolved into tears, accusations and ultimatums.

In a county where charter schools have proliferated -- we now have 14 with a combined enrollment of 2,264 -- parents and educators in Fortuna are struggling to figure out how to coexist with their first one. And that struggle is stirring up a host of issues ranging from class to race to privilege, all swimming around one core concern: the education of their children.

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When lawmakers passed the Charter Schools Act of 1992, California became just the second state in the country (after Minnesota) to embrace this model of publicly funded but privately operated education. The idea was that by allowing charters more autonomy over student curriculum, the state would encourage innovative teaching methods, expand options for parents and students and "provide vigorous competition" with traditional schools as a way to stimulate improvements across the board.

The law says special emphasis should be placed on expanding learning opportunities for kids identified as "academically low achieving."

Another key component? Charter school teachers aren't unionized, so they can be fired for poor performance, unlike at traditional schools where tenure makes dismissing bad teachers challenging. Charter school teachers are also cheaper.

"Our staff took huge pay cuts" to start the charter, Jager said.

Salaries at traditional schools in the county range from $28,400 (for a first-year teacher in Orick) to $73,300 (for a well-educated teacher with 30 years' experience in the Northern Humboldt Union High School District). Salaries at Redwood Prep range from $30,000 to $42,000.

There are now 5,618 charters in the country, educating more than 2 million K-12 students. In California, one in 10 public schools is now a charter school (though their enrollment accounts for less than 4 percent of the state's total). Here in Humboldt County, our 14 charters offer a wide variety of approaches -- Spanish immersion at Fuente Nueva; creative freedom at Redwood Coast Montessori; an international baccalaureate program at North Coast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy, and more.

Jager is the director of the newest addition to the bunch, Redwood Prep. In a recent interview at the charter's office she said that the five founding women, who began working on the charter in 2010, share a common philosophy. All five were trained in the RTI (response to intervention) model, which emphasizes identifying kids with challenges as early as possible to help them improve.

"We wanted to work in a collaborative manner with families and children and to really push a project-based learning philosophy," Jager said. She believes traditional schools are being "strangled by politicians." And even though she's the only founding member who had enough seniority at Ambrosini to avoid being laid off, she still didn't approve of the system.

"What's happened throughout the state is there are a lot of passionate, young, enthusiastic, knowledgeable teachers who were let go because of budget cuts."

Demand for Redwood Prep was high from the beginning. The founders expected to start the school with 75 students, but after months of recruitment efforts -- including visits to preschools and sporting events, ads in the Times-Standard and Humboldt Beacon and fliers distributed around town -- the families of 102 aspiring students were lining up.

With some logistical shuffling, Redwood Prep was able to accommodate all 102 students who applied to attend when the school opened in fall 2011, and the school's popularity has continued to grow. With enrollment up to 125 this year and 76 kids on the waiting list, Jager said, "We're kind of bursting at the seams at this point."

The school added a portable classroom this year, but the electrical system at the church isn't set up to accommodate another one. Plus, with so many students using laptops and iPads, they're bumping up against the limits of the site's bandwidth. There's simply not enough room if the school hopes to add another grade level next school year.

Why are teachers and parents at the traditional schools so opposed to making room? The reasons are numerous, but most are tied to a central theme: inequality.

Sheri Rodriguez is a member of the parent-teacher organization at Ambrosini, where her two kids are enrolled, one in kindergarten and the other in second grade. She feels that Redwood Prep enjoys an unfair advantage over traditional public schools like Ambrosini.

"Our schools don't have the option to limit enrollment to only those who can meet our ‘rigorous academic standards' or our ‘high behavioral expectations,'" said Rodriguez, quoting the charter school's website.

At a school board meeting last month, outspoken Redwood Prep critic Irene Werner, who coordinates the Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) program at the traditional Toddy Thomas Elementary, where her daughter is a student, stood up and described the charter system as "de-facto segregation" and "elitism," calling Redwood Prep "a school not open to everyone."

Like all public institutions, charter schools are legally prevented from discriminating. But critics of Redwood Prep and other charter schools say that the system is set up in a way that can't help but breed inequality.

As Rodriguez pointed out, Redwood Prep advertises its "rigorous standards," which is a pitch bound to appeal to parents with high expectations of their own.

"They advertise themselves as preparing kids for college," Werner said in a phone interview. Parents and teachers at the traditional schools get sarcastic about it, she said. "The joke is, ‘Our school is preparing the future janitors of the world, or the McDonald's workers.' It's almost funny in a way, but it's just a very emotional issue."

Then there's the requirement for 30 hours of volunteer time from students' families. Jager said the charter school depends on that help. "We have parents who come and clean our toilets. We have parents who do construction, parents who come and help in the classroom." She said the collaboration fosters a strong sense of family, but does it also weed out blue-collar families?

Rodriguez thinks so. "A lot of our parents are working parents and can't afford time off to be in the classroom," she said.

There are more hurdles for poor families. For example, Redwood Prep doesn't offer public transportation. Nor does it provide free or reduced-cost lunches to the socio-economically disadvantaged kids who qualify for them. This, according to critics, effectively disqualifies families who can't drive their kids to and from school every day or who can't always provide packed lunches.

Enrollment data seems to justify these complaints. As of October 2011 (the most recent figures available), more than 60 percent of students were considered socio-economically disadvantaged in the two districts that have since been unified as the Fortuna Elementary School District. The concentration among the four traditional public schools ranged from Toddy Thomas Elementary, where 44.5 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunches, to South Fortuna Elementary, where the figure was above 80 percent.

At Redwood Prep, meanwhile, just 28 percent of students fall below the income line.

Jager counters that her school receives $1,000 less per student in average daily attendance funding from the state. The estimated statewide average ADA funding for traditional K-6 students this year is $6,450, compared to charter school rates of $5,527 for K-3 and $5,603 for 4-6. Other funding comes from local fundraising efforts and grants, including a two-year federal start-up grant of $350,000 as well as a $10,000 matching grant for technology from the Mel and Grace McLean Foundation, a Fortuna-based philanthropic organization founded by the late owner and founder of Eel River Sawmills.

Critics such as Werner say other needy kids are effectively discouraged from attending, too, including special education students and children who are still learning English.

Again, the numbers seem to bear this out. Last year, more than 18 percent of students in the district were special ed. At Redwood Prep the figure is just 12 percent. The disparity among English learners is even larger. District-wide, 21.7 percent of students are considered "EL." At Redwood Prep only four of the 125 students, or 3.2 percent, are English learners.

Critics say that Redwood Prep didn't do enough outreach to Spanish speakers. Jager said that an interpreter was available for every enrollment meeting with parents. She added, "We purposely have a member of the Hispanic community on our school board as part of the outreach to that community." But she acknowledged that the school's website, the ads placed in local papers and the fliers posted around town were in English only. (The school is currently working on making the website bilingual, she said.)

The Hispanic community has been growing for years in and around Fortuna. In the 2010 Census, the 95540 zip code was 17 percent Hispanic/Latino, with the highest concentration in and around town. Last school year, the student body in the Fortuna Union Elementary School District was 45 percent Hispanic while the more rural Rohnerville Elementary School District south of town was 18 percent Hispanic. Now combined, the district is 31.3 percent Hispanic.

Again, Redwood Prep lags behind. Just 13.6 percent of its student body is Hispanic.

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These trends are not unique to Redwood Prep. In an extensive study published in 2010, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that charter schools isolate students by race and class.

Across the country, the report found, charter schools have tended to exacerbate race and class divides in their communities. In urban areas, the pattern is for charters to see high levels of minority segregation, especially among black students. Seventy percent of black charter school students in the country attend "intensely segregated minority charter schools," where 90 percent to 100 percent of students are minorities.

In more racially diverse western states, including California, the pattern is different. Here, the report found, evidence suggests that "charters serve as havens for white flight from public schools." Just like the student body at Redwood Prep, charter schools in the West tend to have higher concentrations of white students than the communities that surround them.

Humboldt County is no exception. Even before Redwood Prep arrived, the report found that our charter schools were 80 percent white, compared to just 69 percent in traditional public schools. Latinos made up just 6 percent of our county's charter school enrollment. In traditional schools it was twice that.

The study also echoes Redwood Prep critics by pointing out that English learners and low-income students may not have the same access to charter schools as white and middle-class children, especially without providing transportation and subsidized lunches.

As for academic performance, Redwood Prep has excelled. Third graders at South Fortuna Elementary narrowly outscored Redwood Prep third graders in English-language arts on the 2012 STAR tests, and its second graders performed better than the charter's second graders in math. But with those two exceptions, Redwood Prep students outscored students from other district schools in math, English and science at every grade level.

According to the UCLA report, extensive studies have revealed "no net academic gains for [charter school] students as indicated by test scores." But for now, at least, Redwood Prep is an exception.

Rodriguez said the differences are just too stark. "I'm fine with them being a charter school, and if their demographics matched our district I would not even have a problem with them sharing our campus," she said. "It's just the fact that they're so different and there's so much tension there."

Dianna Butcher, who teaches sixth grade at Toddy Thomas and whose kids are enrolled in Ambrosini, is similarly concerned. And she doesn't see any justice in the way Prop 39 entitles the school to facilities. "I just can't believe a group of people can come in and say, ‘OK, now we want this and we want this and we want this, and just get out of our way,' basically, and take away things from kids who really need it the most. You know? I just am appalled."

Margie Plant, a third grade teacher at Ambrosini, agreed. "I think we need to maybe review this Prop. 39," she said. "It doesn't seem fair or equal, and the facts are that it's not."

The thing that concerns Rodriguez the most is the prospect of students noticing the differences and feeling either jealous or self-conscious. "I just don't think it's good to teach children that they're superior or inferior, and I just worry that if they share a campus that would happen. Let them be at their place; let us be at our place."

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How have other local charter schools managed to coexist with the traditional schools in their districts? "I would have to say that we have a very good working relationship," said Arcata School District Superintendent Pamela Jones, whose district now has four charter schools.  "We've made a really big effort to bring them on board and be part of our team," she said. "They're here to stay, and we need to make the best of the situation."

Jones attributes the harmony in part to combined staff-development efforts. "We'll eat breakfast, we'll eat lunch, and people have gotten to know one another. That's made a big difference."

When told of the strife in Fortuna, Freshwater Charter School Principal Thom McMahon said he wouldn't be surprised if that's a common reaction to any new charter school. "Anything new tends to have some humps you've got to get over," he said. McMahon's charter school (grades 7 and 8) was created in 1999 to serve students graduating from the traditional Freshwater Elementary (K-6). Those elementary students used to head to Eureka for middle school, but Freshwater residents liked their school so much they helped create a charter to effectively expand Freshwater into a K-8.

McMahon said the inherent differences between the charter and traditional school systems haven't caused problems in Freshwater. "I can say this: Our schools actually benefit from that," he said. As an example, he said that the traditional school provided equipment to the shared computer lab that every student now benefits from. "So I really think it's about creating that relationship between the two."

But even in the best situations, charter schools can be a dangerous topic of conversation. "It is a testy issue for people," said Julie Giannini-Prevede. She's director of student services at McKinleyville Middle School, a traditional public school, but for a variety of reasons including proximity, social circles and curriculum, she chose to enroll her kids at Fuente Nueva Charter School. "I don't bring it up in mixed company." It's like circumcision, she said. "People have strong opinions about it."

Giannini-Prevede sympathizes with parents in Fortuna but expects the tensions will settle down. "With anything new in education there's going to be backlash -- for at least three years, if not five," she said. "Change is hard."

She speculated that the low numbers of special ed and English learning students at Redwood Prep might not be the charter school's fault, entirely. "Generally speaking [traditional] public schools have more resources for special needs kids," she said. Families with disabled students who require individualized education programs (IEPs) often form relationships with resource teachers early in their child's life and don't want to sever that bond.

Garry Eagles, the county's superintendent of schools, said there may be a similar dynamic at play with English learners. Yes, there are more of them at Fortuna Elementary School District's traditional schools, he said, "but I don't know if that's necessarily by design of Redwood Prep as much as by the support system provided in the Fortuna program. I mean, they have a lot more resources devoted to [EL] students."

Eagles also said that concerns about Redwood Prep siphoning off the best students should be put in perspective. "There is a perception that kids are being stolen away, and in some cases that might be true," he said. "But that is the purpose of charter schools, is to provide competition and options for parents."

Still, there remain questions about whether those options are available to all parents.

Last year, Redwood Prep was visited by a two-member inspection team from the Charter School Development Center, a nonprofit group that serves as an approved review board for the California Department of Education. The inspectors spent three days at the school, examining documents, visiting classrooms and generally "taking the temperature of the school" to make sure it was abiding by the guidelines laid out in its charter, said Eric Premack, the organization's director and founder.

That charter, a 96-page document, lays out strategies for achieving a broad range of goals, including serving and recruiting English learners, low-achieving and economically disadvantaged students. How did the inspectors feel the school is doing?

"Their impressions for the school, particularly for one this new, was that they've made a ton of progress and they're doing quite well," Premack said. When it comes to demographics, he said, what's important is making sure that charter schools are making "good faith efforts" that align with the promises laid out in the charter. And he said the situation in Fortuna is a common one.

"It's not uncommon for folks in the traditional schools to get a little freaked out" when charters ask for facilities, he said, especially when resources are in such short supply. "In some localities these become brutal knock-down drag-em-outs" that wind up in court, he said.

Administrators in Fortuna are hoping it doesn't come to that here.

"We want to collaborate in every aspect," Jager said. "If there are things that we could possibly offer the other students, we will make every attempt to do that -- and vice versa. It's all how you approach it."

Jeff Northern is principal of South Fortuna Elementary School, and he's currently serving as chair of the committee that's trying to figure out how to grant Redwood Prep's facilities request. "We're taking a look at everything. We're brainstorming every option that we can conceive of," he said. That includes looking at Fortuna Church of the Nazarene to see if Redwood Prep could possibly stay at its current site. The committee will present options for the district school board to consider. The board will then make an offer to the charter school, probably within the next month, Northern said.

"I think demographics will work themselves out," said Redwood Prep School Board President Jeremy Stanfield, who works as a realtor locally and serves as another member of the facilities committee. "We haven't had a chance to become a familiar part of the public education system."

Critics remain upset about the inequities, and some wounds aren't likely to heal anytime soon. "I've seen a lot of friendships destroyed," said Butcher, one of the Ambrosini moms. She's worried about her kids -- that they'll feel inferior, that they'll lose space at their school, that they'll be overlooked in classrooms packed full of kids.

But of course, don't all parents worry about their children?

"I try to keep the focus on the kids, because the emotion is all coming from adults," said Hafner, the district superintendent. "We need to realize that regardless of how we feel about charter schools, we are one community, and these are all our kids. So we've got to come to some solutions."

 Charter School Rift

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Maybe you should have taken the time to ask Redwood Prep parents why they chose Redwood Prep over the other Fortuna Schools. You did a nice job throwing out statistics, but doesn't it come down to a parents choice? We are not elitiest, we are parents who are passionate about our children's education!

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Posted by Allison Medeiros on 01/24/2013 at 9:27 AM

To assume the families at Redwood Prep are rich is a joke and that the parents there don't work so they can volunteer wow from what I see it seems many of our families have both parents working. My husband works all day we run a farm/boarding business and have 5 children at home and we find time to volunteer as do the other families maybe its about priorities. Just like in "regular" schools its always the same people doing everything. So maybe part of the problem is that the families helping out at Redwood Prep were the sameone's doing everything at the other schools and now their gone. I have a child at Redwood Prep who needs extra help and he has exceled there where as when we went to "regular" school's in Fortuna I had to hire tutors. The teachers at our school are awsome and put in the extra effort to help our children and love them they are excited to teach them and our kids feel that. Parents choices for their children mean alot and any of these other parents could have attended planning meetings just as we did a lot of people were apprehensive and wanted to wait to see if the school could make it before commiting to sending their children there and now I feel they are jealous or resentful there isn't enough room for them. If my children weren't attending Redwood Prep they wouldn't be going to Ambrosini or Toddy anyways so they aren't missing out on any money from my children not going there. Bottom line you worry about your childs education and what you think is best and I will do the same for my family you don't like Redwood Prep don't send you child there.

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Posted by Stefanie Humphrey on 01/24/2013 at 9:50 AM

Our child is a student at redwood prep and not because we are rich or white. We simply chose a school that was the best fit for our child's learning needs. At his previous school he was kept in during recess to do reading as none of the other children were at that level and classroom time could not be lavished on him. Reluctance and boredom ensued and naturally so did behavioral problems as we watched our child who loves to learn become less and less engaged. Our modest annual household income is around $40,000, we certainly are not rich people, but we are still taxpayers who should be allowed a choice and say for our child's education. While I can understand some of the community's misgivings, I find this article to be hurtful and deeply biased. Traditional public schools need considerable reform and I think that while charters are not necessarily the entire answer they are certainly a cog in the machine of change.

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Posted by Merrilee C. on 01/24/2013 at 10:15 AM

We most certainly aren't rich elitists. We want what is best for our children. When the school was being formed, I was going to still enroll my little ones at Ambrosini when they were ready for Kindergarten. I attended the information meeting last January and was blown away by what the kids are being taught, both academically and community/character wise. I had a tough time deciding that Redwood Prep would be best for my girls, especially since I have twins who I had planned on putting in different classes, had they gone to Ambro. In the end I couldn't justify sending them to a school just because I happen to have a few favorite teachers that I couldn't guarantee they'd have. And I was nervous at the lottery, because it was possible for one girl to get in, but not the other. I understand the hurt feelings in the community, but it seems there is a ton of misinformation floating around. Seri's comment about us limiting enrollment due to our 'standards' is a perfect example of that. Those standards and expectations are a product of our environment, not a pre-requisite for enrollment. As for the technology, I wish every school could have as much as we do, but the parents and kids worked hard and fundraised and applied for grant money to get them. Regular public schools could do the same. And about the volunteer hours, all the families I know at Redwood have both parents working. I have gone on a couple field trips, and cleaned bathrooms once a week for the first semester and already have 19 hours (I also see grandparents pitching in as well). Working at a school function and vacuuming the halls once a week during the last semester will get me the rest of the way. As far as sharing a campus with one of the Fortuna school sites, I don't think Fortuna is ready for that. I personally do not see any way we could share a campus without any tension. Even if the school district somehow benefitted from it, Redwood would still be the 'bad guy.' And don't forget--my property taxes are still going to the district, not the charter school.

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Posted by kathy christensen on 01/24/2013 at 11:09 AM

As stated in this article, it is a law that requires school districts to provide classroom space for those charter schools that exist within that district. The parents and teachers at the Fortuna/Rohnerville schools that are so upset about Redwood Prep fail to recognize one key component about this whole scenario; parents are tired of over-crowded classrooms, exhausted educators and a lack of resources. Parents, ultimately, are the ones responsible for their children's education. If they choose to find the best education available for their child, it is their right and responsibility to do so. Competition for precious resources should be making those in the public school system try harder to help educate the children they are responsible for. As a side note, all of my children are grown and I have no connection to the schools located within Fortuna.

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Posted by Cindi on 01/24/2013 at 11:12 AM

I agree with Allison, that the only thing missing from this article is some input from the RP parents about why they chose to give this new charter school a try. I would like to say, first and foremost, that nobody “stole” my daughter from anywhere and placed her somewhere else. My husband and I made a joint decision, with the input of our daughter, to send her to RP. My daughter previously attended Ambro, and my older children attended Ambro and Toddy. We didn't leave because Ambro was “bad.” I didn't even know there were so many other options for educators, until I attended the informational meeting for RP. I was just simply so impressed with what they wanted to do with the new school that I wanted to give it a try. And I can say that the school has turned out to be even better than I expected.
We were not “recruited” in any way, shape or form. One of the founders was a friend of mine and I was actually surprised at the time that she didn't encourage me more to change schools. I was the one who asked her about it and she just told me to come to an informational meeting. No pressure at all.
I understand some of the points made in the article about perceived inequalities, some things I hadn't thought about before. But this idea that we all got together because we think our kids are “better” than others and decided to separate is RIDICULOUS. It's great that the kids were so enthusiastic with the reporter about their school and their iPads, etc. My daughter also loves her school. But believe me, RP is lacking MANY of the amenities of the local public schools. They aren't a bunch of “rich” kids walking around with iPads. I'm sure they would like to have individual desks to sit at. I'm sure the middle schoolers will want to have lockers. I'm sure they would like to have a bus. I'm know they would like to have a GYM. I'm sure they would like to have more/better playground equipment. I KNOW the teachers would love to have some janitorial service. But we make do with what we have, or don't have, because the trade-off is worth it. We have incredible teachers who work so, so hard every day for our kids. For less money, apparently. (Another thing I didn't know.) It's not easy, but it's wonderful. Hopefully, the other things will come in time. In talking about the teachers and the school with a friend of mine, my friend said, “Imagine what they could do if they had unlimited funds.” Imagine. They all came from Ambro apparently. Why weren't they able to do the same things there? Isn't that what people should REALLY be complaining about? I think so.

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Posted by Sabrina Shaha on 01/24/2013 at 11:43 AM

I used too many characters in my last post, so I had to continue in another post:
I guess there's some controversy about whether teachers lost their jobs because of RP or would have lost their jobs anyway. I hate to hear about anyone losing their job, of course. But either way, shouldn't it be about what's best for the kids? I'm a member of a union, and I believe in unions. But this idea that teachers can't be fired is crazy. Isn't it? Who else has a job like that? I don't.
The school is only in the middle of its second year. Maybe everyone should calm down and give time a chance. All those stats about EL's, etc., can and I'm sure will be worked out in time. In the meantime, people should think about how their attitudes and beliefs are affecting their children and the attitudes and beliefs of their children. Our kids are all going to end up at Fortuna High together eventually, after all.

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Posted by Sabrina Shaha on 01/24/2013 at 11:44 AM

I am surprised your Politically-Correct Statistics spouting writer and editor failed to notice that Ms Rodriguez's quote that "those redwood prep students" are just to "different" to be around and certainly shouldn't share space with "our school" Is not that tantamount to racism? As usual the charge of racism is intended to divide differing groups, not to unite them. It is 2013 in California, not 1965 Alabama. Demographics will reflect the population, and so will our schools. The focus at RPC is education, and they are doing it successfully. To those who keep the bad blood boiling and wounds open, Heal thy self and just "let it be"

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Posted by Michael Lee on 01/24/2013 at 11:54 AM

Why don't we take another look at those numbers? 80% of South Fortuna's student body is economically disadvantaged while only 44% Toddy Thomas students fall below that line? That's nearly twice as many! And 45% of South Fortuna's student body is Hispanic, compared to only 18% in the Rohnerville district? More than double? Well, these statistics must mean that the Rohnerville district is RACIST!....Or maybe it means that significant differences in student demographics have existed long before Redwood Prep came into the picture, and that these differences are due to a number of socioeconomic factors, not racism. I understand that the other campuses in the district aren't happy about Redwood Prep, but there has to be a better and more productive way to solve this problem. Slinging around terms like "racist" and "elitist" isn't going to make this process any easier.

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Posted by Ryan Samuelson on 01/24/2013 at 11:57 AM

WOW! I'm just going to say a few words. Again, I am proud to be a parent who wants nothing but the most beneficial educational and social setting for my children. Without writing an article as long as the one recently published, which I could easily double in support of Redwood Preparatory Charter School....I will say the following..... I got involved on day one when I heard such a community school could possibly exist, knowing that my son's special requirements to help him succeed were in no way shape or form being met at the school he was attending. A change in place of education was going to be made regardless. We are a 40 hour/week plus double working parent household, who work morning noon and night to support our family and still have daily struggles. Don't look down on me because I chose to invest in an educating team who is willing to accept my son for who he is and the struggles he endures. Walking down school halls not being acknowledged by staff, and then walking into a classroom to volunteer having the teacher ask why you are there, and next time a call in the morning to forewarn I'd be coming would be appreciated....leaves a taste in my mouth as though I'd just eaten a lemon whole. No thank you~ I love the family that we have all built at Redwood Prep and I would wake in guilt everyday had I not taken the time to invest in the educational welfare of my child.

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Posted by Elyzabeth Couch on 01/24/2013 at 12:03 PM

I also think it's interesting that Irene Werner accuses our school of "de facto segregation" and "elitism" while she's the coordinator of the GATE program. You mean the program that actually labels kids as "gifted" and "talented" and separates them from other kids and removes them from class to attend special field trips and activities that are NOT "open to everyone"???? Really, Ms. Werner??? But that's ok? Also, for the record, my husband and I also both work and most of the parents that I know from RP work. There are way too many misconceptions and misinformation going around.

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Posted by Sabrina Shaha on 01/24/2013 at 12:16 PM

Stop the insanity folks. I encourage each of you to stop pushing your own opinions and agendas about this and quit making it so personal. No one has done anything to you. Stop playing the victim. All that has happened is that a group of teachers and parents got together to form an alternative for our community. Charter schools are clearly going to be a part of many California communities and anyone who’s opposed to this movement should quit complaining and move on. Rude comments and hatefulness will likely have no impact on Redwood Prep’s success so you should just accept that they will continue to be a part of the Fortuna community. If you are doing a great job, you will all have the ability to attract new students to your schools and parents will fortunately have alternatives which is a good thing. Redwood Prep has a lot of community support despite what many of you are saying and the stakeholders are very committed to it being a successful school. In the end, the results will be the proof and it takes time to produce those results. Everyone should be focusing on making their schools the best learning environment for our children and producing their own results and quit worrying about what your competition is up to.

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Posted by Ginger on 01/24/2013 at 1:17 PM

WOW who had to connection with Rohnerville School District that wrote this ONE SIDED story. Can you prove that teachers lost their jobs ONLY because of Redwood Prep - my son got pinked slipped in Southern California - is Redwood Prep responsible for his pink slip? I went to a private school and chose to send my children to one also. It was my choice to send them to where I wanted - I was not bullied by the staff of my "district" school. We also gave time each month at the school. It was a good thing!! Sounds to me like it is a personal fight with the teachers at Ambrosini - maybe a little resentment? These teachers are whining about only being left with the tough kids - must really make the parents of current Ambrosini students feel good about their attitudes. If they can't handle the students they have, then they need to take a look at why they are there. Funny that McKinleyville, Arcata Loleta and Freshwater have made it work. WE, as parents, have a right to choose what is best for our children, and if it means changing schools, that is their choice. The temper tantrums by the staff is absolutely sickening!! Time to take a look at the current staff and the lack of respect they have for not only the teachers but the parents who made the choice to pull them out of Ambrosini School and put them in Redwood Prep, and the "I Pad toting" students attending . Stop the bullying, and do your job.The better job you do the more students will flock to your school.

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Posted by Julie on 01/24/2013 at 1:52 PM

Funny how the facts can be "skewed". Journalism at its finest. We have a group of Amazingly, unselfish women who took cuts in pay, work longer hours, gave up their union status,clean bathrooms and kitchens all to do what what they are absoluetly passionate about: teaching children. All children. And they are attacked by hatred and lies at every turn. It is almost comical ,the things that are being said, if it wasnt tearing our community apart. If you visited our school you would see our playground if far inferior, our lunch room doubles as tech lab, we dont have a gym and you cant turn the heaters all on or you will blow a fuse. Funny we are the elistist? Have you seen the gym at south school. The new technology at Ambro. The playgrounds. Really ? Were is this article coming from? RPC is not for everyone. We make sacrifices and we are happy to Volunteer those 30 hours. We have no ill will toward any schools, students or teachers. We took a chance we "Wanted" something different. We went looking and trusted these women as we had seen what they were trying to do while at Ambrosini. We are not trying to take anything away from the other kids or hurt them or put them down. Weve ran out of space. Our tax dollars go to the district to provide space. The kids used to have a space there. This is out of necessity not meanness. Or to flaunt our Ipads. We are passionate about this ill informed article because We see these teachers everyday, we see what they are doing. They are dedicated to our children. They work hard and they are getting results. And if we had the room and resources we wouldnt have a waiting list. Its not about keeping people out. The law says lottery is the way it has to be to be fair. . Why can other citys work it out? . Fieldtrips? what the other schools are not doing these? Please think logically as you read this article. Read between the lines. Just because they put it in black and white does not mean its true.

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Posted by Angie Rocha on 01/24/2013 at 2:03 PM

After reading this article I had flashbacks of a very similar chain of events that occurred aprx. 8 years ago. Several teachers at Fortuna High School decided to explore and open a High School on College of the Redwoods campus. The first year was met with a lot of negative remarks from other parents and staff. The Academy of the Redwoods is an excellent school that offered our daughter many opportunities that Fortuna High could not. The families also had to apply and be accepted and there was a lot of family involvement. Rather than bashing these schools we need to look at them as one more positve way that our children can receive a good education in a country that seems to be putting less emphasis towards it.

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Posted by Crystal B on 01/24/2013 at 2:17 PM

I have a special needs son. He fits into no known acronym and never has. He is the EPITOME of a square peg. Guess what? RPC WELCOMES square pegs. The innuendo being hurled at this charter school regarding special ed kids, "trouble kids" is BEYOND laughable to me. So much so that I penned a letter to the school board trying to allay the fretful "fears" that RPC "only took the best kids in" by giving a brief history of my son and the laundry list of issues we've had with schools over the years. Again, the smear campaign on this school is laughable. They have no "screening process” unless of course you're trying to enroll your dog or cat. Other than that though...Be my shadow one day and you'll see. No really. I'd love it. Walk in our shoes just for an hour and your "fears" will be dispatched. But that's not what this is about is it? Not really. What you have are a group of women who hit a wall where they were and thought they could do better outside that box. Good LORD! The heresy! The "elitism" of thinking that something different might, just might, be better. There were several quotes in this article worthy of attention, but this one really nails it for me: “'They advertise themselves as preparing kids for college,' Werner said in a phone interview. Parents and teachers at the traditional schools get sarcastic about it, she said. 'The joke is, ‘Our school is preparing the future janitors of the world, or the McDonald’s workers.’ It’s almost funny in a way, but it’s just a very emotional issue.'” Nice. Who perpetuates that attitude Ms. Werner, you? Perhaps rather than slinging arrows at another school’s mission statement, your time might be better spent examining your own mission and how you convey that to others.

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Posted by Samantha Lee on 01/24/2013 at 5:15 PM

My question is is it a bad thing to support yourself or your family being a janitor or by working at McDonald's hmm interesting I try to teach my kids that no matter what you do do it to your best ability no job is to big or to small and that our garbage man is just as important as the mail man and as a matter of fact there are a few college educated people I know who work fast food. Also a thought to ponder is that if the parents of 125 children and more on a waiting list wanted change for there children then maybe the district should take a closer look at there own operations. I in no way think my children are better or more entitled I just made a choice that any of those other parents could have. Many people were apprehensive in sending their children because they wanted first to see if the school could make it and I feel they are now resentful that they are making it. In our society it is sad but true people like to see others fail and be the underdog. The last year my daughter went to Ambro no parents were welcome or allowed in the classroom ever not really the atmosphere I wanted to send my child to everyday and that's my right as a parent. I just want whats best for my child and shouldn't be made to feel bad for that or be called names and accused of being a certain type of person. I went through this with people for choosing to send my children to Montessori so I guess i'm a double education offender.

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Posted by Stefanie Humphrey on 01/24/2013 at 5:56 PM

I am saddened the read what has been written here about such a wonderful school. I admit I was somewhat apprehensive about Redwood Prep in the beginning (mostly just because of it being so new) however, my husband and I went to the meetings and kept an open mind. What we saw were amazing teachers who were working their hardest to provide a wonderful school experience for ALL the children. Our child is one of the 11 who were chosen in the lottery. We were not "recruited". Our child's abilities and learning level were not screened. Nobody asked about our annual income. It was by random chance of rhe lottery that our child secured a placement in the school. The attitude and negative comments coming from adults quoted in this article are quite concerning. Our children are friends with children who go to other schools and never once have they brought up any issue regarding a difference in their school experience. The adults appear to be the ones fostering the hurtful attitude in this matter and are basing it on misinformation. Putting these unfair labels on us and our children is more hurtful than helpful.

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Posted by Sara on 01/24/2013 at 6:48 PM

I am new to the RP family. I decided to send my son there because when I went to the information meeting I liked what I heard and I agreed with what they where saying. We where on the wait list and we got in. I am very happy we send my son here. The school is very open to helping my son who has some special needs. They bend over backwards to help him learn in school. I enjoy having to particiate in the school. The 30 hours that are required are not a hardship for my family. It makes us even more proud of being part of this school. I think change is hard for people and I hope that everyone can keep a open mind.

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Posted by Emily on 01/24/2013 at 7:06 PM

I am a student at redwood prep. I wasn't recruited by ads in the newspaper or by sporting events my parents and I made the decision together to go to redwood prep. if i hadn't wanted to go would I be there? NO! I wouldn't. I think that this article is a disappointment. And about the volunteer thing my mom tought a art class on Mondays for the first year without pay but sadly shes not teaching this year because it became to hard with my high school older sister taking college classes, but if she could she would love to do it again. well back to the subject, last year my class invested in pizza and sold it to the rest of the school and that's what has payed for a lot of the field trips like to wolf creek and Lassen volcanic national park. that is my point of view so you say what you say but redwood prep I think is the best school iv ever gone to and Its the best I ever will go to I think.

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Posted by Caleb Harrison on 01/25/2013 at 10:12 AM

umm...... i disagree with the artilcal

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Posted by not jo on 01/25/2013 at 11:46 AM

HI im jo

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Posted by not jo on 01/25/2013 at 11:48 AM

@Caleb H: A big part of why your school succeeds is the enthusiasm factor. You and your fellow students show up every day ready and excited to learn. That enthusiastic environment was created by the school's founders, but it maintains and grows each day because of you and your fellow classmates' attitudes. Bravo and keep up the good work!

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Posted by Samantha Lee on 01/25/2013 at 12:45 PM

when i read the news article about our school my friends,and family were all very mad and upset about what the reporter had said! The thing that i found i thought was interesting was that the author didnt any of our parents from our school from our school in the news paper. Our parents have more than alot to say about this. There is alot of kids that haev disadvantages like me and my little brother. I have a disadvantage with my math and reading skills and my friend and she has speech problems my little brother zach needs reading and speech. I think that if Toddy Thomas and Ambrosini can have enough money to buy a new playground and Toddy has enough to buy new walls and classrooms then they could buy some new technology! I think that weird how the reporter was writting how people are against our charter schools and just a little bit how this will settle down and get better. It sounded to me and my family that he was against charter schools. I think our teachers have worked hard to get where they are now and we stand together when people talk about our school. Martan Luther King said said"Everything we see is a shadow cast by wich we do not see." As the news reporter said how teachers from Toddy Thomas and other schools in the Fortuna/Rhonerville school disrtrict said that" they do not want there kids rubbing shoulders with the Ipad totting, field trip taking rich kids of redwoodprep." I had thought about what they had said and I dont think our school should not let is get to us. There are kids at redwood prep that arent rich. I have a really good friend adn she goes to my school and her house burnt down and i have another friend that can barely even pay her house payments and eletricity bills. Please just rethink This news letter and how it made our school feels.I felt sad and mad about the joke about there children getting jobs at Mcdonalds and a job as a janitor I think all of the kids in humblot county and beyond is colledge bound students! If these teachers knew the kids at redwoodprep then maybe they would rethink what they said. The news also says that we had took all of the bright kids at there school. I think that they wanted to go to this school and when they said that i was thinking wow thats just like calling the students that they haev now dumb! Another thing that I thought was funny is that they choose to us there money for school busses instead of educational stuff. Redwoodprep thinks that we should make peice make peace not war its not a rivalry.

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Posted by hannah humphrey from redwood prep on 01/25/2013 at 2:34 PM

As a Rohnerville School District alumni and a former volunteer at both Ambrosini and Redwood Prep., I am absolutely appalled by this article. This article is a platform to bully the Redwood Prep community for this wonderful opportunity they have created. I want to take the time to address what Irene Werner commented about Redwood Prep and their “elitism.” First, Ms. Werner states that Redwood Prep is, “A school not open to everyone.” Redwood Prep, unfortunately due to the size of the Nazarene Church they rent out, cannot accommodate every child within the district. One of the reasons that Redwood Prep is trying to utilize Proposition 39 is due to the fact that they’re running out of space within the church. They want to welcome in the students on their waiting list, but without more room, it is impossible to do so. Secondly, Ms. Werner jokes that Redwood Prep “advertise themselves as preparing kids for college, [while] our school is preparing the future janitors of the world, or the McDonald’s workers.” Nobody has the right to put down anyone’s occupation, be it someone in the fast food industry or a school janitor. It is my understanding that it is the parents’ responsibility to help prepare and articulate to their children the importance of a college education. We shouldn’t bash a school for wanting to help fulfill this philosophy, especially when only 32% of Fortuna High graduates met the requirements for admission to the UC or CSU systems in 2010 (School Accountability Report Card, 2010). I could sit here all night commenting on this ignorant and poorly written spectacle, but I will end my spiel with this quote, “Envy shoots at others and wounds itself” (English Proverb).

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Posted by Cassie Chism on 01/25/2013 at 2:35 PM
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